Whither Parliamentary Democracy In India?


P R Dubhashi

Fasts of Anna Hazare regarding the passing of the Lokpal Bill and Baba Ramdev against corruption and events that followed have raised fundamental questions regarding the functioning of parliamentary democracy in India. The 97-hour fast by Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar which evoked huge response of people in Delhi and all over the country, compelled the government to concede his demand to constitute a joint committee of ‘Ministers and members of Civil Society’ to formulate a draft by the end of June 30 on the basis of the draft formulated by the government and the one by the civil society. After some initial smooth sailing, serious differences have arisen, as could only be expected, regarding different issues such as the inclusion of the Prime Minister and judiciary within the ambit of the Lokpal. While this was going on, Baba Ramdev began his fast at Ramlila Ground (after permission was denied to hold it at Jantar Mantar) regarding the wider issue of elimination of corruption and black money. To dissuade the Baba from embarking on the fast, four Ministers of the Union Government, headed by no less than Pranab Mukherji, went to the airport to meet him but the Baba was adamant on his fast. Thousands of his followers, young and old, women and children, assembled in the huge pandal specially erected for the purpose at Ramlila Ground to fast in sympathy. The exchanges between the two parties nevertheless continued. When Kapil Sibal, the Minister negotiating with the Baba, publicly announced that the Baba had agreed to give up ‘tapa’ after three days, the Baba felt he was compromised and exposed, while his followers were still coming from all over the country to join the fast. The Baba immediately hardened his stand and announced that he would continue his fast till the government issued an ordinance to declare as ‘public asset’ the black money stashed abroad in the overseas banks. The government accused the Baba of betrayal. Past midnight on June 4, 2011, the police of the Rapid Action Force of the State Government, armed with teargas and lathi, swooped on the sleeping congregation while trying to arrest the Baba. A drama followed, the Baba escaped from the Pandal but to the relief of the government was apprehend by the Delhi Police while running away surrounded by his female followers himself disguised in female dress. More important, sleeping men were rudely woken up by police who burst teargas shells and resorted to lathi charge even on women and children. As many as 70 injured persons were admitted to hospitals and some to intensive care units. A particularly bad case was Rajbala who was paralysed. The nocturnal crackdown was condemned not only by the Baba’s followers but people all over the country. L.K. Advani, the leader of the BJP, said that the crackdown reminded of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre by General Dyer during the coloneal days. Anna Hazare and ‘Civil Society’ activists condemned the crack-down as ‘kalank’, a blot on humanity and democracy. Shanti Bhushan, the senior lawyer, demanded that the Union Government should resign. Government representatives tried to defend the action. First Sibal claimed that none was injured. But when seventy injured persons were admitted in hospitals his claim was found to be not correct. After waiting for a day following the crackdown, the Prime Minister said that the incident was ‘unfortunate’ but in the situation that developed, it was ‘unavoidable’. The Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, took a press conference even to declare that the crackdown was necessary for the maintenance of ‘Law and Order’. None was convinced. When the crackdown was described as a panicky action of a weak vacillating government, it was asserted that the plan for removing the Baba, if necessary by force, was already decided upon. This was proof enough that the crackdown was not a reaction to a situation but a premeditated coldblooded assault on defence-less people. Then there was an attempt to malign the Baba’s fast as instigated by the RSS which Rahul Gandhi, in a contro-versial statement, had equated with SIMI! Chidambaram cited an intelligence report to support the allegation. The presence of the ‘notorious’ Sadhvi Rithambhara on the dais with Ramdev Baba was a further proof of the ‘communal’ nature of the Baba’s fast. The govern-ment was not prepared to accept that the fight against corruption and blackmarket cannot be curbed by such allegations. Actually only a few days earlier the Ministers had gone to the airport to receive the Baba despite the knowledge of the intelligence report. The Congress party spokesman first tried to distance itself from the government and objected to the senior Ministers going to the airport to receive the Baba giving the impression that the party and government were working at cross-purposes. Why were the government Ministers trying to placate Baba? They had found Anna a hard nut to crack. They felt that the egotist Baba would be more manageable and vulnerable. When this did not happen within the time limit contemplated by the government they suddenly reversed the gear and took aggressive action in the form of the nocturnal crackdown. Ramdev Baba continued his fast even after he was shifted by the government from Ramlila Ground to Patanjali Ashram in Haridwar. After days of fasting his health seriously deteriorated and he had to be shifted by the BJP State Government to Dehradun Hospital (the Union Government had washed off its hands once he was shifted to Patanjali Ashram). Even in hospital, Baba continued his fast. It was left to Shri Shri Ravi Shankar to persuade him to give up his fast after nine days. It was stated on behalf of the Baba that his fight against black money would continue. In the meanwhile Digvijay Singh, the General Secretary of the Congress party, publicly accused the Baba of money-laundering and demanded that the vast accumulation of wealth exceeding Rs 1000 crores should be investigated. Even while he was fasting, the Baba publicly announced details of his wealth. Anna was also subjected to maligning by Digvijay who alleged of his association with the RSS in view of the fact that the picture of Hindmata displayed in course of his fast was similar to that of the RSS. Touched to the quick, Anna angrily stated that Digvijay should be sent to a lunatic asylum. He wrote to Sonia Gandhi complaining about the smear campaign against him and demanded evidence to prove his association with the RSS. The public discourse is obviously getting shriller and shriller. After surrendering to Anna’s demand of a joint committee and placating the Baba by four Ministers going to the airport, the Congress leaders and UPA Government have taken a hard line. In an interview at Kolkata, Pranab Mukherjee stated that the civil society movement is undermining democracy and the elected government at the Centre. Parliament is supreme to pass the law and a handful ‘civil society’ activists cannot dictate terms to a government which has the confidence of Parliament. (The Times of India, June 13, 2011) The emerging political scenario is worrisome. When the country is facing major challenges like terrorism, violent Maoist movement, resistance to land acquisition by people, deteriorating law and order situation, hostile Chinese action on the northern Himalayan border and major corruption scandals, leading to loss of confidence of foreign investors, instead of taking a united national stand in firmly dealing with these problems, the nation is engulfed in intensive conflicts. The future of the joint committee on Lokpal seems to be dismal. No consensus is likely to emerge. The government may even decide to wind up the work of the committee. And even if a ‘final’ draft would be ready by June and introduced in Parliament, the passing of the Bill is likely to be no smooth sailing and may not be passed by August 15, the date by which Anna insists it should be passed or else he would again go on fast. The government would not allow the kind of response Anna’s fast had at Jantar Mantar. The government’s attempt to communalise the Baba’s movement against corruption was an attempt to drive a wedge between the communal Baba and the ‘Gandhian’ Anna. The civil society activists were earlier not enthusiastic about the Baba but once the nocturnal crackdown on the defenceless men, women and children took place, the two sides forgot the differences and came closer to each other. The civil society activists used strongest words to condemn the crackdown. The BJP declared that the government was bringing back the Emergency days and the party would organise nationwide protests against corruption, blackmarketing and suppression of fundamental rights of the citizens to express opinion through peaceful demonstrations. The Congress party in reply decided to organise a national movement against fundamentalism and communalism embodied in the BJP, RSS and allied organisations. But for the government more serious than the challenges of the BJP, Leftist parties and regional parties like the SP which spoke against the noctural crackdown on a peaceful assembly of people, was the 15 days notice issued by the Vacation Bench of the Supreme Court to the Union Home Secretary, Delhi State Government and the Delhi Commissioner of Police to explain the crackdown. Chidambaram has blithely stated that the Delhi Police will file the affidavit forgetting that the Supreme Court is not likely to be satisfied with the explanation of the State Government and will also hold the Union Home Ministry, if not the Union Home Minister and the Prime Minister themselves, accountable. Law and Order POLITICIANS in power are often inclined to pass on the buck on ‘law and order’ matters to the police forgetting that the issues behind any serious law and order situation have to be handled well on time by the politicians in power and the civil servants who work under them. In the present case the issues of corruption and black economy and the passing of the Lokpal Bill have been long neglected and not tackled with any sense of urgency and sincerity. The most glaring instance of this was the fact that the Lokpal Bill has been pending since 1968, that is, over the last fortytwo years. The mega scams relating to the 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games and Adarsh Society apartment in Mumbai, were attributed to politicians in power like Union Ministers and Chief Ministers. Even after the spectrum scam was exposed by the CAG, Kapil Sibal, in additional charge of the Telecommuni-cation Ministry, brazenly stated that there was no loss to the public exchequer and attacked the CAG for giving a wrong report alleging a presumptive loss of Rs 1,76,000 crores to the public exchequer. The Prime Minister defended Minister Raja responsible for the 2G scam for a period of over two years. Suresh Kalmadi was allowed to run the show of the Commonwealth Games despite the fact that he was accused in corrupt deals six months before the Games. The media gave wide publicity to these scams and the nation was outraged at the studied inability to prevent and control corruption. The Finance Minister doggedly refused to disclose the names of those whose funds were stashed abroad citing the secrecy clause of the taxation evasion agreements with foreign govern-ments. People started losing confidence in the government, and their pent-up anger was articulated by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev through their fasts which evoked nationwide response. Even after the fast started and people gathered, politicians of the ruling party did not care to meet the people and convince them about the sincerity of the government. The government must actively communicate with the people to prevent a popular agitation going out of hand instead of letting loose the police. If serious consequences follow in the shape of injury and loss of lives, the police are exposed to judicial enquiries. The politicians and administrators mostly remain aloof, when they should squarely be blamed for allowing the law and order situation to drift and assume serious proportions. When we became independent we declared that the ‘police state’ of the British Raj will be replaced by the ‘welfare state’ of the people’s government. But in free India police raj seems to have come back with a vengeance. Legitimacy of Elected Government AFTER some initial hesitation, the Congress has decided to go on the offensive. They are asserting that the Congress and its allies have been voted to power by the people and the Opposition parties and ‘civil society’ activists have no business to destabilise them through their agitations and by people like Hazare and Ramdev Baba going on fast to coerce thew government. How far is the argument valid? It is true that the government has every right to decide on legislation, policies and programmes. All the same it is also the duty of the Opposition to oppose actions by the government through constitutional means. The government should recognise the legitimacy of the Opposition to oppose as much as the Opposition should concede the right of the government to govern. But if the government treats the Opposition with contempt and gives short shrift to the reasonable demands of the Opposition, the Opposition gets frustrated and resorts to action which immobilises the functioning of Parliament. This was what happened to Parliament in the last winter session. The whole session was washed out. Eventually the demand of the Opposition was conceded before the Budget session could go on smoothly. If this had been done at the beginning of the winter session, the nation would not have had to suffer a non-functioning Parliament. For this the government and the Opposition are equally responsible. What about the people? Should they helplessly suffer an inept or corrupt gtovernment? Have they not the right to call the government to question in between the elections? Do the duties of the citizens end once they have voted? Surely that is not so. Even in between elections, the government is accountable to the people and the people should be able to express their dissatisfaction through all means allowed by the Constitution. The active groups of citizens can take the lead in mobilising public opinion through all means allowed by the Constitution. This does not amount to ‘backmailing’ of an elected government as is alleged by some Congress spokesmen like Digvijay Singh. Hazare’s reply was that if fast and dharna amount to blackmail then he will ‘blackmail’ the government. In this context it is necessary to recall what Dr Ambedkar, the principal architect of the Constitution, said in his address to the Constituent Assembly—“We must hold fast to the constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic goals. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It also means we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and Satyagraha. When constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for unconstitutional methods. Sooner these methods are abandoned, the better for us.” Dr Ambedkar’s warning was prophetic. He feared that the Gandhian legacy will be continued even after the government starts functioning as per the Constitution of the Indian Republic. But the government also holds the responsibility of running the government in a transparent, open manner without making an ugly display of arrogance of power. As Hazare reminded, the government. Ministers and legislators are servants of the people; the people are not their servants. Unfortunately our politicians have became so arrogant and self-serving that they have forgotten the basic premise of democracy that it is the bounden duty of politicians in power to serve the people with sincerity, honesty and dedication. If the current agitation teaches this lesson to the government and politicians, its purpose would be served. But if the government resorts to repression and intolerance of any Opposition, makes all kinds of defamatory statements against those who oppose them, if public opinion is stifled and evils like rampant corruption are allowed free play, the future of the Indian parliamentary democracy may be very dismal Formerly Secretary to the Government of India and Vice-Chancellor of Goa University, Dr Dubhashi is currently the Chairman, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Pune Kendra. His e-mail is: dubhashi@giaspn01. vsnl.net.in

http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article2868.html

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