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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why most of our national institutions don’t deserve our respect

President Pranab Mukherjee in his first Independence Day eve address exhorted the countrymen to respect nation's institutions, especially Parliament which, to him, signified the atman of India. As he apprehends the endemic protests like those against country's endemic corruption to result in chaos, shouldn't the President, as the guardian of the Constitution, reflect why the hapless people are fast losing patience. Isn't their indignation truly justified because of the games played for years by this very institution to deny even a viable mechanism to emerge towards taming the monster of corruption? Aren't they entitled to demand that the hallowed institution manages its "calendar and rhythm" for an effective Lokpal to be a reality at the earliest?

Nobody disputes that laws have to be enacted by Parliament, not on Parliament Street. Like Walter Lippmann in his The Phantom Public lamented that the democratic man was baffled and disenchanted as he couldn't make his sovereign voice heard concerning a thousand tangled affairs, today the exasperated countryman makes a common cause with the Anna Hazare-led peaceful protests, implying a gathering distrust of our governance system and eroding faith in legislators. Shouldn't Hon'ble members introspect and ask why a large number of people across the land reposed faith in an Anna, not in Parliament? Why these hallowed institutions have had their sanctity turned into mere sanctimony? Don't our legislatures harbour hundreds of criminals? Don't most members get elected by dint of bagfuls of black money, many among them reveling as wheelers and dealers?

Parliamentarians themselves have denigrated the institution. More often they sneer and shout than discuss and legislate. Politicians across the spectrum have failed to fathom the intensity of people's angst; their intent is suspect, seen as they play their frolicsome fraud -ever since the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill was, in fact, passed by Lok Sabha in 1969, the legislation for an ombudsman has been tossed around for forty years and more. They claim they represent the people; they maintain all are equal, but, in fact, they clamour to be more equal than others. They are ever prowling for eking out special privileges and perks for themselves - like a whole protocol drill devised by them and demanded of Air India. Now they yearn for lal batti on their vehicles as a symbol of the ubiquity of their supremacy. The VIP and VVIP viral pervades society; sybaritic life-styles have become an infatuation. Those who swear by the common man, aam aadmi, become his adroit exploiters. Inevitably, "We, the people", whom the constitution places at the centre-stage, have little respect left for them.

Again, the voter in India now faces a new dilemma in growing environs of multi-party coalitions; little does he know what sort of government he is voting for. For Bertrand Russell, the distinction between the rule of the majority and the interest of the majority could never be absolute; democracy must tolerate the existence of opinions divergent from, or contrary to, those which are accepted by it. Although, no doubt, direct democracy for as large a country as India is impracticable, it would tantamount to demagoguery to pretend that the desires of the people can ever be truly ascertained, yet the elemental refrain that "the people are sovereign; we represent the people; if you disagree with us you cannot be the people and therefore you have no place in a democratic society" carries the root cause of democratic tyranny. Parliament is supreme, but it is subordinate to people.

Institutions are built by great minds and nurtured by brave souls over a period of time. But they can be destroyed by petty self-serving Atillas in a single act of mindless vandalism. Shouldn't the country reflect how systematically some of the hallowed institutions have been assaulted by myopic opportunism. A brazen partisan advocacy of a committed bureaucracy has jeopardized the very system of governance in the country, nurturing a culture of flourishing graft and sycophancy as much as tyranny of babus, swelling ranks of slothful parasites. Doesn't the role of CBI generate almost perennial cynicism and disbelief? Aren't people aware of the extra-constitutional games that are played every other day in the stately Raj Bhawans? The role of country's most exalted office - President of the Republic - has not always remained unsullied. Now not even the authority and aura of Prime Minister has been spared.

It is not only the ubiquity and magnitude of scandals and scams which have benumbed people's consciences, an unabated plunder of nation's resources, its forests and minerals, land grabs, rampant inequities, ostentation and greed have widened the gulf between the ruler and the ruled, the rich and the poor, breeding cynicism and disaffection for the very institution of democracy - as practised in the country. Corruption eats into the vitals of the body social: inferior material is used in critical utilities which endanger lives; flagrant collusion of engineers and supervisors with builders and contractors plays havoc with the daily life of citizens. Investments are poured into public utilities and infrastructure services; they become leaking buckets, bottomless pits. Even country's very security and defence is compromised by questionable procurement of equipment. Cities in India have been systematically raped and plundered. Even heritage sites are encroached upon, parks and wildlife poached.

For any government, time is short; resources are limited. Over 30% of India's population is less than 16 years old; more than half of its population is 25 or younger. It is the young among the 400 million middle class with aspirations of a vibrant India free of the viral of corruption who seem to constitute the foot soldiers of the Anna brigade. Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon, in Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy, talk of the disgust and cynicism of Mexicans, which led to a standard formation of rescue brigades which later spawned grassroot political organizations, implying that unless democracy could deliver a better life, the public could opt for the facile promises of undemocratic populists along the lines of Hugo Chavez.
By Raghu Dayal
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