parliament m g devasahayam
Restore peoples power
Though Independent India’s Parliament has completed 60 years, we are yet to realise the vision of our founding fathers of ‘Swaraj’ that envisaged a people-based governance, with a bottom-up decision-making process
Completion of 60 years in an individual’s life is referred to as Shastipoorthi. This is a significant milestone. A memorable turning point. This can well be applied to an institution that affects the life of every individual - India’s Parliamentthat has turned 60.
On that auspicious day, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha held a joint session and Parliamentarians celebrated the occasion in a way they know best - speeches, speeches and more speeches! Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made the tall claim that the “history of the functioning of the House over the last 60 years proved that the trust reposed in it by the founding fathers of the Constitution has been substantially fulfilled.”
Far from true! The founding fathers had called for a Constitution “wherein all power and authority of the Sovereign Independent India, its constituent parts and organs of Government, are derived from the people”.Their vision of ‘Swaraj’ envisaged a people-based governance, with a bottom-up decision making process that would give everyone ‘a place in the sun’.
In Gandhian thought, India’s democratic governance structure would rise storey by storey from the foundation comprising of self-governing, self-sufficient, agro-industrial, urbo-rural local communities. These self-governing entities would control and regulate the use of natural resources for the good of the community and the nation. This was the trust reposed by the founding fathers on Parliament. But the governance structure we have today represents an all-powerful Central Government and State Governments, who control and (mis)manage all financial and natural resources. There is no trace of Swarajya.
The Constitution has centralised all powers in the Government and made it a tool for the powers-that-be to rule rather than an instrument for the people of India to govern themselves. All legislative powers are vested with Parliament and State Legislatures. Administrative apparatus and financial control is also co-terminus with the jurisdiction of Parliament and legislatures. The higher judiciary - Supreme Court and High Courts - are far removed from the people in terms of distance, cost and procedures, and can be accessed only by the rich. In the event, concentration and centralisation of power and authority has become near absolute.
Constitution did not provide for democracy or governance at the grassroots level thereby depriving people of any say in the day-to-day management of their affairs. It was only in 1993 that the establishment and election of Panchayats and Municipalities, respectively, were facilitated through the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments. But even to this day these entities are unable to exercise most of the powers and functions so ‘benevolently’ given to them by the Government!
Throughout these six decades, parliamentarians neither had the time nor the urge to review the most draconian and anti-people provisions of the Indian Penal Code - Section 121: Waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India; and Section 124A: Sedition, both prescribing life imprisonment and being liberally used by the State to crush people’s most peaceful protests to demand justice and safeguard their life and livelihoods.
Instead, they have been busy with enacting legislations to facilitate the State and banking institutions to let loose police and financial terrorism (Maintenance of Internal Security Act; Unlawful Activities Prevention Act; Prevention of Terrorism Act; National Security Act and The Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act) on hapless citizens and entrepreneurs. Parliament has not lifted a finger to prevent the gross abuse and misuse of these draconian laws.
Anyone watching our Parliament in action will note that the emotional
content is high, physical communication is emphasised and groups function on
tribal instinct. Decorum is virtually non-existent and substance is minimal.
In the event, peaceful mass protests and people’s aspirations are being brutally put down and common man’s voices go unheard. Typical is the KGB-style measures against fisher folk and farmers protesting against the Russian-built Koodunkulam nuclear power plant in south Tamil Nadu. In utter desperation, these oppressed people have en masse decided to surrender their voter ID cards, the ultimate symbol of ‘people’s power. Can there be a more ominous way of ‘revolt’ in a democracy?
But Parliament is least concerned because it resembles a tribal assembly. Anyone watching our Parliament in action would note that the emotional content is high, physical communication is emphasised and groups function on tribal instinct. Decorum is virtually non-existent and substance is minimal. Parliamentarians fret and fume for days on a 63-year-old cartoon but would not debate for a minute as to how the institutional integrity of the Indian Army and the honour of its serving chief were being ravaged by a bunch of corrupt carpetbaggers! What kind of India is Parliament representing?
Election is the essence of democracy and integrity is its salt. The saltiness of India’s elections is fast losing its flavour and the electoral process is being trodden under the heavy boots of criminal and money-power, rendering democracy virtually worthless. The very dignity of democracy is at stake. Yet Parliament is unconcerned about minimal reforms and rule amendments that have been pending with the Government for decades!
About the development model that is being touted to make India a superpower, let the Supreme Court speak. In July 2010, the Court, while giving its verdict in the case Mahanadi Coalfields vs. Government of Orissa, made a telling point: “The whole issue of development appears to be so simple, logical and commonsensical. And yet, to millions of Indians, development is a dreadful and hateful word that is aimed at denying them even the source of their sustenance.”
This is in consonance with the vision of the Father of the Nation, that Independent India would pursue an equitable, small-is-beautiful, need-based, human-scale, balanced development while conserving nature and livelihoods. The ongoing neo-liberal ‘development agenda’ is just the reverse - seeking a FDI-funded miniscule India of MNCs, millionaires and billionaires, and the rest of Indians, serving that minority and surviving as barely literate, malnourished multitude. Such an agenda does not address the aam aadmi’s basic urge to work and live with equity, safety, security and dignity, drawing on his own resources.
Under the watch of successive Parliaments for six decades, while democracy and development have diminished for the common man, India has acquired the characteristics of a ‘failed state’ as per Robert Rothberg’s formula:
“Failed states offer unparalleled economic opportunity - but only for a privileged few. Those around the ruler or ruling oligarchy grow richer while their less fortunate brethren starve….The privilege of making real money when everything else is deteriorating is confined to clients of the ruling elite....The nation-state’s responsibility to maximize the well-being and prosperity of all its citizens is conspicuously absent, if it ever existed....In failed states, corruption flourishes on an unusually destructive scale. There is widespread petty or lubricating corruption as a matter of course, but escalating levels of venal corruption mark failed states.”
The First Republic has replaced colonial monarchy with dynastic oligarchy. Democracy is the biggest loser.
What is the way out? Put in simple terms, the need of the hour is to re-democratise India’s polity, governance and management of its natural resources as well as restoring people’s power to where it really belongs - at the epicentre of democracy.
The need of the hour is to re-democratise India’s polity, governance and
management of its natural resources as well as restoring people’s power to
where it really belongs – at the epicentre of democracy
This is not merely a question of constitutional forms or political systems. It is a creative question in the widest sense of the term. It is a question of an ancient country finding its lost soul again.
The task also is one of social engineering, needing the help of the State; of politicians, scientists, experts, administrators, educationists, businessmen, experimenters; of men and women; of young and old. It is a task of dedication; of creation; of self-discovery. It is a task that defines India’s destiny. It spells a challenge to India’s sons and daughters!
It is the task of conceiving, designing and building India’s Second Republic. The political, social, economic, cultural, constitutional, institutional and structural flaws that have plagued the First Republic should be remedied so that India can return to the vision of its founding fathers of a people-centric governance with a bottom-up decision making process that would give everyone ‘a place in the sun’.
Shastipoorthi is touching reminder of the rich, mellowed life that would unfold in the years to come. The ‘Second Republic’ could be the harbinger of such a ‘mellowed’ future.g