How the Good turned into the Bad and the Ugly!

We need to put our Constitution under a microscope and see where it falls short and point out lacunae and corrections.

In my previous piece on our political system I had asked the question whether our pursuance of the noble goal of ‘social justice’ was in effect dividing the society on lines of caste and economic disparity.

Today’s newspapers have an item not really unexpected: Lalu Prasad Yadav, the onetime supremo of Bihar now languishing in jail, has been found guilty in yet another ‘Fodder Scam’ and earned another sentence-almost like another feather in his cap!

Lalu is no ordinary politician. He started his political career in the 1970s as a student leader, was active in the Sampoorna Kranti Andolan of Jay Prakash Narayan. Fought against the infamous Emergency of the mid 1970s. Became Chief Minister of Bihar and survived-no mean achievement in itself. Started like Indira’s Congress-I a political party in his own name: Janata Dal-Lalu. Made his (house)wife CM of the state overnight, following his arrest. (She too survived and thrived in that post!). Was a popular Railway Minister-starting Garib Raths by adding a 9th side berth to every compartment of a sleeper coach. Challenged anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare (an upstart in his own fashion) to contest Lok Sabha elections, win a seat and then talk of clean politics. Was popular with all sorts of media for he was always an excellent ‘copy’. Above all, Lalu the shayar who composed; Jab Tak Rahega Samoseme Aalu/ Tab Tak Rahega Biharme Lalu! In short, a living phenomenon cocktailing the good, the bad and the ugly of Indian politics.

And he is only the tip of the iceberg! It is next to impossible to find a clean and successful politician-is hamam me sab nange hai! The corruption in the legislative estate of our democracy has infected the executive too and top bureaucrats as well as police officers in handcuffs are not a shocking sight! Charges are flung at top judges too though less regularly: decades ago there was a poster outside district court in Thane, announcing the ‘rates’ at which verdicts (sic justice) could be bought. With three pillars of the system in the rot, the media had to follow suit: as testified by ‘paid (sold?) news’ in elections. Those who care (from their armchairs) for clean and value based public life are awe struck on lookers-some of them also have a morbid admiration for these corruption heroes which is privately voiced in comments like ‘nothing is unachievable for so and so’.

One wonders how the ‘chosen 299’ who drafted our Constitution would have reacted to this travesty of the political ideology and system they were trying to establish for the Republic. We Indians seem to have a remarkable skill: we can quickly lose the mantra and master the tantra of any ideal! That is why with all four estates of a constitutional democracy well entrenched and thriving everything clean, decent and civilized is fast disappearing from our world.

Read Also : Do not Raise the Partition-Ghost! - Vinay Hardikar

The Republic was established on 26 Jan 1950 with the adoption of the Constitution. Though the document did not say at that time that the Republic would be ‘socialist’ (the word was added decades later) India under Nehru embraced the socialist (sic USSR) model of development. The Planning Commission (PC) was established in 1952 with the PM as chairman and despite assurances of autonomy, states were expected to design their development plans under its supervision. Since the record of the private sector-such as it was- and the trade sector during the 1940s especially during the Second World War was shamefully anti-consumer (rising prices, man-made shortages, quality unheard of) the socialist model was seen as a sure remedy. The State would, with the wisdom of the economists in the PC, define ‘development’, frame policies in tune with the definition, establish and control the modus operandi, provide infrastructure and monitor (sic control) all sectors of the economy. Private enterprise was profit oriented hence an anathema! The State would be a noble angel!

It is now ‘universally acknowledged’ that this remedy proved to be worse than the malady and targeting Nehru is a common hobby of economists. I am not going into that here. I am trying to see if our Constitution is responsible for the fiasco!

Constitutional democracy is, in practice, the Legislature and the Executive-or houses of elected representatives and bureaucracy, put simply. There is reason to believe that at least in the first two elections the number of parties was small, candidates though not angels had a decent political record in that the four major parties-Congress, Socialists, Swatantra and Communists represented four major ideologies which must have rubbed on the candidates. Similarly the bureaucracy was led by seniors who had been trained by the British and knew how to follow rules and precedents in conducting their business. Both must not have been corruption-proof but it was an exception when it surfaced. Further since the two had got the reins of economy they were wary and guarded. In the words of Rajaji ‘the business of government was government and not business’!

The decline started when getting elected to houses of representatives or getting selected for a government job became business and career respectively! Career in anything is essentially for self promotion and politicians and civil servants were quick in seeing a golden future for themselves and their family. These were the ‘men who got things done’. Politicians decided what was to be done and civil servants decided how it would be done. No doubt their interests clashed now and then (the clean civil servant is always an eyesore for the efficient politician and vice versa) but between them they created a self-serving and self-sustaining labyrinth of leaders of ‘development.’ It was impossible to serve the people, a motto of yesteryears, unless you were an elected politician or a civil servant. Self-service was the new slogan (though never voiced); service above self was out of fashion, leave aside practice.

हेही वाचा : एन्ड ऑफ आयडिऑलॉजी : एक मतलबी भ्रम - विनय हर्डीकर 

I am dead sure that this attitudinal shift would have shocked the ‘chosen 299’ to their bones! Sadly they believed that under the system they envisaged the best in public life would man the houses of representatives and in their turn would select and encourage the best among civil servants. Together the two would deliver the benefits of independence to the people. Was this sheer naivete or faulty understanding of human nature? Farmers’ leader Sharad Joshi used to say-people think by their pockets; not hearts/minds. Whatever the reason, at the present rate of decline the day when we shall get the worst in both may not be too far!

Our constitution does speak of elections but is mum on who should be the candidates. Putting down conditions for this would have come under fire as undemocratic but some recommendation/s might have been of use. Elective Merit is the new phrase the meaning of which is getting dubious all the time. In the first two three polls it must have meant membership of a recognized party, knowledge of its ideology, sustained party work in the constituency, absence of stains on character, basic education plus skills of communication and/or leadership: having taken part in the freedom struggle would be a bonus.

Compare this to what is understood as ‘elective merit’ at present. Membership of a recognized and creditworthy party has gone out of the window: for one thing there are too many parties (numbering around 100) and for another after some rules were enforced to stop defections anyone with ‘elective merit’ can join any party even after elections are announced and the code of conduct is, at least notionally, in force. No need for post election horse trading; horses trade themselves. And what is this ‘elective merit’ but money and muscle power and a total disregard for decency, consistency and clean public record? In such a sorry state of affairs do we need to be shocked if criminals are found in the lists of candidates of all parties? From a corrupt legislature it is just one step to corrupt the executive-both the kettle and the pot are soot black!

There is one more matter where our constitution is silent: it says nothing about the performance of the elected members of any public house. I am not suggesting that houses of representatives should be run like schools or offices where strict (?) records of attendance are kept but there should be some adequate norms of behavior for the members. At present no house is free of fights, melees, pushing and jostling, damage to furniture etc: sadly sometimes there is misbehavior too. For these offences the speaker of the house is empowered and can expel some member/s- but he is rarely impartial. Above all, peoples’ representatives cannot be directly sued for these offenses; the house has to permit it-it generally prevents it. Only last week the supreme court revoked the long expulsion of some opposition MLAs from Maharashtra.

While we cherish our Constitution for the noble treatise it is, we need to put it under a microscope and see where it falls short and point out lacunae and corrections. If our constitutional democracy is to survive this mockery we need to drastically review all provisions under ‘people’ representation’. The Constitution was adopted to elect the best to public office and if it is falling short we the people should remedy the situation.

We have to ensure that ‘the bad and the ugly’ in houses of representatives are thrown out by the good’!

- Vinay Hardikar 

(The writer has been working in the public sphere of Maharashtra for the last five decades. His versatile personality has several dimensions, but the primary ones remain to be that of an established writer, journalist, editor, critic, activist, and teacher.)

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