Millennium Post

Democracy for dummies

An alumnus of the National Defence Academy and Indian Military Academy, Major General Vinod Saighal was commissioned into The Poona Horse, a distinguished tank regiment. After an illustrious career, including a couple of foreign postings, and retirement as the director general, military training in 1995, he has devoted himself to delving deep into how a country should be governed.

The author says that he stumbled into the domain of good governance purely by accident. He was to unveil a paper at the India International Centre (IIC) in New Delhi for the ‘Model for Restoration of Good Government’. He considered it merely an intellectual exercise but the director of IIC circulated copies of the paper and the model was adopted in principle by many NGOs involved in the field. The paper was also translated into Spanish and French besides a number of Indian languages. The UN secretary general and the president of the European Commission too had it circulated. What began as an intellectual exercise soon took on a life of its own, sweeping the author along with it.  

Today, Major General Saighal is considered an authority in the concepts of good governance and good government, but many Indians are still unfamiliar with these terms. In a nutshell, in his own words, this book and his earlier works have been related to working towards putting India on a sound democratic footing and as importantly, on a secure footing. If the former is accomplished, the latter will become far easier to achieve, unlike the state of  India’s security currently.  What then is good governance and how can the average citizen help in making it a reality? Any number of activities, which are legal and acceptable in a democracy, are possible. But before we run to fix something, we need to know what is wrong.

The Indian citizen today is far better informed of what the government is trying to accomplish. The nationwide support for Anna Hazare and the Lokpal Bill are good illustrations of how common citizens are  now involved in the process of generating laws and regulations, which will affect them at a later date. However, the law makers themselves, the politicians at both the state and centre levels, are not the ideal people you would like to hand over the running of the nation to. The number of criminals who have become legislators may easily cause us quite some embarrassment as a collective nation if they manage to amass the support required to place an arch criminal in Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Besides, the quality of the legislators there is major concern for the quality of governance being practiced. In the greater scheme of things, it would seem that the biggest threat to Indian democracy is not from a fanatic or religious insurgent group but from the weak judiciary, which is unable to uphold its own against the legislation. Ever so often, the judiciary has lamented the improper functioning of the legislative arm in its judgments but is has never ordered punitive action in even the most deserving cases.

The ‘Model for Restoration of Good Government’ has universal applicability. It can be modified to suit most local conditions. Essentially, the guiding principles of the model involve effecting change through the ballot box without launching a witch hunt. It allows the tainted leader to gracefully fade away.  There is no need to hound past miscreants but  focus to better the future. The process involves the restoration of institutional vigour in the bodies that constitute the government so as to act as a guarantee against the misuse of power. People must work for the good of democracy staying nameless and faceless in the public eye. This way the new emerging force will not degenerate over time.  Those with personal agendas of harvesting political power must be stopped. This will allow the trustees of the restoration process to restore dignity, decency and decorum to the political body.

The rule of law that promotes effective governance at all levels must prevail. The political interference in day-to-day working of civil services and law and order forces must desist.  The principal of accountability should be upheld at all levels of governance.  It should be brought home that in a democracy no one, not even politicians, are above the law. Public action litigation by concerned citizens’ action groups should be supported and so must legislation to remove tainted and corrupt ministers.  If you can’t trust the members of parliament to be honest and work properly how will good governance flourish? Caste and communalism based politics must be eradicated. People must vote for progress and the ideal candidate, not for their narrow caste minded loyalty. Effective monitoring should be set up for protection of the environment and people at the grass root level must be supported.

This can be achieved by maintaining greater transparency in the functioning of the government. In areas that are not related to state security or national defence it should not be a problem to implement greater transparency. The civil servants should also be assured of security of tenure to function without fear or political pressure.  There is also the need for transparency in the selection procedure for heads of government enterprises and undertakings. The most competent person must get the position, not just someone who is connected to political power. The security enforcement agencies including the police should have independent commissions handling transfers and promotions.  These should not be in the hands of politicians to dole out as prizes for loyalty or even worse, looking the other way while crimes are committed. An ombudsman must be created who can represent the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints reported by individuals. Transparency in the process of governing can remove half the hurdles to good governance.

While internal threats must be dealt with, the nation must also consider and be proactive about potential external threats. India is the regional seat of power in the South Asian region and it must stabilise its population if it is to continue to maintain its position with dignity. There must be support for strengthening of SAARC and a properly constituted National Security Council. A national consensus must be evolved on vital issues related to India’s long term security interests. The overall view needs to be considered and not a myopic one based on self interests of today’s politicians.
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