Thursday, December 19, 2013
Quarrels of a groping Nation
Wintry fog and haze in Delhi this year is accompanied by another kind of smoggy, hazy chaos. Delhi suddenly seems drugged and blinded in the midst of ticklish issues, fishy options but no solutions in sight. There is confusion and a strange kind of excitement all over. Delhi elections are over but there is no Government yet in place. Times were when political parties never lost opportunity and deftly cobbled up majority and invented coalition governments turning their pre-election enmities to avowed friendship and a willing power sharing consort. Amazingly, this time all three - BJP, Congress and the debutant Aam Admi Party (AAP) – abhor power! Incredible performance of AAP has not only befuddled the political pundits but also introduced a unique paradigm in the Indian politics. Crusade against corruption, probity in public life, transparency and accountability in governance and peoplising the power of State were boldly paraded as prime issues that Arvind Kejriwal’s outfit dared to espouse and declare. While they did take up the more tangible issues like bijli, pani, their kind of campaigning had never been seen before. Naming the Party as simply as ‘Aam Admi’, picking up the humble jharu as a Party symbol, crowning a redesigned Congress topi (dumped by Congress long since), fielding non-politician ‘aam admis’ and door to door campaigning on foot was starkly opposed to the flamboyance of the giant rivals who went about holding rallies and public meetings amidst dazzling hoardings, unending rows of cars and bravura of splendour and awe.
Congress that had jeered and castigated the new entrant AAP in the election fray now stands badly mauled and smarting under a humiliating defeat. As if moved by a newfound sense of piety and benevolence, Congress has come forth to extend ‘unconditional support’ to AAP and encouraged them to form the government. Now with 28 MLAs in a 70 member Delhi Assembly, Arvind Kerjriwal is himself dazzled and faced by a perplexing dilemma whether to dare and step into the Congress trap of ‘unconditional support’ that would add up his number to the barest minimum majority number of 36 or to let the opportunity pass and head for re-election.
Even as the blame-counter-blame game goes on among all the warring political entities in Delhi’s chaotic scenario, we find India’s angry old man Anna Hazare suddenly all praise for the political regime he had earlier vowed to vanquish. Today he is friends with his former enemies and enemy to his erstwhile beloved protégé Arvind Kejriwal! On 18 December 2013, the Parliament passed the long awaited Lokpal bill which undoubtedly remains short of Anna Hazare’s ‘Jan Lokpal’ bill from which he had not budged until the Prime Minister and the Parliament gave formal assurances to implement. Today he is celebrating a lesser Lokpal bill and eulogises Rahul Gandhi for creating history. As Chanakya said long ago, “there is nothing permanent in politics except the interests you espouse.” And when ‘interests’ become self-serving, humans are quick to adapt to altered circumstances. The high point of public confusion is there is no knowing who is right and who is wrong. And the quarrels are only raging leaving the millions aspiring for a more caring, people oriented dispensation in Delhi yearning and waiting.
If you thought Delhi and urban India were not drugged and befuddled, here’s another weird agitation that should convince you we are a nation lost in bewilderment. There is another kind of uproar raging through urban India these days – demonstrations against the recent Supreme Court Judgement upholding the validity of Section 377 of the IPC and pronouncing the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-gender (LGBT) sexual relationship as unnatural, against the order of Nature and therefore within the ambit of the law as a criminal act. That a miniscule section of society seeking legal and social sanction for their deviant carnal indulgence in private lives should dominate and sustain their hold on the national media obscuring bigger and more sensitive national and social issues is even more appalling. Save in the case of the savagery committed by the rapists in the capital a year ago, the media has consistently failed to take up vital national issues with the same gusto as has been recently on display for gay ‘rights’.
The ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kissan’ slogan having been dumped long ago, the farmer who feeds the nation is left to starve and languish in abject poverty throughout the country. What a shame that as many as 2,84,694 farmers have committed suicide in the past 18 years of a rising India! What is alarming is the fact that the annual average farmer suicides (16,264 in 2012) has been consistently rising since 2004 (The Hindu, Mumbai, June 29, 2013). What an irony that the farmer who grows food for us but remains hungry himself. We buy his onions at Rs 7/- per kg and sell it at Rs 90/- per kg. We buy his land at Rs 30 lakh per acre and sell it at Rs 25000/- per sq yard (ie, Rs 12.06 crore per acre)! A clearer, conscious view of the situation would be possible only if the media, activists, and opinion makers came out of their stupor.
The story of the jawan who fights and does not flinch from killing or dying so that we could live in peace and safety, is no different. Consistently neglected and humbled by a stubborn dispensation that does not move until pushed by revolt, violence and destruction, the soldiers and ex-soldiers are unhappy to say the least. God forbid, if the simmering anguish within the Forces ever erupted into violence, it would be India’s saddest day in the history. Military role, culture and law are distinct from all others. While soldiers have been always lauded for their prompt and efficient performance in carrying out non-soldiering jobs in emergencies, non-soldiers cannot replace soldiers in the latter’s role because soldiers step in where all others have given up. Their requirements should, therefore, be proactively foreseen, anticipated and met because a contented, happy and proud soldier is an asset to the country. In the service and out of it, all military personnel are today whining against the raw deal meted out to them by successive Pay Commissions, especially in the post 3rd Pay Commission dispensation. What is simmering within the Forces can be surmised by anyone from the rising trend of suicides, insubordination, mutinies in units and a held-back response even in the face of enemy ingress as has been seen in some recent border incidents. Defence Minister AK Antony in a statement to the Parliament in March this year confessed that 368 soldiers had committed suicide during 2010-12. Are we waiting for the soldiers to give expression to their anger? A concerned media should have awakened the national conscience for causes like these because far from being ‘welfare matters’ these issues are in reality the core issues of our national security.
When will the political Parties and leaders start thinking seriously about matters of national significance? There is a need and genuine urgency to put these issues at the centres stage of national debate before the country goes to polls to elect the new Lok Sabha – and a national Government. Even the most laudable list of issues espoused by Kejriwal’s AAP has missed out these vital issues. Hopefully, national security and military preparedness shall find their deserved slot in the political manifestoes of some parties if not all. Surely, for media and rights activists too, these issues should become more vital in national interest because other issues will have no meaning if we failed to safeguard the vitals around us. Now, his Lokpal goal having been met, Anna Hazare – a kissan and soldier himself – should also express his opinion on these vital issues that affect the nerve centre of our nation and society.
The writer is a defence veteran, author and a social reformist who runs the NGO ‘Turning Point India’.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
“Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
· The father of Nation had laid down this litmus test for lesser mortals to make correct decisions in life. We need to test the decision of Indian Government to award the Bharat Ratna to Sachin Tendulkar against this rule.
· The news of award of Bharat Ratna to Sachin Tendulkar has been received with lot of jubilation all around the country. All political parties have welcomed the award and seem united at least on this issue. (No one wants to antagonize the numerous cricket crazy fans of the batsman). Some politicians have congratulated the Prime Minister for this decision. (At last the old man made some decision which is not ‘nonsense’).
· The media has gone out of its way to highlight the achievement and has organized special programs to discuss the merits of the award. (Everyone wants to increase their TRPs with very little investment of resources towards making a popular program).
· Sachin has dedicated this award to all the mothers of the country. (What difference does it make to the lives of millions of Indian mothers)? But the media somehow liked the story very much.
· The timing of the award has also been hailed as very apt and correct as it coincided with the retirement of the cricket maestro. (The timing also coincides well with elections in five states). The timing of the award really needs to be hailed as the government was able to decide to bestow the award on a person before his death or before his reaching a old and senile age.
· No one has dared to question the qualification or suitability of Sachin to bag this award.
· Let us now dispassionately examine the qualification of Sachin to bag the highest honor of our country:-
§ He can hit a piece of leather called a cricket ball, thrown at him, very hard and to a place where he wants, a fairly large number of times.
§ He has done this while playing cricket for a private club called the BCCI.
§ The game in which he has excelled is played in only six countries around the world.
§ He has not passed even his tenth class examination.
§ He has never questioned the corruption in the BCCI or ever commented on the numerous match fixing scandals in cricket.
§ He did not sport the initiative of world anti doping agency in rooting out doping from cricket.
§ His performance and record as the captain of the team was dismal and he was not able to lead the team.
§ He has sold maximum number of foreign soft drinks, which are bad for health of our young generation to make easy money. Some sports persons have denied doing the same as they were more concerned about the public health.
§ He has sought tax exemption to import a foreign car into the country and thus did not want to contribute towards nation building, which he could easily afford.
§ He has continued to stick to his place in the team, well beyond the expiry date to play 200 test matches.
§ He stopped bowling so as to prolong his cricket career thus not ever fully contributing to the team.
§ He has made no substantial donations to any cause and his contribution to overall good of our country or humanity is largely unknown.
§ He has been recently honored by being nominated to the Rajya Sabha. (Rewarded because the masters are sure that he will never open his mouth). All other sporting awards of the country have already been conferred on him.
· Now, let us compare his achievements with some other citizens of our country who have recently retired.
· Mr Ratan Tata has recently retired after successfully leading a huge business empire which provides employment to a large number of our citizens. His immense contribution to various social causes is well known. He has stood for truth, honesty and discipline in public life. His company has probably contributed the maximum in taxes for the development of our country. But our learned Prime Minister has not found him fit to be awarded the Bharat Ratna.
· Similarly, Mr Sridharan, the man behind the success of Delhi Metro also retired recently. The man is an accomplished engineer, credited with the success of Konkan Railway also. He is known for his strength of character and integrity of highest order. He had the strength of character to stand firm against all political pressures.He has made the lives of thousands of our citizens slightly more comfortable.
· The country does not recognize real heroes but adorns their puppets or mute characters with highest awards. A Bharat Ratna will now be selling soft drinks, shampoos and other products and will make all Indians proud.
*The author is a Military Veteran reputed for his 'out of the box ideas' and love for challenges. He quit military service at a time when his career was zooming upwards with promise aplenty for higher glories. His pre-mature retirement has left the Indian Army a notch poorer. His prowess and creativity now add value to the Indian Industry.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Righting the Wrongs of ‘Democracy’
Even as the weather is getting cooler, the political atmosphere is getting hotter. Fuelled by the rampant corruption and bad governance, the popular mood is anything but cool. Undoubtedly, the public is yearning for far reaching changes in the polity and governance of the country. Never before has ‘corruption’ been an election issue as significant as it is this time. Never before, also, has any Central Government sunk so deep in a marsh of scams and scandals as the present UPA Government. Narendra Modi largely, hailed as a symbol of honesty, development and nationalistic pride, has unleashed an all-out offensive against the Congress. Rahul Gandhi and the Congress on the other hand are grappling hard finding no better riposte than calling the media opinion polls foul or reclaiming Sardar Patel to dispossess Modi and the BJP of the iron Man who gave meaning to Freedom by integrating a fragmenting India in 1947. Over-indulgence in non-issues and petty nit picking during poll campaigns have often drowned the major issues that need to be addressed more responsibly.
The current political environment raises questions larger than those being traded in the election speeches and media debates. Here are some crucial issues that need a closer and deeper look by all those who are concerned about India’s future.
Let’s have Democracy first!
The candidate selection process followed by our political parties is fundamentally flawed and undemocratic because people’s representatives are arbitrarily nominated and imposed upon the electorate and the voters are advised, lured and blackmailed to vote for these party nominees. World’s largest democracy thus denies its people their right to choose and sponsor their preferred representatives to contest in elections under the concerned Party’s banner. The practice in vogue tends to promote sycophancy and stifles people’s voice because the undeserving manage to secure party tickets through unfair means which are too obvious to remain hidden any more.
Another major flaw that stifles popular public opinion is the convention of issuing ‘whip’ for voting on crucial legislations in the Parliament. Members’ voting under diktats of the whip is fundamentally flawed because it reduces the Party to one-man show and deprives the individual MPs from giving free expression to the aspirations of his electorate. If a single party vote were so vital and decisive, why have all the members voting? The practice of whip has vitiated the democratic voting regime and promoted despotic whims and fancies of the Party lords.
People, media and institutions like the Election Commission (EC) must address these issues and facilitate a more genuine public representation in the legislatures at all levels.
Fallacious Canard – Coalitions & Winnability
Two features of India’s contemporary political setting – the idea of ‘coalition’ and ‘winnability’ – have been unfairly presented to the people by the politicians and political thinkers in the recent past. It is almost universally believed that the era of single party governments is over and coalitions are now the order of the day, as if elections were just another name for fashion parades and beauty contests. Far from being a popular fashion, coalition governments are a curse that has befallen because of the murky political environment that has confused the voter making his choice difficult. The practice of coalition governments has made politics a highly lucrative profession for the power hungry opportunists and criminals. Recent elections have repeatedly shown bitter enemies – who had vowed to wipe out each other, called names and hurled abuses and accusations on each other – suddenly teaming together to form coalitions soon after the election results were announced.
Rhetoric and cunningly orchestrated campaigns apart, vote bank is where all parties swoop and converge from all directions. In an environment where all promises, assurances and manifestos are competitively luring and character no different, it is for the swinging lot of gullible voters to vote and gloat for another time. “What is wrong with coalitions? It is people’s will and fully constitutional,” argue all legal eagles and political analysts. A counter argument is why has the Manmohan Singh government earned sobriquets like ‘a government in ICU’, ‘policy paralysis’, not to mention a lot more humbling comments?
Winnability - a novel word and factor manufactured by the innovative Indian political brains – overrides all other qualities and factors like honesty, espousal of Cause, ethics, character, education and experience when it comes to giving party tickets for elections. The end result is the influx of criminals into the Lok Sabha and state legislatures. There are over 165 MPs in the present Lok Sabha who face criminal charges – all winnable, nay, invincible at the elections. This being already a third of the Lok Sabha, the number of outlaws is rising menacingly with every new election. The secret of their invincibility lies in their ‘how-dare-you’ posturing. Muscle and money are complementary in their role as forces and resources of the evil. Hence, all else fades and dries up in the range of their spew. The next election might well throw up a tally of an even bigger number of criminals in the Lok Sabha clearing the way for a rapist, murderer or a terrorist to be India’s Prime Minister heading the Government in the name of ‘Coalition Dharma’ – constitutionally a perfect democratic amalgam mandated by the people! And yet, we are led to believe in the innocuous inevitability and the democratic validity of a process that has become far more sinister than many an autocracy.
In statutory terms, it is for the EC to conduct ‘free and fair elections’. This in itself empowers the EC to initiate measures to check not only entry of the ‘unfair’ in the fray but also impose accountability on speeches, allegations and claims made by parties. More importantly, post-poll alliances among the erstwhile rivals are grossly ‘unfair’ for being wholesale betrayal of people’s mandate and, therefore, must be disallowed and disqualified. In the case of pre-poll alliance too, parties coming together must declare their common minimum programme and seek people’s mandate on their intended post-poll role.
The spread of communication technology in India is a precious modern asset that makes it possible and affordable today for the poorest in the remotest areas to connect to the relevant government desk – provided the Government really is ready to connect and listen. A lot of e-governance is already in place. Income tax returns are already an on-line function. Internet banking, e-ticketing, e-shopping and so on are far more efficient and convenient activities in life today. If so, there is a case for the EC to consider conducting elections through e-voting especially when biometric IDs like Aadhaar cards are in place. If initiated, this form of e-election will result in enormous savings because the requirement for security forces will be drastically reduced. More importantly, the ‘voter turnout’ will rise significantly. Security cover will be required only for the few ‘Nukkad Cyber Polling Booths’ which may have to be established for those not yet able to vote online/on phone for whatever reasons.
Similarly, rallies and processions could be replaced by ‘e-Chaupal/e-Rally’ where the EC could help evolve a consensus among political parties and establish a network of LED screens telecasting speeches of party leaders and the contestants. Maybe, facilities like video-chat with voters could also be provided in time slots worked out evenly for all contestants and parties. Imagine the relief such an exercise will provide keeping roads and markets free from traffic jams besides denying terrorists their lucrative targets!
The scenario is that of great opportunities with plenty of talent and a vast reservoir of young generation, which can position India in her cherished goal to lead the world to more peaceful and prosperous times ahead. Our internal threats – corruption, dysfunctional coalition governments, divisive politics, rising number of criminals in politics and power – are simultaneously signalling ‘danger ahead’. Will we make it to our goal? The question stares India in the face.
The writer is a defence veteran, author and a social reformist who runs the NGO ‘Turning Point India’.
Saturday, November 09, 2013
Where is Governance headed?
The Supreme Court has directed union and state governments to constitute a Civil Services Board (CSB) to manage transfers, postings, promotions, etc., of civil servants, to insulate bureaucracy from interference by politicians. This welcome direction is based upon a PIL, which seeks to minimize if not eliminate one aspect of political corruption in governance that impinges upon effective delivery of services to the people. In view of the judiciary having to step in to issue a directive that implicitly speaks of failure of the political executive and legislators, it is well to take a close look at governance and its bases. Further, since governance is by people and is supposed to be for people, the individual and instutional aspects of corruption and vigilance that affect governance need to be examined.
Governance: State and citizens
Governance, or the control and direction of State functioning, consists of formulating policies and issuing orders and directions to implement them. These are or should be based upon laws, rules and regulations created on the foundation of the Constitution of India. The executive Council of Ministers is to be collectively responsible to the House of the People, and hence the political executives and the legislatures are both responsible for governance. This responsibility is declared by them in the oaths of office as Minister or as Member of Parliament. A Minister swears to “do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”, and a Member of Parliament swears to “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India and that I will faithfully discharge the duty upon which I am about to enter”. The Prime Minister takes an oath to abide by the Constitution and the laws, while the President of India has a more onerous role, swearing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Even a casual observer of daily affairs would find that the majority of official functionaries have taken their oaths of office rather casually.
The State consists of members of the political executive and the legislatures, and civil servants, populating a constitutional structure. It needs to perform its duties according to the directive principles of state policy, using the politics of discussion, debate, consultation and consensus, in order to deliver to the people, social, economic and political justice; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; and equality of status and opportunity. The State is also duty bound to promote fraternity among the people, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation. All this is to meant to make the Nation function as a “sovereign socialist secular democratic Republic”.
The citizens however cannot sit back and expect good governance from the State, because the Constitution also prescribes the duties of citizens in a participative democracy. Besides being charged with the duty to abide by the Constitution, protect the sovereignty and integrity of the Nation and defend it when the need arises, the citizen is also duty bound to promote harmony across religious, linguistic and regional diversities, and renounce practices derogatory to women's dignity. Further, every citizen must preserve the cultural heritage, protect and improve the natural environment, safeguard public property, abjure violence, and notably, strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement.
Thus the Constitution not only directs what is to be done by whom in which sphere of activity, but also prescribes the purpose or aim. The Constitution is India's primary strategic document, the Nation's “holy book” according to which governance must be delivered.
But in recent years, and especially after the New Economic Policy (NEP-1991), the economics of privatization and liberalization has been driving politics, rather than politics using economics as a tool to deliver good governance to the people. There are huge failures in governance at union and state levels, innumerable protests by people (especially the poor), rising public discontent and militancy, and widespread disillusionment and disgust with the political class and with civil servants. A large proportion of civil servants is complicit with corrupt politicians, with rare courageous and principled exceptions such as Sanjiv Chaturvedi (IFS, Haryana), Sanjiv Bhatt (IPS, Gujarat), Ashok Khemka (IAS, Haryana) and Durgashakti Nagpal (IAS, UP). There is general ignorance about and public disdain for the Constitution. Political and economic corruption has risen to unprecedented levels, and this has been accompanied by precipitous drops in moral and ethical standards of public persons in their public and private lives.
Political corruption in the electoral sense is well-recognized, since political parties do not function with internal democracy. With the exception of elections, democracy is generally a false facade, and democratic opposition and dissent in public life are violently attacked verbally and physically. When the nation's sovereignty is supinely allowed to be compromised, or its socialist or secular character violated, it should also be termed as political corruption, since it violates the Constitution. Representative examples are in order concerning sovereignty, socialism and secularism.
Rather than objecting to USA's NSA spying-snooping on India, its strategic partner, the union government condoned it as scrutiny, as if scrutiny of India's governance and spying upon its people and leaders by USA is acceptable. Thus, our leaders have accepted India's subordination to U.S machinations and compromised political sovereignty and national honour. The socialist character of the Republic is possibly the most violated, since NEP-1991 unabashedly leads to policy preference and priority to capital investment over poverty alleviation, and to the urban-industrial sector over the rural-agricultural sector. The secular character has been violated by deliberate ineffectiveness to prevent, contain and prosecute religious violence, notably the 1984 violence against Sikhs, and the 2002 pogrom against Muslims. Thus 63 years down the road, while this “sovereign socialist secular democratic Republic” remains in the text of the Constitution, it is mostly missing in action.
Effect of political corruption
Apart from the four major characteristics of our Republic being mostly on paper, there are other significant political failures of both the State and citizenry in daily life. First, nationalism is increasingly being worn as a badge of honour by right-wing Hindu fundamentalists, as if those who do not subscribe to their ideology are less patriotic, even unpatriotic or enemies. Second, the armed organs of the State as well as armed or militant civil society groups are increasingly resorting to extreme physical violence, thereby displaying their utter contempt for human rights. Third, Muslim and Hindu fundamentalist groups view the “opposite” community as enemies, and use that as the means of recruitment and rallying. Fourth, domination of Indian society across religions by the male sex remains undiminished. The khap panchayats at rural levels, sexist business advertisements and cultural policing at urban levels, and unabated rape-assault-molestation cases indicate the rise of sexism and the macho male. The sexual escapades of so-called godmen degrade legitimate religion and social morality. Fifth, corporate control of mainstream print and electronic mass media produces profit- and TRP-oriented news and views that are fed to the reading and viewing public. Glittering advertisements for high-living, soap-opera serials, endless sports matches and frothy entertainment programs keep the public sufficiently dumbed down so as to care for little else unless it concerns them at a personal level. Sixth, the so-called war on terror and militancy (based on PM Dr.Manmohan Singh's statement that militancy is the greatest internal security threat ??) has resulted in anti-people, mass public surveillance by shadowy organizations like NATGRID and CMS. Seventh, Hindu rituals (poojas) are conducted in government offices, haj travellers are provided financial help by the State, temples are granted public funds for their 'development', places of worship in public places are not demolished as required by the Supreme Court, Government of Karnataka grants Rs.50,000 “shaadi bhagya” to Muslim brides, etc. But the demolition of Babri masjid at Ayodhya and its bloody aftermath infamously exemplifies the unholy nexus between religion and politics, against the true spirit of secularism. Eighth, corporate power influences State policy formulation and implementation. For example, the revenue foregone in the budget by tax concessions to corporate business and industry far exceeds the budgetted amount for NREGA or help to poor farmers. And land is extracted (acquisition is the polite word) from poor adivasi and rural people against environmental and forest laws for handing over to mega-industries according to secretly-signed MOUs. This is unsurprising considering that a majority of legislators are crorepatis and “represent” the “best interests” of the majority of Indians who live on under Rs.20 per day. Ninth, labour and public protest is suppressed. The brutal repression of the workers of the Maruti-Suzuki Gurgaon factory is typical of government using the police to protect the interests of business and industry. The filing of hundreds of false “waging war against the state” and sedition charges against peaceful protestors at Koodankulam in addition to brutal police attack while legislators remain silent, is merely another recent example of the repressive State. Tenth, there is disdain for intellectuals and the arts. The recent murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, the harassment of painter M.F.Hussain, the banning of books and speeches that “hurt” the over-sensitive sentiments of various segments of society, vandalizing the Bhandarkar Institute Library in Pune, are all quick examples of social degradation by contempt for freedom of expression and intellectual diversity, and intolerance of difference of opinion and democratic dissent. Eleventh, growth of rampant cronyism and corruption in governments across political parties is undoubtedly the general public view, needing no amplification. Twelfth, despite herculean efforts of the Central and State election commissions, elections at panchayat/ULB, state legislature and parliament levels are still subject to violence, intimidation, booth-capturing, and vote-purchase. Further, political parties in our parliamentary democracy are aping the American presidential system by fraudulent campaigning on the basis of so-called prime-ministerial candidates (chief-ministerial candidates for state elections), and confusing the electorate about their programs and public commitment.
The twelve points above do not merely indicate the social degradation of Indian polity but, when read together, reveal a disturbing slide towards fascism, which is the anti-thesis of democracy. Many of these conditions were obtaining in Europe of the 1930s, when Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy came to power. The decline of democracy and the slide towards fascism is primarily due to political corruption, and all political parties are to blame for the failures. But the citizens, particularly the educated ones, are not free from blame of not having performed their constitutional duties.
Political corruption is often driven by economic greed as part of the quid pro quo. Economic corruption which fuels illegitimate money-and-muscle political power seriously affects good governance. Economic corruption concerns the secret exchange of movable and/or immovable property and/or services for unauthorized, unfair or illegal benefit of both parties to the act of corruption. Obviously not all people in positions of power and authority or possessing money-power are corrupt. A cynic might say that most people (common citizens) are honest because they have little opportunity for stealing and no power or authority for “exchange-corruption”, a much smaller number who have the power and authority of office are honest because they are fearful of being caught out and punished, and the smallest number are honest by personal principle.
Stealing is also a form of corruption. Stealing movable or immovable property results in the victim being the loser and the thief being the gainer. Not giving what legally needs to be given, such as income tax, property tax, commercial tax, etc., also amounts to stealing because the tax avoider gains while the public exchequer loses. However, in “exchange-corruption”, both the giver and the receiver are gainers, while the loser is the organization, society or nation, through moral and ethical degradation and financial or material loss. Thus, there can be little hesitation in averring that corruption, besides being illegal, is anti-people, anti-social, and anti-national. Corrupt persons and those who protect them are enemies of the State, and considering the astronomical levels of corruption scams regularly coming to light, corruption can be termed as India's greatest internal security threat.
Vigilance and leadership
Vigilance simply means watchfulness or wakefulness. Interestingly, the Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary provides another meaning: “a planned effort to uncover and punish corruption and bribery (India)”. This is probably a result of rampant corruption and bribery rooted in British India, flowering in the seventh decade of India's independence. Thus in the Indian context, “corruption” refers to “exchange-corruption” as failure of integrity, and vigilance has the limited meaning of exposing and punishing it. Political, professional, moral and ethical integrity are rarely if ever considered or referred to in the public discourse. In order to take a more holistic and constructive view of vigilance, we need to consider vigilance both at individual and organizational level.
It is a given of human behaviour that every individual within any organization, casually or motivatedly, directly or indirectly, observes or watches every other person. Motivated watching up-the-line may be to collect information in “self-defence” or to silence or thwart vigilance, or even to actively gain relative advantage or bargaining power, or for blackmail. But on the other hand, persons of principled honesty may also watch their organizational superiors for wrong-doing. In every public or private organization, persons are leaders at various levels, entrusted with responsibilities and duties, and vested with appropriate powers and authority. It is part of the leadership function to be vigilant in order to execute those responsibilities and duties by guiding and directing the members of the team for better individual and team performance, to ensure safety at work, etc. In a nutshell, strive for excellence as a citizen's constitutional duty.
Watching happens in the most fundamental social organization, the family. Children watch parents as part of the learning process and imbibe their values and attitudes from observed behaviour, heard speech and adult conversation. Children also watch their siblings to get competitive advantage of parental attention or affection. Indeed, vigilance in its holistic, constructive or positive interpretation can be likened to a mother's watching over her children for their safety and health, and to help, teach and guide them for their physical, emotional and social development, including correcting wrong-doing, and scolding or punishing them when necessary.
Citizens participate in democracy by voting persons into positions of power, authority and responsibility. After that, citizens need to watch persons in governments and legislatures, so that constitutional and legal power and authority are used to enhance their freedoms and not misused to deny citizens their rightful and lawful dues. This vigilance on the performance of public servants is also part of active participation in democracy.
Hitherto, active citizens used information of official wrong-doing obtained by word of mouth or from the news media, to lodge complaints in appropriate fora. The Right to Information Act, now expands the extent of citizens' vigilance, and sting operations and investigative journalism by courageous media persons provide evidence. With reference to the limited aspect of exchange-corruption, and noting the reality that an “honest official” is not necessarily honest all the time and a “dishonest official” is not necessarily dishonest all the time, citizens' vigilance reduces corruption by making officials wary of getting caught. Since public vigilance is a threat to corrupt politicains and officials, there are political and bureaucratic initiatives to reduce the effectiveness of the RTI Act by motivated amendments and changes. And RTI activists and others who question governments' policies and decisions are targetted for harassment and even elimination.
The demand for electoral reforms includes the “right to recall” an elected representative who performs badly or inadequately in the interest of his constituency. This is nothing but a form of public vigilance. Civil society groups like NAPM, PUCL, PUDR and ADR are, at least in part, vigilance-oriented, even if their primary focus is on specific fields. Members of these groups are also subject to the predatory attentions of governments which arrest them and file false criminal cases against them.
Corruption of institutional vigilance
As a part of mandated checks and balances, governments have institutionalized vigilance at union and state levels in the form of auditors and accountants, vigilance commissions, election commissions, lokayuktas and enforcement directorates. These bodies watch governments and quasi-government organizations not only with reference to economic and political corruption, but also for effective performance. They are therefore the positive and constructive, constitutional tools of vigilance.
Governments also need to watch certain places like railway and bus stations for general public safety, and certain people like criminal or terrorist suspects. This necessary targetted vigilance is carried out by police and intelligence agencies, while special investigations are carried out by the CBI and enforcement directorates.
However, in the name of keeping citizens safe from terror attacks, governments are widening the scope of vigilance to general mass surveillance. This consists of collecting biometric data of all residents in India to assign a so-called unique identification (UID) number. This UID (Aadhaar) number forms the link between hitherto independent information silos of the election commission, banks, food and civil supplies, police intelligence, life and general insurance agencies, regional transport authorities, passport office, income tax offices, etc. Together with IT-based advanced biometric recognition techniques and enormously enhanced digital data repositories and processing power, government has the technological basis required for mass surveillance. The structural basis for mass surveillance is provided by creation of the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid) and Centralized Monitoring System (CMS), both highly secret, shadowy organizations.
Even though its technological and structural bases are in place, mass surveillance does not have legal sanction and cannot have constitutional legitimacy. Worse, some laws have been enacted to enlarge the scope of misuse of government powers of surveillance, while there is no privacy law in place to protect individual freedoms. This unaccountable and intransparent power in the hands of self-selected, anonymous, unapproachable officials and non-officials is dangerously undemocratic and can be the primary tool for arbitrarily profiling individuals and groups for political, communal or commercial purposes. Besides watching ordinary citizens, mass surveillance will watch all persons in government, legislature and judiciary, and the vigilance agencies, all of whom will become open to unconstitutional and illegal influence in their official functioning, making their oaths of office and secrecy irrelevant. Governments “of the people” will come under private control.
This is vigilance gone haywire and is constitutional corruption, in which We the People will be watched by unconstitutional or extra-constitutional entities for political or commercial gain. It is not an overstatement to say that such mass surveillance is a huge Orwellian step towards the decline of democracy and the rise of fascism.
There is a joke doing the rounds, on failure of the pillars of the Constitution. Gandhiji in heaven asks Chitragupta as to how the three monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) are doing in India. Chitragupta replies that all three are doing well – andha bandar kanoon ban gaya; behera bandar sarkar ban gaya; aur goonga bandar vidhayak ban gaya. The desperate helplessness and frustration of people in political jokes precedes anarchic violence.
Corruption, whether political or economic, moral or ethical, or some combination of them, stands in the way of people's political, economic and cultural progress. Corruption, the nation's greatest internal security threat, needs to be controlled by vigilance. But vigilance clearly is a mixed bag. Too little of people's vigilance leads to mis-governance and mal-governance, while institutional vigilance extending to mass surveillance can be fatal to democracy and the constitutional rule of We the People.
Whether India slips into fascism or manages to keep the ship of democracy afloat will depend on several factors – possibly the most important is the quality of leadership. There is dire need of political leadership of unquestionable integrity, which has empathy for the majority poor and is strong without being dictatorial, with strategic vision based solidly on our Constitution, capable of handling and enabling civil servants, and capable of managing dissent and opposition without capitulating on principles. Only statesmanship displayed by political leaders can pull the nation out of the depths of its political corruption created in recent decades by little men and women with bloated egos, little vision of national strategic goals, enormous personal greed, glaring ignorance or contempt of the Constitution and their sworn constitutional responsibilities, and a penchant for pettiness. Whether such statesmen-leaders will emerge from the present political churning will determine the direction that our Republic will take at the 2014 general election crossroads.
** Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired in 1996 as Additional DG Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ AG's Branch. He holds a PhD degree in Structural Dynamics from I.I.T, Madras. He is Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA, in international studies. With over 370 published papers in national and international journals and seminars, his current area of interest is strategic and development-related issues.
Contact details: Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere (Retd) // 475, 7th Main Road // Vijayanagar 1st Stage // Mysore – 570017; Tel:0821-2515187; E-mail:
Sunday, November 03, 2013
Need to correct an Institutional Mismatch
(M.G. Devasahayam is a former Army – Infantry officer who later joined the IAS. His opinion is backed by rich Cvil-Military experience. An accomplished author and a committed reformist, his is driving force in the crusade against corruption.)
The editorial page lead article in The Hindu, “The general and his stink bombs” (September 30, 2013) flagged the “dysfunctional relationship between our democracy and the military.” This serious issue, directly impacting on a citizen’s security and country’s sovereignty, needs to be addressed in its proper perspective.
To do so, we need to draw on the centuries-old wisdom of Kautilya, reiterated in modern times by the General-turned-President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower: “When diplomats fail to maintain peace, the soldier is called upon to restore peace. When civil administration fails to maintain order, the soldier is called to restore order. As the nation’s final safeguard, the army cannot afford a failure in either circumstance. Failure of army can lead to national catastrophe, endangering the survival of the nation.”
This sums up the role performed by our military and the criticality of an abiding and democratic civil-military relationship, lest the nation should face a catastrophe. It should be realised that in war or conflicts, military men do not offer the “supreme sacrifice” just for money or rank. There is something far more precious called “patriotism and honour”, and this is embedded in the Indian Military Academy credo which none of the civil servants or politicians has gone through but most military leaders have. The civil-military relationship should be moored on such an anchor.
Not a democratic equation
This is not so in India’s current “democratic dispensation” wherein the politico-civil elite continues to suffer from the feudal-aristocratic mindset of Lord Alfred Tennyson (“Charge of the Light Brigade” – 1854): “Theirs not to reason why,/Theirs but to do and die.” This was reflected in the observations made by the Union Minister of State for Defence while delivering the Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa Memorial Lecture in mid-2012: “The military forces have remained loyal to the elected government and have been its obedient servant.” Such an equation is not democratic.
Ironically, it is the military leaders who have attempted to define a democratic civil-military relationship. In his treatise “The Soldier and the State” (1998), the former Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, lays it down with a fair amount of clarity: “The modern military profession exists as part of the government insofar as the term ‘government’ includes the executive departments of the nation-state... Modern democracies therefore pay great attention to the supremacy of the political class over the military in governance, normally referred to as ‘civilian control of the military.’ This is clearly how it should be, since all ultimate power and decision making should be wielded by the elected representatives of the people.”
On the eve of demitting office in 2012, General V.K. Singh fully endorsed this view with a compelling caveat: “I am a firm believer in civilian supremacy over the military in a democracy. I subscribe to the views of Admiral Bhagwat. However, civilian supremacy must always be rooted in the fundamental principles of justice, merit and fairness. Violation of this in any form must be resisted if we are to protect the Institutional Integrity of our Armed Forces.”
The combined views of the former chiefs of the Navy and the Army set forth certain non-negotiable imperatives for the civil-military relationship: democracy as a vibrant and functioning entity with the “elected representatives of the people” running the government as per established democratic norms; the military profession existing as part of such government; civilian supremacy to be exercised by the “elected representatives of the people”; such supremacy to be rooted in the principles of justice, merit and fairness; a violation of this can be resisted to protect the institutional integrity of the armed forces.
Whether governments in India are being run as per established democratic norms is a burning question. Even so, India’s professional military is meant to protect, safeguard and sustain our democratic republic wherein live one-sixth of the human race. Therefore, it is imperative that a democratic civil-military relationship framework existed, was practised and sustained. But unfortunately this has not even been attempted; the civil-military relationship is not mandated in the governance system.
Matters drifted, intrigues prevailed and things have happened in recent years and months that strike at the very roots of the Army as an institution.
The fallout of the sordid happenings on the Indian Army was best summed up by defence analyst Maroof Raza: “The system has closed around the chief and this will only embolden the bureaucracy. The fallout will be that at least for two generations, no military commander will raise his head. And the message for military commanders is that it isn’t merit or accuracy of documents that will get them promotions, but pandering to the politico-bureaucratic elite. The last bastion of professional meritocracy in India has crumbled. The damage will be lasting.”
Despite such a damning indictment, nothing has been done to undo the damage. What is worse, the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister chose to ignore the letter written by Admiral L. Ramdas, the former Navy Chief, in July 2012 raising serious military and national security issues and seeking a high-level inquiry and remedial action.
This epitomises the near-total collapse of the institutional framework and the atmosphere of suspicion and alienation between the civil and military hierarchies. This is evident from the recent high-octane controversy following the ‘leaking’ of the top-secret report on TSD, a covert unit of the Army, the activities of which are directly related to the safety of the soldiers on the borders, retribution on the enemy and the security of citizens. This episode, which has created a lot of bad blood between mainland India and Jammu & Kashmir, appears to be a ploy to justify the scrapping of this unit by the Army Chief. This has led to consternation among senior Army officers, who confide that this action is the single major cause for the recent spurt in cross-border intrusions and ceasefire violations that have led to several deaths on the Pakistan border.
It is better to light a candle rather than continue to curse darkness. Civil and military establishments are all a part of governance that comprises the complex mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, mediate their differences and exercise their legal rights and obligations. The military should be an intrinsic part of such a governance mechanism.
Democratic governance is participatory, transparent and accountable and promotes justice and the rule of law. Governance includes the government, which is its dominant part, but transcends it by taking in the private sector and civil society. All three are critical to sustain human development and national security. Because each has weaknesses and strengths, democratic governance is brought about through constructive interaction among all three — which role civil society would play.
Once we broad-base the “defence” or the “military” and move towards “national security,” civil society participation becomes imperative. Governance then could really become a catalyst for civil-military relationships, and bureaucracies cannot play spoilsport.
This, coupled with parliamentary oversight, is the best form of “civilian control of the military” in a democracy, and that is what military leaders have defined. A set of rules governing such a relationship between civilian authorities and the military, and balancing the financial needs of defence and security, are the needs of the hour.
With this concept at the core, steps could be taken to build and sustain a democratic and functional civil-military relationship by implementing recommendations by expert committees and groups lying buried in the vaults of the Defence Ministry.