Perspectives of Good-governance in India


The political vacuum created by the national and international factors paved the way for governance-related movements in India whose first target at present is rampant corruption at all levels leading to a breakdown in the rule of law and lack of accountability all around. Although the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev’s dramatic call for ‘Congress-Hatao’ have confirmed that a movement for good governance is overdue. Earlier in 1980s there emerged the people’s movement sector-comprising farmer’s movement, Dalit movements, women movements, environmental movements and the movements for information and deepening of democracy is one of the most vibrant spaces in the democratic arena. These movements are inherently political as they seek to challenge the settled relations of power. They have quietly shifted the terms of political engagement and brought new issues to the foreground. Legislation and policies like the Right to Information, Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Forest Act and the new Land Acquisition and Rehabilitations Act are a tribute to the power and creativity of these movements. Yet these movements have not succeeded in posing a direct challenge to mainstream politics, they involved some of the finest activists and thinkers of our time. There have been many creative organisational experiments and ideological innovations, however, they remained largely invisible. At large, these movements failed to translate their support in electoral terms and in order to give effect to their political agenda, remained dependent on the very political establishment they critiqued and struggled against. In post -1989 period while the idea of third space has expanded, the third force has shrunk. The energy of the third space is in search of a national political vehicle, especially because the mainstream politics of UPA & NDA have become more insulated from popular struggles and movements.
However, a breakthrough appeared in the field when an anti-corruption movement was started by the Team Anna in 2011-12. It is after more than three decades that a movement outside the organised party sector has registered a nationwide presence and visibility.
Anna Hazare-led movement spawned smaller protests in a large number of towns and even villages. A fairly large proportion of citizens who did not participate in any protest heard about it and sympathised with it. But its success depends not so much on whether it wins an election but on how much of positive energy it releases into the political system. Even Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death organised on occasions more than one and recently in July-August 2012, which attracted un-precedented attention and adulation for enactment of an effective Lokpal Bill to curb corruption in the top echelons of the establishment, has raised several doubts about its success. Taking important lessons from the earlier JP movement for the posterity of revolutionaries, and reformers wanting to bring macro-level change in the country, JP himself wrote for a revolution to succeed, it required a revolutionary leadership as well as a revolution organisation. In addition to JP’s view, it also needs revolutionary programme of action. In this movement only one component was present: a revolutionary leadership. Apart from this there was no attempt to build a revolutionary organisation to assist the leadership and no revolutionary programme of action entailing a broad roadmap for change. In addition, the movement shows that agitators are not trying to build a parallel mass base on strength of a constructive programme as was done by Mahatma Gandhi. Team Anna lacks other tools of mass mobilisation or social reconstruction. Thus, the movement should be made holistic and there has to be a larger vision and roadmap for the country. The sooner this is understood the better it is for Team Anna and, perhaps, the country.
At present there is a widespread belief that the kind of democratic system in which we operate is failing us. Today 80 per cent of Indians are poor, and there is massive unemployment, lack of healthcare, housing and good education. In the recent period, the rich have become richer, and the rich-poor divide has increased. Economic growth has benefited only a handful. India is a representative democracy where people select their representatives once in five years to make laws and policies on their behalf. Limiting the participation of the people merely to voting once in five years has significantly reduced the responsiveness of the representatives to the people. One reason is that our democracy has become formalistic. Legislatures should check corruption but it would not be so if the elected are beholden to the corrupt or are themselves corrupt. The problem is political; it cannot be resolved through technical fixes or by having more laws – these are anyway being circumvented. A weak democracy presents a no-win situation; if a democracy is weak, the corrupt get elected and misuse their autonomy; if the legislators, autonomy is curbed, democracy weakens. The super -watchdog which should deliver all-round accountability, has become weak in India. The ruling class has played havoc with the watchdog institutions so as to control them for their narrow ends. That is why the demand for a strong Lokpal gained momentum.
The problem in India is not that there is too much democracy but too little. Whether the solution lies in direct democracy or devolution of powers to village councils deserves closer scrutiny. One innovative solution of direct democracy tried in numerous countries is the Referendum and Initiative. These are instruments whereby some decisions of policy and lawmaking are referred to a direct vote by the electorate, rather than solely being decided by their representatives. Countries that regularly practise some degree of direct democracy like Switzerland are small, homogeneous and renowned for their clockwork efficiency. Other countries that have had referendums, whether smaller ones like Sweden or larger ones like Brazil, have had them only rarely. The idea that village councils should contribute to State and national law-making is a radical one but closely related to referendums. Panchayats have existed in ancient times and have been reintroduced in modern times. But they are still struggling to find their feet, clamouring for devolution of more powers and big budgets. It enjoys the same potential strengths and suffers from the same weaknesses. Unless electoral reforms can be introduced, reducing entry barriers in politics and levelling the playing field in political parties, it will be hard to keep arguing that elections are the lone remedy to unsettled issues of national importance. No such electoral reforms are on the horizon, but it is conceivable that sustained activism could put them on the agenda.
In the present scenario of Indian politics participatory democracy is being considered more and more as not merely desirable but necessary. Under conditions of globalisation, where national-level institutions of representation are being subordinated to hegemonic global power with the structure of political and economic decision – making more remote and alienated from people, the politics of participatory democracy has acquired a new relevance. Whatever be the challenges in introducing such democratic reforms the time has come to discuss such a change to ensure that our government truly represents the people.
Dr. Rajkumar Singh


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