[Assam] Tavleen Singh /from the Sentinel
cmahanta at charter.net
Sun Jun 17 23:12:16 EDT 2007
>Democracy is not an aim in itself, it is a means. The aim is
>electing governments that work.
*** Where did we hear this before?
*** Yours truly made exactly some of the same arguments years back,
right here in Assamnet. Perhaps Shourie has been listening :-)!
Change the System
ON THE SPOT
On a rainy evening in Mumbai last week, I attended the Business
Standard newspaper's annual awards ceremony for the best in Indian
business. Whenever I am invited to events that celebrate the
successes of private enterprise in India, I make it a point to go
because it is here that you see how much India has changed and meet
the men responsible for India growing at such an impressive clip,
that after China we are today the fastest growing economy in the
world. As someone who grew up in the days when India was a socialist
basket case and our economic policies seemed designed to distribute
poverty among ordinary Indians, while making politicians and
bureaucrats rich, it gladdens my heart to see the might of Indian
business today. Keep in mind that these are the same men who in
socialist times would be fined if they produced more than their quota
of scooters or light bulbs or whatever. They have not just survived
those times but come a long way since, and they deserve all the
appreciation they get.
The chief guest at this year's ceremony was the head of the Planning
Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and after beginning with the
optimistic statement that the ''economy is in very good shape'' he
pointed out that there are still major weaknesses that could become a
huge problem if not dealt with urgently. Agriculture is in the
doldrums, and health and education are areas in which there are
serious problems that cannot be overcome with public funding alone.
If these problems persist then there will remain a huge section of
Indians who will not have benefited at all from high economic growth
The next morning as I took my morning walk from Nariman Point to the
Oval Maidan, I saw the reality of what he meant on every pavement I
passed. It had rained at night so the streets were wet and slushy,
but those who live on Mumbai's pavements slept without covering on
soggy, cardboard mattresses made of Aquafina packing cases. A gaggle
of small children had crept on to an ice cream trolley and sheltered
from the rain under its meagre roof. Raju from Patna had just arrived
in the city and slept on the pavement opposite the glittering glass
facade of the CR2 shopping mall. He looked worn-out and scared, and
seemed not to know what to do or where to go. These are ordinary,
everyday stories of Indians who have not got close to benefiting from
economic growth, and my personal view is that the reason why we have
failed to provide the average Indian with his most basic needs is
because the political system has failed us.
This is what makes Arun Shourie's new book The Parliamentary System
timely and important. Having been a member of the Rajya Sabha and a
Cabinet minister in Atal Behari Vajpayee's government, Shourie has
seen the rot from the inside and provided us with a devastating
critique of Indian democracy and solutions we need to think seriously
about. Shourie recommends that we consider the possibilities of a
Presidential system who has a fixed term and the right to contest
only two terms. A directly elected leader, instead of one chosen by
the party with the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha, makes
him more accountable to the people.
It would make good governance more attainable because a directly
elected President would be able to appoint people in his Cabinet who
would not necessarily be elected representatives of the people. In
the present system we set huge store by Parliament being sovereign
because it represents the will of the people of India, but Shourie
points out that this is a chimera. ''In a word, 99 per cent of the
members got into the Lok Sabha by getting less than half the electors
to vote for them. Almost 60 per cent got in with the endorsement of
less than 30 per cent of electors in their constituencies. Even if we
consider only the electors who actually turned out to vote, 60 per
cent of the members got in on a minority vote. The
unrepresentativeness of governments and legislators in the states is
To find out how this happens, read the book. Democracy is not an aim
in itself, it is a means. The aim is electing governments that work.
This is no longer happening in India for various reasons of which the
most important is that the wrong kind of people are getting elected.
Criminals, heirs and semiliterate peasants are hardly the stuff of
good governance or lawmaking, and we are unfortunately getting more
and more of this kind of politician.
If things are bad at the Central Government level, they are much,
much worse at the State level, and the result is lawlessness and
dangerous decay of the authority of the State concerned. In his book,
Shourie quotes a report by a former Director General of the BSF
(Border Security Force) that says this: "At least eight districts in
eastern UP and four contiguous districts of Bihar are today
completely under the grip of the mafia. The rule of law exists only
on paper. District magistrates and superintendents of police kowtow
before the mafia dons and take orders from them on critical matters.''
Time to find a new system or what?
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