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A Political Perspective By Dr R.L.M.Patil
(Former Professor and Chairman Dept. of Political Science, Bangalore University and Dr Zakir Husain Chair, Mysore University, Mysore) Sixty years ago India was born as an independent, modern and democratic nation. It is time now for self-introspection. Let it be made clear at the outset that we have to our credit many achievements. Let us discuss but two of them for want of time. When one looks at countries comparable to ours == Aristotle told us to compare the comparable == we find that India alone has stood the test of time. We have endured as one Constitutional entity, politically stable, economically progressing, socially cohesive, institutionally democratic, and upgrading continuously in science and technology and military affairs. Pakistan is being increasingly depicted as a failed state and sick society; Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and others are facing constitutional and political upheavals; Afghanistan, Iraq and others are having a torrid time; parts of Europe and the former U.S.S.R broke down constitutionally and politically; China had to change its constitution twice; several countries of Africa, Latin America and South-east and Far-east Asia have witnessed collapse of democracy and economy. Against this backdrop, India has performed eminently well.

Secondly, in the field of foreign affairs or world affairs, India has acquired a distinct role. During the cold war and after India has opposed the militarily powerful blocs. Without having much of military strength of its own to back up, India has shown the courage of calling a spade a spade; when no one of consequence could tell the U.S that its invasion of Iraq recently was wrong, India did do so. Refusal to bend has constituted an important feature of India‟s foreign policy. Equally noteworthy is its readiness to offer its good offices to conduct peaceful and honorable settlement of international disputes without deriving selfish profits.

The two achievements mentioned are no small ones. Nor are they solitary ones. There are several others which can be recited at length. But a true self-introspection demands that we take stock of our deficits, too. Could we not achieve much more on the domestic front during the last sixty years? Especially when we were endowed with the benefits of political stability, vast economic and human resources, well-developed institutions like bureaucracy, judiciary, higher education, etc? We had all along an enlightened leadership of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Smt Indira Gandhi and Sri Rajiv Gandhi for a long spell, the near monopoly of power by the Congress party at all levels, and a free press and mass-media institutions. Yet sixty-long years after freedom we are still groping in the near-dark be it the provision of elementary requirements of life like drinking water, roads, primary education, sanitation, basic health facilities or clean and responsive administration. We are to bow our head in shame over caste-atrocities, farmer‟s suicide, corruption at the highest levels, and the low moral values among the rulers generally. Was it not possible for us to usher in better results given this long time, valuable leadership and established institutions? We restrict our enquiry to two main drawbacks, for want of time. First, we might have erred in the choice of our vision/concepts/ideas/orientation right from day one. During the freedom-struggle the people of India were generally inspired by idealism, self-sacrifice and a commitment to create a new India –an India which was to be altogether different from the existing setup. Gandhi gave voice to these feelings. He could attract people of different persuasions to join him in his dream of a new India. He emphasized the following in particular:          Moral base to politics (religions to provide moral basis) Agriculture to be the mainstay of economy Power to the people (not to the leaders or Government) More scope for the individual initiative and civil society Less scope for the State/Government Self-reliance, and simple living Basic education (nayee taleem) Training for leadership, and Accountability Instilling self-confidence generally, but especially among the weaker sections.


After the 1937 elections and after the dawn of freedom in 1947 the Congress party and its leaders turned out to be hankering after State power and privilege and distancing themselves from the goals of the freedom-struggle. In a way it was good that Gandhi died before he was ridiculed and abandoned by his own erstwhile followers. The revolutionary momentum created by the freedom campaign under his leadership was lost the moment the opposition party became the ruling party. The moorings stood altered, orientation shifted and priorities rearranged. Instead of utilising religion as a force of civil society to promote moral behaviour, social harmony, and simple living, one has witnessed over the sixty years sustained campaign against religion. It seems that the Marxist allergy to the church in the Europe context has been injected into Indian body-politik without a thought. Established and long-standing religions like Christianity, Islam and Hinduism have occupied almost all the space of human activity in society. Principles, ethics, rituals, doctrines, rulings, practices and punitive declarations all by themselves command every imaginable activity and thought-process of the human being. Nothing is free or untouched by the religious compass: birth, death, marriage (even sex), divorce, property, criminal offences and punishment, food, clothing (even bathing), shaving, smoking, eating or fasting, calendar, nomenclature, greetings so on so forth. They are all controlled directly or indirectly by religion. Pray, how can religion be kept away and secularism practised? Gandhi would have liked men to be religious and God fearing rather than be secular. The direction of economic development, too, took an unexpected turn. Agriculture and agriculturist have been neglected over the last sixty years though freedom for India was fought by and for the farmer of India. Now after unstoppable suicides by farmers and SEZs it looks as though agriculture can flourish only if it functions like a profitable industry. This, if it happens at all, would mean a total and fundamental change of our economy, culture and society itself. What would be even more undesirable is to bring about such a change not


by calculated policy-decisions but by surreptitious manouvres and thoughtless administration. Secondly, we might have over the past sixty years employed wrong tools or instruments while executing desirable goals or concepts, and thereby failed to achieve whatever was intended. To give but two examples one can only look at the civil services system and political party system that we have in our country for the sixty years past. The nature of civil service in India had hardly undergone change for about 150 years before 1947. Even after this date, it continued to enjoy much of the security, privileges and power that it enjoyed all the while. The labels of Saheb, the ruling babu, the maa-baap of the people, the semi-god on the earth etc have continued to stick to the „civil servant‟. It is another matter that Lord Curzon described the civil service system in India as the biggest ever machine invented by man to do nothing! It is regrettable that, with minor exceptions, the civil service system in independent India has not been able to identify itself with the people of India who are its true masters. Several commissions have gone into the question of making reforms in the nature and working of civil service but no significant changes have occurred. Perhaps the civil service alone is not to be blamed. The political masters who rule over them find it a useful mechanism to wield power mostly undesirable through this instrument. Collusion between the two suits both of them – that is the bane of administration in India over the sixty years past, notwithstanding the talk of transparency, accountability and democratic spirit of the overall system. The security as well as privileges afforded to the civil service in contemporary India need to be reviewed urgently. There is neither fear of punishment for wrong-doing nor recognition for doing the right. A number of white-collar crimes involving high-level officers are reported in the mass-media but hardly anyone is getting punished. This has led the people to wonder if there would ever be changes in the administrative machine. Neither democracy nor development can be served best by an instrument which was designed to serve colonial and undemocratic regime near two hundred years long.


Finally, it is the political parties. There is often asked a question in the examinations for political science students-“There are political parties in India but there is no party-system – explain the statement”. In democracies elsewhere political parties have a well-developed existence and a meaning. They should have, according to the textbooks, a well-defined ideology, a structure or body, and engage themselves in educating the public on important policy-issues. They should contest elections in order to come to power and implement the popular policy-choices. In India we have a crowd rather than system of political parties. They do not resemble their counterparts in the U.K or U.S.A. First of all, they, that is, our political parties, do not work in a sportive spirit: they believe in painting one another in the most grotesque colours and treat each other as an enemy rather than a competitor. Secondly, our political parties do not believe in ideological differentiation. There are nearly nine hundred political parties in India, small or big. How could they all posses an ideology of their own? Nor do they believe in accountability to anyone save the leader of the party, and the leader accountable to none at all! Our parties are identified much less with principle or ideology and more with leader. Our voters, too, vote not for the candidates who are contesting but for the leader with whom a candidate is identified! Most of these political parties are not registered bodies; they all lead ad hoc existence. They have neither a verifiable or enforceable constitution, nor regularly elected office-bearers nor even the list of party-members! There are a number of important political parties which function like a family-enterprise or like a oneman corporation. Choudhry Charan Singh, Devi Lal, Subramaniam Swamy, Chandrashekar, Karunanidhi, Devegowda, Biju Patnaik- are few of the names which own such political outfits. Some more distinguished names are also often mentioned. It is high time that an amendment is effected to the Peoples Representation Act requiring the political parties to register themselves with the Election Commission before they nominate their candidates. Also, would it be desirable to mention in the same breath that the aspirants to the membership of the Parliament or Legislative bodies should posses a minimum qualification in education (in the elections to the U.P. Assembly held a few weeks ago, nearly


one-third of the candidates were self-reported to be illiterates!), not be a defaulter in payment of tax or loans from public banks, and not be a police-sheeter. During the last sixty years if the standard of public morality has gone down it is reflected amply in the character and competence of our MPs and MLAs. Some stringent measures should have been taken to check the rot. Instead we are shutting our eyes to the decimation of the democratic ethos and the leaders of the country are prone to profit by it! MPs are reported to have smuggled some women as their wives abroad for a consideration! Ministers are pronounced guilty of murders and some ex-Chief Ministers are struggling to avoid going to jail on corruption charges! Fortunately, we have in our system a vibrant public opinion. Somebody has said that democracy is not a silent business. Ours is very much a shouting democracy. Only that the well-informed should be shouting! That is not the case always. We have to ensure that the errors committed over the sixty years past both in concepts and instruments, should be rectified early. There is a hope that this can be done. The educated should show courage and the lumpen elements should be chastened. The freedom of choice is there before us.

Prof. R.L.M.Patil #1105, 41st Cross, Poornapragna Layout, Uttarahalli, Bangalore-560061. e-mail: Ph: 080-26421450 9448054350


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