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Political and correct

Educated young people have finally arrived where they can be real game-changers: the political arena.

A resident doctor at GM Hospital in Dibrugarh, Assam, Bhaskar Papukon Gogoi drives-a Chevrolet Beat-to the tea gardens in and around the district at least twice a month. At the gardens, he offers and organises free medical assistance for workers. It’s a habit he developed in 1999, when, as an MBBS student at Dibrugarh Medical College, Gogoi worked briefly for the UNICEF. When he cannot offer an instant solution, the 31-year-old BJP member uses his political connections to make things move for the poor.

His trips are less frequent these days. Being a core team member of the state BJP’s “Assam Nirman (development of Assam)” dialogue series, Gogoi is busy mobilising support across the state through social media platforms. “My day has three compartments: from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. I read-both political and medical books-then work at the hospital from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. From 2 in the afternoon till I go to bed at night, I devote myself to party work,” says Gogoi, a first-generation politician who feels politics is a force multiplier for the kind of work he wants to do for the underprivileged.

He epitomises a new breed of professionals and qualified young Indians. Despite the opportunity to shine in another career path, these young women and men have chosen politics as their profession.

From police sub-inspector P. Rajeev, 37, who, tired of corrupt politicians, quit his job to join politics and became an MLA from Kudachi in Karnataka to MBA student Ritu Panchal, 21, the sarpanch of Bhidhavad in Madhya Pradesh, these people do not believe in merely making noise from the sidelines as spectators. They want to be part of the system and push for changes, and at the micro level, to begin with.

“The condition of villages, especially the women, is terrible. I decided to enter politics as it is extremely important to address the problems of rural areas,” says Nupur Malav, 30, member of Bundi Zila Parishad, Rajasthan. Malav, an engineer who also holds an MBA degree, quit her job at Instrumentation Limited in Kota to contest the civic polls.

In Assam, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta was only 32 when he created history in 1985, moving from a hostel room in Gauhati University to the chief minister’s residence after leading the six-year-long Assam agitation. And as recently as in the last couple of years, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) took the intersection between youth and politics to a new level.

Take Sarita Singh, 28. Inspired by Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption crusade in 2011, she decided to enter the political arena to be an agent of change herself. Armed with post-graduate degrees in Political Science and Sociology from Delhi University, she defied pressure from her non-political family, joined AAP and today is the MLA from Rohtas Nagar constituency in Delhi.

“Incidents like the mass protests seeking justice for the December 16 gang-rape victim in Delhi and the Anna Hazare movement provided a platform for youngsters to be active,” says Sanjay Kumar, Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi, and author of Youth and Electoral Politics: An Emerging Engagement. “That is why votes cast by the young are rising in recent elections.”

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The success of AAP and its novel approach to politics-based more on service delivery than visionary ideologies-have, in fact, heralded a silent inflow of young and educated people to politics. For them, politics is not about philosophy, it’s a tool of efficient governance. They do not discuss Karl Marx or free market economy; they want to root out corruption from local offices, ensure that government services reach the underprivileged faster and elections are won on a single parameter-performance.

They do not want a political theory to articulate their agenda; they prefer to use technology to make things happen. “The first beginning was perhaps made by the introduction of the RTI Act, which empowered citizens with information,” says Sudha Pai, rector and professor at the Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi. In fact, this fight for right to information eventually culminated in the formation of AAP, the political party.

Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, attributes the origin of this trend to the awareness spread by social media. Pai looks at it from another angle. Drawing a parallel with the increasing number of start-ups, she says youngsters are increasingly willing to take risks, and they feel there is a career in politics. “If this trend continues, it will bring young, honest and committed people to politics,” she adds. Kumar says the hesitation in the minds of the young is dissolving: “There are several examples of people who have left lucrative careers, tried their fate in politics, and succeeded.”

Hailing the arrival of the youth in the political arena, Union Petroleum Minister and senior BJP leader Dharmendra Pradhan says India today requires novel and unconventional ideas, coupled with technological solutions such as social media platforms, to unleash the true potential of the country’s resources. And who better than the educated youth to travel this path, he adds.

But the most significant differentiator between earlier generations of young politicians and the current breed is the scale of political platform. The new generation is ready to wait for the big picture to evolve, and many want to make an impact where it’s the most direct and personal-at the grassroots. The emergence of this trend was most visible in the rural and urban civic bodies elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan this year.

Those polls saw an unprecedented number of educated and professionally qualified youngsters in fray-and a majority of them from families with no political background. Although Parliament has failed to pass the law to reserve 33 per cent seats for women, states such as MP and Rajasthan have reserved 50 per cent seats for women in municipal and gram panchayat elections. “In MP, women hold almost 52 per cent positions as newly elected public representatives,” says H. M. Mishra, Director, Bhopal National Institute of Urban Governance and Management (NIUGM).

In neigbouring Rajasthan, 17 of 32 members of the district council of Ajmer are women. Of these, 11 are graduates, two post-graduates and one holds a doctorate degree.
In MP, the NIUGM has done a study on social, economic and political situation of the newly elected representatives of local bodies. The study says only one of 778 municipal corporation councillors in the state is above 65 and 317 are between 36 and 45. The youngest, municipal councillor of Khandwa Sagar Anil Artani, is only 21.

Only two of the 14 municipal corporation mayors are above 56. The study also finds that of the 778 elected municipal councillors, 77 are graduates, 38 post-graduates, 18 lawyers and three engineers. Only nine councillors are illiterate. The trend is visible in gram panchayat elections, too.

So why are the young stepping into an arena with so little visibility? Panchal explains: “There are no roads in the village, and girls are not sent to school. These grim realities kept haunting me and I thought I must do something. So I chose this path.” The narrative will not be different for most other newly elected young netas. In Rajasthan’s Alwar district, nursing student Santosh Kumari, 22, had to fight a long, lonely battle to get young women in the village registered as voters before she got elected sarpanch of Bichpuri gram panchayat in Neemrana.

“I succeeded in changing the mindset of the villagers,” Santosh says. Like her, Anjana Meghwal, 32, the new district chief of Jaisalmer, plans to work for empowerment of women through education. Meghwal has done MA and B.Ed, and also cleared the Rajasthan Civil Services examination.

Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi Tharoor, says part of the credit for this positive development must go to the electorate, which is becoming more educated and professional. Alongside, the growth of the economy in the last 25 years has expanded the middle class section, which is no more a tiny section of the electorate. “The expectations from politics have changed, as people look for governance and performance,” Tharoor says. “They want politicians to talk knowledgeably about issues. This calls for a different type of politician.”

While many see this as a healthy trend of political parties posing faith in the youth, critics are not convinced yet. A Congress MP, who is also a general secretary of the party, says, “Only elections at the grassroots level are open to individuals without a political background. Can we imagine Digvijaya Singh’s son contesting the municipal polls? Did Jyotiraditya Scindia or Sachin Pilot ever contest municipal polls?” The argument is not without merit.

As against the civic polls in MP and Rajasthan, only 69 of 543 Lok Sabha MPs are between 25 and 40 years; as many as 346 are above 50. Only 12 per cent BJP candidates who fought the Lok Sabha polls were aged between 25 and 40. The Congress fared slightly better at 14 per cent. For AAP, the figure was 31 per cent.

Political analysts blame this on the organisational decay of political parties across the country. “Which political party can claim to have functionaries at every village, block and district of the constituencies it represents? Let there be internal democracy first; participation will increase,” says Amit Prakash of the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU.

But the biggest deterrent to educated young professionals joining politics still remains the financial implication, and no one seems to have cracked the code yet. Pai finds support to her idea of state-funded and regulated election campaign from Prakash, who believes that if the taxpayer’s money can be used to give corporate subsidy to the tune of Rs 5 lakh crore in the last three budgets, the government can well spend Rs 1 lakh crore annually to fund political parties.

Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh says one has no place in politics if he or she doesn’t already have a substantial source of income. “You must be capable enough to take care of yourself and your family before you decide to join politics to serve society. If you don’t have that ability and still want to join politics, go to RSS,” he says.

BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav, however, believes political parties need a support system to sustain talent by taking care of their minimum functional needs. “The BJP,” he says, “has an elaborate support system for such people.”

There is a view that recent laws passed by Rajasthan and Haryana governments, mandating minimum educational qualification as a prerequisite for contesting panchayat elections, are likely to give a further fillip to this nascent yet encouraging trend. Although the Supreme Court has upheld the Haryana government decision, political scientists warn against such an “exclusionist” trend in a democracy. “When you start distrusting demos (the common people), you are no more a democracy,” says Amit Prakash.

The debate may go on, but there is a distinct change in the approach towards politics, mostly propelled by disillusionment with the current political leadership. It’s the growing impatience with the slow process of deliverance, eagerness to be a part of the decision-making process and take responsibility that is driving this change. According to Tharoor, there may be one generation to go before we truly see a critical mass of politicians of this kind. But what cannot be denied is that a beginning has been made.
-with Manasi Sharma Maheswari

Source-http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/political-and-correct-young-politicians/1/559091.html

Parliament Logjam

One third of the Monsoon Session of Parliament is over without conducting any substantial legislative business. The hot and humid Delhi has become hotter and suffocating for the Modi Government inside Parliament. We have all seen how the Winter Session of Parliament had witnessed more pandemonium than productivity because of the conversion issue and notorious remarks of a Minister.

The credit for Parliament’s functioning and passage of bills during the Budget session goes to Congress as it respects the institution as a “responsible” Opposition. The adamant attitude and arrogance of the Government is once again failing the legislature during this Session. The party that disrupted the Parliament the most in the last five decades crying foul that the “obstructionist” Congress and the Opposition are not allowing the House and the Government to work.

The picture of the 15th Lok Sabha is still fresh in the memory of people. Frequent parliamentary disruptions led to Question Hour being held for 40% of scheduled time in Lok Sabha and 43% in Rajya Sabha. In the 15th Lok Sabha, disruptions by BJP MPs resulted in almost no parliamentary business being transacted in two sessions. The irresponsible manner in which it had brought the last Lok Sabha to a historical low, to be the most disrupted Lok Sabha during the last 25 years, seems to be suffering from amnesia or short term memory failure as it accuses the Opposition of “undemocratic” behaviour.

Parliament

Yes, the Parliament should function and must transact business but for that the Government has to address the genuine issues raised by the Opposition as they are issues of public interest.

Given the present context, the onus lies on the Government and its leaders to smoothly run the House. It can be possible when the Government will shed its arrogance and stubbornness. A combative government with no respect for Opposition is not a healthy attribute of a parliamentary democracy. The tu-tu mein-mein approach is definitely not a legislative mechanism to deal with issues relating to governance.

The Government must reach out to the Opposition and welcome valid suggestions and concerns of the opposition, and the parties must work together in the interest of public welfare and in the spirit of a true functional democracy. Mexico is a good example for all of us to learn.

The major political parties in Mexico have signed a ‘Pact for Mexico’ committing consensual support to vital policies. Obviously, Opposition is also a stakeholder in the democratic process and they are equally concerned about public welfare. The Narendra Modi-led government must take a cue from Mexico by working with the Opposition intelligently, ensuring that reforms are adopted and implemented.

Paradigm shift and Institutions

A functional democracy requires functional and effective institutions. Institutions being the nerves of a democratic order, their growth and autonomy are vital for smooth functioning of democracy – political, economic and social.

History has witnessed how institutions have evolved over a period of time and contributes to the nation building process. History has also witnessed how key institutions have been weakened deliberately by forces not conducive to democratic affairs, consequently threatening the decline of democratic values in the society.

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The Indian National Congress (INC), since it was constituted in 1885, has espoused nation building through institutionalization of democratic values. The history of the Indian National Congress is the history of institution building. After winning Independence, the Congress Party in India was faced with the task of carving out a modern, democratic State from a traditional society.

The party started with a clear definition of the aims and purposes of the new State —Sovereignty of the People, Constitutional Democracy and Fundamental Rights. An inherited stable governmental machinery and administrative structure, the adoption of parliamentary and federal government and the setting up of the Planning Commission provided the formal apparatus with which these purposes could be realised.

What was needed was organisation and drive to give content to the constitutional forms by building up an institutional continuum that world lay the basis of a modern, democratic State. The Congress party attempted to strengthen national unity, to modernise the country, and to operate political and governmental institutions in order to lay the basis for democracy in India and remained successful in this endeavour.

Ever since, staunch secularism and socialist economics are the Congress’s “core beliefs. The Congress is committed to the four pillars of Nehruvianism — democratic institution -building, staunch secularism, socialist economics and a foreign policy of non-alignment — that were integral to a vision of Indianness.

It is in the interest of the country that these institutions be nurtured and allowed to evolve to meet the newer challenges. Divisive elements should not be allowed to work towards weakening the forces that make for national unity by strengthening parochial identities by the means of their traditional and conservative politics obstructing the process of modernisation and democratisation.

The conflict between the Congress Party and political parties like the BJP is the conflict of ideas i.e. between the politics of modernisation and the politics of power in a traditional society. The process of institution building begins with the government. As the new government has taken charge, it becomes important, in the public interest, to discuss and deliberate on institution building in India in the light of shift in political power.

To begin with, the highest institution of a democratic set up is the Parliament. Opposition parties and their constructive role improve the efficacy of Parliament as a legislating authority. The role played by the BJP as an Opposition in the 15th Lok Sabha is a glaring example how the national party had sullied the institution of Parliament, the sacred forum, by not allowing it to function effectively.

Parliament was prevented from discussing issues of public importance and to legislate on matters of public welfare. The 15th Lok Sabha was not allowed to utilize even 40 percent of its allotted time on legislation / discussion. 60 percent time of Question Hour was lost due to disruption by the BJP led opposition, only 10 percent of the starred questions could be answered orally. Now, they have moved to the other side of the House and hopefully will allow the Parliament to function.

Despite the slogan of Modiji that the new Government will not do badle ki rajniti but will do badlab ki rajniti, the Congress party and the UPA (which fought the general elections as a pre-poll coalition) is being denied the post of Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.

Over time and by virtue of Supreme Court orders and legislative rule making and also in consideration of the role played in appointment to high positions like the Lokpal, CVC, CIC, CBI Director, NHRC Chairman and Secretary – General, Lok Sabha, the post of Leader of Opposition has assumed a central role in Parliamentary functions.

Therefore, instead of focusing on petty politics, the NDA Government should institutionalize the LoP post and allow the single largest party in the House of the People to have the leader appointed as the Leader of Opposition in the House.

Another institution which was dishonored by the then Opposition was the position of Prime Minister. Dr. Manmohan Singh, a leader honest to the marrow, was described as ineffective and remote controlled. It was forgotten that when the entire world was going through recession, it was Dr. Singh who protected Indian economy from that recession with his knowledge and acumen. Congress party is a democratic party which gives ample freedom to its leaders and moreover, there is separation of power between the Party and the Government. Internal democracy is evident in the structure and functioning of the Congress party. It is not like other party which is remote controlled from neither Nagpur nor its policies and leaders are imposed on the party by a super authority.

It is of highest importance in a democratic set up that the independence of Judiciary, the balancing institution between the Legislature and the Executive, be uphold and the institution may be kept over and above political considerations and political victimization. The recent tug of war between the executive and the judiciary on the Gopal Subramanian case is a dangerous trend.

It was highly improper on the part of the NDA government to bring the judiciary into controversy by politically victimizing Shri Subramanian. The matter went to the extent that the Chief Justice of India had to express his displeasure on the course of action taken by the government on this issue. This was not the first time that the judiciary has been brought into controversy by the self-proclaimed party with a difference.

Taking exception to the Supreme Court verdict charging yoga guru Baba Ramdev of ‘contributory neglect’ that led to the midnight police crackdown at the Ramlila Maidan, the Bharatiya Janata Party had said that by the same logic Mahatama Gandhi contributed to the crackdown by the British raj on his protests. Such an unscrupulous comparison reflects its mindset. A judicial decision or executive order needs to be tolerated whether or not it facilitates the political agenda of a party.

After 16th May, 2014 when it was decided that the BJP will form the Government at the centre, discreet news items are appearing in the media that the new Government will undo the policies and the executive decisions of the previous Government. In this context, constitutional posts like State Governors and positions of policy importance like the RBI Governor have been dragged into discussion which are not symbols of healthy governance.

The Governors who act as links between the Centre and the States are being advised to resign from their positions. Such moves by the Government have been criticized by intellectuals who are well aware of the critical role played by the incumbents. Recently, former RBI Governor Shri Bimal Jalan has expressed his considered view that office of the RBI should not be politicized. It is only hoped that better sense will prevail and institutions like RBI, CVC and CAG will not be politicized.

The case of Planning Commission needs special mention. It is in the public domain that for the present government, Planning Commission is a defunct body of no relevance and it will have no impact if it is dismantled or its powers and functions are restricted by taking away its key role of allocating development funds to central ministries.

But the fact is that since its inception in 1950, the Planning Commission has played a crucial and responsible role for planning how resources would be mobilized and on what they would be spent. Despite the role played by the private sector, the planning process and the planning commission are still very much relevant to our economy.

The UPA Government, both in its first and second tenures, has enacted and implemented various historic laws institutionalizing pro-education, pro-welfare and anti-poverty measures and bringing transparency in administration. Schemes like MNREAGA and acts like the Right to Information Act and the Right to Education Act are conspicuous examples reflecting the objectives and concerns of the UPA Government.

Health was another area which has been given due importance by the Congress government, be it UPA or be it the previous Congress Governments. Steps were taken to ensure health insurance cover to all the citizens, starting with health insurance to the BPL families. If we look at how these welfare schemes were implemented in non-Congress ruled states, a comprehensive picture can be obtained about the priorities of the political parties like the BJP.

Gujarat model of development, flagged as the best development model by the BJP, has no place for development of human development index. Infant mortality, malnutrition and dropout rates in the State reflect the areas of neglect by the State Government there. A small Google search reveals that Gujarat occupies one of the top slots in the list of states where RTI activists have been killed in recent years.

A quick scan of those “killed” reveals that five out of some 23 odd killed in recent years (22 percent) were from Gujarat. Gujarat is a laggard in the implementation of the RTI Act. If it hadn’t been for a constitutional necessity to follow the laws of the land, the Gujarat Government would have done away with the RTI totally. It’s the same with the Lokayukta, Why have a Lokayukta at all? Gujarat hasn’t had one since 2003. These are key elements in the Gujarat model that Shri Narendra Modi has promised us all.

Secularism is the pillar on which the pluralistic society of India rests on. India is best described as a nation where unity is possible amidst the diversities. The history of India and the idea of India are not about domination of minority cultures by the majoritarian culture but about celebration of diverse cultural entities that exist peacefully within the constitutional framework of the country. Therefore, the Government of the day should recognize this diversity and work towards its promotion and protection instead of evoking a sense of fear among those who do not believe in the theory of cultural hegemony.

But now that the BJP has controlled the central government, the threat of subversion of the Constitution and the Parliament is very real. To conclude, as long as the extremist political forces are not ideologically weeded out from the body politic, the threat of extremism subverting Parliament will be real.

The legislature and its capacity to assert its independence flow from the executive’s accountability. This is how the makers of the Constitution conceived the parliamentary system in our country. Given the obnoxious record of the BJP, the threat is all the more serious. In democracies the world over, the functioning of the legislature is inseparably linked to the functioning of a free press reflecting truthfully the development and proceedings in Parliament. Therefore, in the coming days, vigilance has to be multi-fold to safeguard Parliament from such pernicious attempts at subversion.

* The writer is a Lawyer and the National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress.