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HVK Archives: Need fpr systemic changes in governing structures - Part One of Two

Need fpr systemic changes in governing structures - Part One of Two - The Pioneer

Atal Bihari Vajpayee ()
21 November 1996

Title : Need for systemic changes in Governing structures
Author : Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Publication : The Pioneer
Date : November 21, 1996

Next year India will celebrate its 50th anniversary of
Independence. The entire country is eagerly looking
forward to that proud and historic landmark. Both in
official circles and among the broad masses of people,
thinking and planning has already started on how to mark
the golden jubilee of India's freedom. Although it may
not always be visible and audible on the surface, the
whole nation is today astir with debate on what we have
achieved or failed to achieve in the past 50 years and
why, on balance, our accomplishments fall woefully short
of both our expectations and, our doubtless potential.

The debate is welcome. It must be broad and deep and free
and honest. It must touch upon all aspects of our na-
tional experience-historical, social, political, econom-
ic, cultural, educational and even spiritual. Let there
be an unsparing, albeit non-recriminative, and construc-
tive clash; clash between ideas and ideologies. Let us
show the courage to question and examine and explore
everything-and every historical figure, however high or
revered. Let us do so with an open mind and with a
willingness to accept the good thoughts from every quar-
ter, not being prejudiced or blinded by our own blinkers
or others' labels.

Such a debate will be undoubtedly useful and productive.
As our ancient rishis said, "Vaade vaade jayate tatvabod-
hah" (Learning of the Truth is facilitated by a free and
continuous debate.) This, I believe, is the best way of
commemorating the 50th anniversary of India's Indepen-

In this lecture, I wish to contribute my humble mite to
this debate by presenting my thoughts and concerns about
one crucial sphere of our flare decades of national
experience: And that is, what we have achieved and failed
to achieve in the sphere (if democracy. Let me make my
intention clear. I want to provoke a serious debate on
this issue, believing as I do that the present system of
parliamentary democracy has failed to deliver the goods
and that the time has come to introduce deep-going sys-
temic changes in our structures of governance.

If the majority of our population is deprived of both
power (in the real sense of democratic empowerment at all
levels, especially for the poor and the socially down-
trodden) and fruits of socioeconomic progress, is it not
obvious that we need to take a i.e-look at our framework
of governance?

Menace of criminalisation

The ills of the present system of parliamentary democra-
cy, which we fashioned after the British model nearly
five decades ago, are becoming evident with each passing
day. Let me enumerate some of them.

(1) Neither Parliament, nor the State Vidhan Sabhas, are
doing with any degree of competence or commitment what
they are primarily meant to do: Legislative function.
Their inability and apparent unwillingness to perform
this function is due to a number of known reasons.
Barring exceptions, those who get elected to these apex
democratic institutions are neither trained, formally or
informally, in law-making nor do they seem to have an
inclination to develop the necessary knowledge and com-
petence in their profession.

(2) The second, equally important, function of the elect-
ed representatives is to reflect public opinion in Par-
liament and the State legislatures by debating matters of
vital public importance and thereby influence the po-
licies and actions of the executive. Sadly, however,
serious debate has ceased to take place in our elective
bodies, which have come to resemble akharas (arenas for
fighting bouts) where noisy confrontation is the norm.

(3) Those individuals in society who are genuinely inter-
ested in serving the electorate and performing legisla-
tive functions are finding it increasingly difficult to
succeed in today's electoral system. The reason is obvi-
ous: Notwithstanding the recent welcome changes intro-
duced by the Chief Election Commissioner, Mr TN Seshan,
and his colleagues, the electoral system has been almost
totally subverted by money power, muscle power, and vote
bank considerations of castes and communities. As a
result, although casteism and communalism may be weaken-
ing in social life, the same are being aided and abetted
by the electoral process. The net result is that elec-
tions are not entirely free and fair; they are not re-
flecting the true will and aspirations of the people.

(4) Criminalisation of politics it having a direct bear-
ing on the composition and functioning of the legislature
as well as the executive. Those in power frequently use
it either to shield criminals who support them or to
falsely implicate their adversaries in criminal cases out
of political enmity. There is, therefore, an urgent need
to evolve an all-party consensus on who is to be consid-
ered a person with a criminal record and also how to deal
with the menace of criminalisation.

A glaring example

(5) The natural inclination of today's MPs and MLAs is to
get involved in the executive function - and that too
without accountability. The exceedingly high premium
placed on capturing power by any fair or foul means is
because of the elected representatives' conviction that
power is the passport to personal prosperity. Corruption
in the governing structures has, therefore, corroded the
very core of elective democracy.

(6) The certainty of scope of corruption in the govern-
ment structures has in turn heightened opportunism and
unscrupulousness among political parties, causing them to
marry, and divorce, one another at will. Such opportun-
istic alliances and coalitions often lack the popular
mandate even in the numerical sense of the term. Yet
they capture, and survive in, power due to inherent
systemic flaws. Multi-party system is the soul of democ-
racy, but opportunist power-seekers have perverted it by

developing a vested interest in political fragmentation.
The most glaring example is the present thirteen-party
United Front farce, in which the United Front itself has
no majority of its own and whose Prime Minister belongs
to a party which has only 45 members in the Lok Sabha!
Some of the constituents of this United Front have only
four members, yet they have two ministers in the Union

(7) Political parties winning or losing power in elec-
tions is a natural happening in a democracy. This, howev-
er, did not destabilise governance itself, because India
rightly boasted of having a great asset in its permanent
but non-political and impartial civil service. Sadly,
the rot has set in here too. Casteism, corruption and
politicisation have sapped the integrity and efficacy of
our system of civil service.

(8) The manifestos, policies and programmes of the polit-
ical parties have lost their meaning in the present
system of governance due to lack of accountability.

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