The former President, the late Pranab Mukherjee was one of the wise persons of the Indian political establishment. During his lifetime, he made some important observations:
A successful democracy does not necessarily involve successful governance;
The fight against poverty is far from over;
We must rediscover the virtue of self-scrutiny, and
We need to prevent wastage of our precious resources.
In the light of these observations we need to scrutinise whether the Indian democratic experiment of the last seven decades has been ideal and successful.
Ours is basically an electoral democracy like others across the globe. Some are successful, others are a failure. We need to evolve electoral democracy into a participatory democracy where the voice of civil society, including the media, is heard and respected.
State power according to the constitutional and legal scheme is shared at present by elected political institutions and the unelected such as the bureaucracy, police, judiciary, AttorneyGeneral, Comptroller and Auditor General, Election commission etc. There is no place for civil society in the decision-making process of elected and unelected institutions.
Participatory Democracy envisages legal recognition for civil society in the law-making process. It does not mean civil society members are conferred with voting rights. It only means that their voice is heard and respected in shaping the bill. It applies, particularly, to important legislations such as Lokpal and Lok Ayukta laws that are meant to fight corruption.
It would be equally true in respect of the stillborn Accountability law and the defective Right to Information Act of 2005. If labour laws are to be passed or amended, workers, labour unions and managements needs to be involved in debates and discussions in committees making recommendations for law-making.
Civil society’s representation is the need of the hour in the various committees, commissions and Boards and Tribunals (public authorities) that take decisions while implementing laws. This would include bodies that make recommendations for grant of a license or for commutation of prison sentences, etc. Civil society needs to be represented in annual assessment of public officer. Similarly, it should be represented in the Cabinet’s appointments committee which approves postings of officers above the rank of Joint Secretary and of public sector undertakings and in the Niti Aayog which is responsible for huge discretionary grants to states, so as to reduce discrimination.
Civil society must also be part of the decision-making process in appointments to the higher Judiciary. Inclusiveness in the decision-making process is important. In judicial administration, troubled in recent times by allegations of lack of democracy in managing the roster in the Apex Court and in the matter of granting stay orders indefinitely by High Courts, there is need for civil society oversight. Civil society also needs to be involved in social audit of public works under execution both for time limit and standard of work.
We also need to eliminate certain negative features of democratic politics to make the exercise successful.
Party fund collection needs to be limited to members of the party. If 10 per cent of the population is affiliated to a party, a small donation from each member will ensure sufficiency of funds. Donations from capitalists, crony capitalists and mafia dons must stop. Party functionaries need to be defined as public servants falling under section 21 of the Indian Penal Code for accountability in managing the fund.
“Election” to party positions needs to be the norm and not an exception.
Chief Ministers of States should not be appointed using the sealed cover method devised by party high commands.
Dynastic politics must end.
Crime-tainted individuals should not be sent to Parliament and State Assemblies.
Bribing voters, rigging polls and defections must stop.
Only pre-poll alliances must be allowed.
To make governance more meaningful, we need a law on Accountability. It exists in neighboring Pakistan. Accountability would cover wrongful omissions, commissions and crimes of public officials and Ministers. It is at the heart of good governance. Any government that checks professional and organized crime, Maoists, terrorists, tax-evaders and corruption can be considered good. The experience of the common man when he approaches a police or revenue official or a Court of Law is the benchmark for good governance.
Political parties that shelter goons to intimidate, threaten, or cause physical harm to independent thinkers, authors, journalists and civil society activists are a threat to functional democracy. Many a time, police will be silent spectator or active participant in this nefarious game. Police possess the “soft power” of filing FIR or ignoring to file one, of pursuing honest investigations or going slow. The police also possess the “hard power” of using force including firearms that snuff out the lives and liberties of citizens. Unelected institutions like the Police, Bureaucracy, Judiciary and Army have a large role to play in ensuring rights and liberties of citizens. The elected polity is not the sole repository of State power.
The writer is a retired Inspector-General of Police.