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.
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.