Monday, February 11, 2008

Indian political system has been unable to incorporate the multiple stakeholders who comprise our society

Title : Has the political elite failed the people? Author : Ramakrishna Hegde Publication : The Times of India Date : March 1, 1997
Fifty years of independence should be an occasion for joy and celebration, of pride in having accomplished the objectives our statesmen had set for us, and an opportunity for setting our goals for the future. Instead, one is filled with a feeling of apprehension over the results of five decades of independence.
An appreciation of the illness that plagues our nation necessarily implies an appraisal of the objectives and results that successive governments in independent India have followed and the consequences they resulted in. It is important to emphasise that our most valuable asset when compared to the rest of the developing world is our democracy.
It is essential that, as citizens, we are able to appreciate the awesome nature of the enterprise that we undertook at the time of independence, and if that experiment has not been entirely successful, that we do not succumb to the temptation of blaming democracy for the ills that confront us today. The success of the reforms in China can easily lend itself to the view that repressive authoritarian regimes are more efficient in accomplishing the task of macro-economic stabilisation and adjustment.
However, the Hungarian economist, Janos Kornai, in his celebrated work The Road to a Free Economy, decisively refutes this view. He cites the work done by two economists (S. Haggard and R.R. Kaufman on Economic Adjustment in New Democracies) who comparative study of 44 authoritarian and 39 democratic system showed that one of these systems was markedly better in solving these tasks than the other.
It is therefore not the institution of democracy that is to blame but the political elite which interpreted that institution in a manner that has reduced its functioning to the ballot box, vote banks and populism. Democracy only begins with the ballot box, but to institutionalise a system of checks and balances the process should develop through a palpable strengthening of the many institutions that are integral to a democratic society, In our case this would include the system of panchayati raj, regulatory mechanisms, public interest litigation Lokpal, the media, the judiciary, the Election Commission, non-governmental organisations and many others.
But this has not happened because of a variety of reasons that are specific to the Indian context. These include the functioning of the party system which, since the late sixties, has become personality-oriented and has yet to decisively move away from that mould; the polarisation of Indian society along caste fines in which the idea of social justice has been reduced to the ubiquitous system of reservations; the introduction of religion into the political sphere; and the numerous fissiparous tendencies that have crept into the body politic.
This has caused a severe erosion of the credibility of the political system. Self-serving politicians representing groups with vested interests have begun to tear away the threads that were so painfully woven into a beautiful texture in the first two decades following independence. With the influx of money and muscle power into the electoral process, the credibility of the political system has reached an all-time low. The image of the Indian politician in the public imagination evokes feelings of revulsion, indifference and disgust because it is widely believed that the fruits of development in the past 50 years have been appropriated by babus and netas to the deprivation of the people at large.
As a result of these factors, the democratic process in India has not moved beyond the ballot box; the rural and urban poor, on whom much of the political system depends, have remained on the periphery. This is in a large measure caused by the fact that, unlike in Western Europe, the Indian political system has been unable to incorporate the multiple stakeholders who comprise our society into becoming partners in the developmental process. Consequently, while the Indian political system is characterised by a substantial degree of participation, it is deficient in governance and accountability. It grieves me to think of the consequences if this state of affairs is allowed to continue unabated.
There must be a return to the collaborative attitude that characterised Indian society in the two decades after independence when the fervour of national reconstruction was at its peak and when the vast majority of our population was galvanised into the building of a modern industrialised India.
The essence of democracy is partnership. This involves establishing long-term strategies with multiple stakeholders who comprise our polity, economy and Society and on whom the future of our country will be built. We have to create conditions where these stakeholders develop a vested interest in the development of the national interest.
I am reminded of the powerful, euphemism credited to the late J.R.D. Tata: "Find the right man and set him free." That policy is what an enlightened political system in India needs today: identify major stakeholders and release their creative energies into the building of a vibrant Indian future
Accountability, credibility and good governance can only be brought about if the political system makes a concerted effort to establish long-term partnerships with our people. These include farmers, the corporates, the growing Indian middle class, the intelligentsia, women, non-governmental organisations, youth, artists and artisans, the small scale sector, the media, the deprived and labourers. The purpose of partnership lies in the growth of an India that can successfully meet the challenges of the 21st century. This should be our overwhelming concern: all else is secondary.
The Indian voter dearly needs an enlightened vision embedded in unity and growth over division and discord. The voter has a right to know where the country is heading and affirm his right to participate in the accomplishment of those objectives that he deems them worthy of fulfilment. A political regime that either fails to acknowledge this reality or ignores it altogether forfeits its right to represent the electorate.

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