Former President Pranab Mukherjee once made the following observations during his lifetime.
1)Successful Democracy does not necessarily involve successful governance (on the eve of Independence Day 2013)
2)The fight against poverty is far from over
3) We must rediscover the virtue of self-scrutiny
4)We need to prevent wastage on our precious resources
In the light of his above observations, we need to scrutinise whether Indian democratic experiment of the last 7 decades has been ideal and successful.
Ours is basically an electoral democracy like the rest of the models across the globe. Some are successful, others are a failure. We therefore need to evolve our electoral democracy into a participatory democracy where the voice of the civil society is heard and respected. Civil society include the media.
State power according to the constitutional and legal scheme is shared at present by elected political institutions and the Bureaucracy, Police, Judiciary, Attorney General, Comptroller and Auditor General, Election commission etc. There is no place for civil society in decision making process of the elected and unelected institutions.
Participatory Democracy according to me envisages the following…
Legal recognition for civil society in lawmaking process. It does not mean civil society members are conferred with voting rights on the bills passed. It only means that their voice is heard and respected while shaping the bill. It applies, particularly, to important legislations such as Lokpal, Lok Ayukta laws that are meant to fight corruption. It is equally true with respect to still born Accountability Law and the defective Right to Information Act, 2005. If labor law is to be passed or amended, workers, labor unions, management need to be involved in debates and discussions in the lawmaking committees. Civil society’s representation is the need of the hour in the various committees, commissions and Boards, Tribunals (Public Authorities) that take day-to-day decisions while implementing laws. Civil society also needs to be represented in annual assessments of public officers. Civil society needs to be represented in Cabinet appointments committee, which approves posting to positions above the Joint secretary-level in government departments and public sector undertakings, and also in the Finance Commission and Niti Ayog, which are responsible for huge discretionary grants to states. Civil society also needs representation in decision making process in higher judiciary appointments. Inclusiveness in decision making process is important. Civil Society also needs to be involved in Budget making process. In judicial administration, troubled in recent times by allegations of lack of democracy in managing the roaster in the Apex Court, there is need for re-introduction of Jury system in such matters not only to decide the quantum of punishment but also to check ultraliberal grant of bail or issuance of indefinite stay order by Courts. Prashanth Bhushan, senior Advocate of Supreme Court, and civil society activist alleged lack of democracy in judicial administration. Civil society also needs to be involved in social audit of public works under execution both for time limit and standard of work. These are the few elements/features of participatory democracy intended to make elective Democracy a successful story.
Apart from the above, we need to eliminate negative features in the existing democratic politics to make it a success story.
a) Party fund collection needs to be limited to members of the party. Say if 10% of the population is affiliated to a party, small donations from our huge population will make the party fund sufficient. Donations from capitalists, crony capitalists, Mafia dons of various hues and colors need to stop. Party functionaries need to be defined as public servants falling under section 21 of The Indian Penal Code for accountability in managing the fund.
b)”Election” to the party positions needs to be the norm and not an exception.
c) Chief Ministers of the state are being chosen by sealed cover method devised by party high command. We need to undo this.
d) We need to put a break on dynastic politics (nepotism in the party system).
e) We need to stop sponsoring crime-tainted candidates to Parliament and Assemblies.
f) We need to stop the practice of bribing voters and other electoral malpractices like rigging etc.
g) Stop political defection for money and for gaining power.
h) Promote pre-poll alliances in the place of post-poll alliances.
I) Successful democracy excludes abuse of constitutional and legal provisions such as The Emergency imposed in 1970s, suspending fundamental rights
j) We should prevent a situation where democracy in the country does not become the “political property” of those who wield public power.
Since such defective democracy reflects on governance, it is useful to have a brief on good governance. Governance in India is not in an admirable state of affairs. One needs to refer to books by foreign authors such as Gunnar Myrdal, who are scholars on the subject of governance. According to me, it involves 2 or 3 stages. One is to formulate right public policies, enact them into law. Strict and honest implementation of laws is the soul of good governance. The second is right man at the right place. We need to marry merit and integrity with “Authority”, which means that a public official, Judge and minister are honest and meritorious to deliver goods and services. They hold Authority (public power). Therefore, people holding public power need to be meritorious and honest to make governance a success.
To make governance more meaningful, we need a law on accountability. It exists in the neighboring Pakistan. In India, it is a stillborn child, remains on the lips of intellectuals. Accountability is for wrongful omissions, commissions and crimes of public official and minister. It is at the heart of good governance. Any government that checks professional and organised crime, Maoists, terrorists, tax evaders and corruption can be credited with good governance. It is the experience of common man, when he approaches a police or a revenue official, that is a benchmark to judge good governance.