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Millennium Post

Parallel centres of power

Democracy and its related principles constitute the core of the management of Indian state. In India, the Indian state in its present form and democracy as a system of governance both took their birth almost simultaneously after independence. As a result for the people of post independence India, democracy has been the only known form of state craft.

Democracy is a powerful system but it has its own demerits. A quote from AS Winston Churchill would be irresistible in this context. 'Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time'.

During the last 60 years, democracy has found its roots in India and has strengthened the other values of Indian state including federalism, secularism and inclusive growth. The first challenge to democracy came in 1975 with the declaration of internal Emergency. Ultimately, democracy came out a winner and became stronger. Democracy thereafter, continued to be a part of Indian way of life and an Indian way of managing the state.

In the last couple of years however Indian democracy has again come under severe attack. This time it has not come in the form of a loud pronouncement of suspension of democratic rights as happened during the period of Emergency. This time the attacks came very silently and discreetly. They came from very unusual sources and in an unusual manner. Some people and institutions that are supposed to protect the system have knowingly or unknowingly became a part of the campaign which ultimately weakens the foundation of the system itself.

The fundamentals of Indian democracy have been that the affairs of the country will be managed by those who form the government after being elected through a process of democratic elections. Those who are winners – they could be illiterate, they could be half educated or rustic – would rule. The Indian state will not mind being ruled by them because that is what selection through a process of election is all about. However, democracy also creates institutions to support governance. These include the judiciary, the media, the investigative agencies, the auditing departments and so on. These agencies are created to support democracy. They provide support for course correction wherever necessary. Their support is not blind but judicious but they do not substitute the democratically elected rulers because the rulers are ultimately elected to govern and are responsible to the people. Like other institutions, civil society is also a part of democracy. Any democracy values the opinions and responses of the civil society. People have right to assemble and agitate. Dissentions and criticisms are integral part of a democratic society but then democracy does not permit the civil society to dictate terms. They cannot put the state to ransom.

Unfortunately, for the last couple of years, some of the institutions which democracy has created and a part of the civil society which draws its social and political acceptance from democracy itself have been attacking the foundation of democracy as a silent killer. During the 70s, democracy faced the challenge from the rulers who themselves were the product of democracy. They felt that they had all the strength and power at their disposal with which they could supersede the system of democracy. Now the challenge has come not because the rulers feel that they have all the strength and power at their disposal but because they feel that they are too weak and too powerless to handle the challenge. The challenge this time is coming from such institutions or groups who though created and survived by democracy feel that they have so much strength and power at their disposal that they can supersede the democratically elected government.

Often it is suggested that all this is happening because the present government runs on a coalition of parties of conflicting beliefs and ideologies and therefore it suffers from indecision and faces obstacles in making policy decisions. This is not true. Despite differences there exists an honourable unity among the parliamentarians to protect the democratic system from multi-cornered assault. The members of Parliament irrespective of party lines have shown time and again that they can come out of party lines and strengthen the democratic government if the situation so demands. The problem lies with the wrong perception of the ruling coalition that ignoring an attack and refusing to confront are the best methods in the given situation.

Too many examples of such inactions have piled up. The basic principles of allocation of natural resources will be decided by the government in power and not by any other authority. When the honourable Supreme Court decides that that the auction is the best principle, it should act as a guiding principle for the government and not as a binding principle. In fact, auction is not necessarily the best principle in a country like India where auctions can lead to concentration of wealth and income in the hands of a few. It can mean acquisition of Indian resources by overseas players without any reciprocity. Further, auctions allow a state to have one time value extraction and not perpetual value extraction from the natural resources which belong to the state. It is not necessary that whatever natural resources are available should go into private hands on onetime payment. The state may get the natural resources extracted by using its own organisations which are supposed to act as the instrumentalities of the state. It is encouraging that the honourable Supreme Court is going to have a look at the entire aspect by constituting a constitution bench for examining the role of government vis-a-vis the highest court of law.

What happened on the Lokpal issue is by now a known story. Parliament was almost compelled to burn midnight oil on the issue of Lokpal because that is what was demanded by a section of the civil society. Actually the issue was not Lokpal but corruption. And Lokpal and Lokayuktas are not necessarily the best solutions to deal with corruption. Management is an art of dealing with options. The management of the state is no exception to it.  If a part of the civil society takes up the role of the management of the state and decides on one option and imposes it on the state, the Parliament in its collective consciousness has to deal with the issue in its own way and never allow any attempt to erode its supremacy.

The examples are many but the reaction of Indian political system has been uniformly timid. Some people feel that they can project themselves bigger than what they are by simply abusing the parliamentarians without any provocation.

Our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a man of wisdom and integrity. Indian state will suffer the most if Indian democracy is weakened and parallel centers of power are created. Our PM has to put himself and his government firmly in the driving seat because they are answerable to Indian people and not any others who claim to have superior wisdom. It is time to remember that laissez-faire is not a good policy not only in economics but also in politics.

Rana Som, former chairman cum MD, National Mineral Development Corporation Limited.
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