During their private meetings, electronic and print media interviews, Mr Chandrababu Naidu and Rahul Gandhi proclaimed that they are on a mission to save the country, democracy and public institutions from the clutches of the BJP-led NDA government led by Mr Narendra Modi. Mr Naidu specifically mentioned the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Reserve Bank of India, and the fact that the position of Governors had been undermined due to political interference. They feared that democracy and civil liberties are at peril.
Let us examine the institutions at the central level, preeminently the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, Council of Ministers, Parliament, the Army, Intelligence Bureau, Central Bureau of Investigation, Research and Analysis Wing, Reserve Bank of India, National Human Rights Commission, Lokpal, the Attorney and Solicitor- Generals, the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India, the Central Vigilance Commission, the Central Election Commission, Enforcement Directorate, Chairman, Central Boards of Direct and Indirect Taxes, paramilitary forces, the administrative, tax and military tribunals, UPSC etc. And of course, the lifeblood of democracy are the political parties both at the national state levels.
The office of the Governor who is appointed by the President, the Chief Ministers, the Assemblies, Council of Ministers, Lokayuktas, State Human Rights Commissions, police, and anti-corruption agencies are at the State level. Law and order, tackling crime, mob violence, Maoism, terrorism and white-collared crimes like corruption are the responsibilities of state governments. The Centre is a superstructure that lends a helping hand to the States. The CBI mainly fights corruption in Central government departments and such traditional criminal cases as entrusted to it by the courts and State governments. Economic and financial crimes are investigated by the Enforcement Directorate and entities that investigate fraud under the Union Finance Ministry and Company Affairs.
Annually, millions of criminal cases are reported in large States. To that can be added the problems of mob violence, terrorism, and Maoism. As often as not, there is a lack of preventive action to control crime, inaction to register crimes, failure to arrest the accused and frame the chargesheet the case, sabotage of investigations or fudging of evidence. A large percentage of registered crime goes undetected/ unsolved or is partly solved by arresting the accused (as in the recent knife attack on YS Jagan at Vizag airport).
The masterminds are untouched, prison sentences commuted, criminal prosecution withdrawn due to political influence and other extraneous factors. These are common features of State-level administration. Even corruption is handled in a hamhanded manner. Lokayukt laws do exist in several States. But some States have exempted the Chief Minister from its purview. Lokayuktas become dysfunctional as vacancies are not filled. Corruption on the part of ministers, members of State Assemblies, local and municipal bodies is rarely dealt with, not to mention the occasional violence inside the House.
Clearly, administrative inaction and sabotage of criminal investigation even in cases of corruption is a distressing feature of governance at the State level. Citizens’ rights are trampled upon without any accountability. Public representatives assault public officials with impunity and get away without political or legal accountability. “Abuse of public office” in administrative matters like transfers, promotions, disciplinary action, in appointments to corporations, committees, commissions, boards is rampant.
Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution deal with the writ jurisdiction of High Courts and Supreme Court and correction of arbitrary and unjust decisions of governments (abuse of public office). The record of High Courts and the Supreme Court bear ample testimony to the levels of abuse of public office by the Executive every year. And this has a bearing on the performance of the Executive. There is a behemoth bureaucracy at the State level to implement government schemes and programmes. Its record in terms of serving the common man and protect his rights is poor to say the least.
Though we have a Constitution, laws, public institutions, the rule of law (justice and equity) evades the citizens.Political parties are the fountain-head of democracy. Yet, there is no transparency in party funding, no accountability for misuse of party funds and properties. Purchase of voters and public representatives such as MLAs and MPs to gain majorities has tarnished democracy at the source. Political defection is another sore point regarding the functioning of democracy. Party-sponsored crime has also tainted democracy. Elected institutions such as the panchayats, Mandal Parishads, municipalities and Mayors are State entities.
The corrupt and non-performing State institutions need surgical intervention by the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers instead of cosmetic judicial correction. Fixing a tenure for the police brass and bureaucrats hasn’t worked. Court decisions should solve people’s problems instead of being part of the problem. Autonomy of public institutions is no panacea. It has to be in parallel with accountability. Even in a failed democracy like Pakistan, there is an Accountability Bureau which India does not have. Therefore, it is desirable to place institutions such as the Central Bureau Investigation, Enforcement Directorate, the fraud investigating agency etc. under a functional Lokpal.
Ironically enough, the clarion call to save the nation and democracy is articulated by the political class that ought to prevent the loot of the nation’s natural resources. Nationalised banks are looted by predatory and crony capitalists. This endangers the economy that ought theoretically to benefit the people.
All institutional failures need not be attributed to the politicians. Due to the failure of the system or the arbitrary and opaque exercise of public power by the leadership, crises will on occasion erupt, as evident from the recent “revolt” of four Supreme Court judges against the then Chief Justice of India. Therefore, in order to sustain or strengthen public institutions, it is imperative for political parties, the Legislature, the Judiciary and Executive to play a constructive role. It is an institutional failure of the Legislature if Parliament fails to impeach tainted judges.
The writer is a thinker and author.