Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Can India become a super power?

It is said that India has the potential to become a super power but lacks the necessary political will and ability to do so. The truth is that there are certain fault lines in the architecture of Indian constitution and the functioning of Indian democracy which come in the way of India becoming a super power in the near future.

What are these fault lines?
The first fault line is that India is a federation of states with a unitary form of government at the Centre. This is a contradiction in itself because a federation of states must have a government at the centre elected by the representatives of the states of India and not by the people of India or political parties of India. India can be either a union of states or a Union State. It cannot be both at the same time.

Under the present system we have a government at the centre which has all the powers in the world but only six union territories to administer. On the other hand, we have twenty-nine states with huge territories to administer but very little power.
The second fault line is that India is being governed by political parties which can be described as lobbyists at its best and extra-constitutional bodies at its worst. They do not have the mandate of the constitution to participate in the elections directly. Nor do they have the right to vote under the People Representation Act of 1951. They are not registered bodies in the real sense of the term. Nor is there any regulatory body to supervise their day to day functioning. What is more, they themselves are not sure whether they are government or private bodies.
The relationship between political parties and the constitution can be compared with that of egg and chicken. Who came first? The Egg? Or the chicken? Political parties give birth to the Constitution but they work under the constitution and yet they find no mention of their specific role under the constitution. They exercise extraordinary powers with ordinary accountability!
As if this were not enough, we have political parties of all hues and colours competing and collaborating with each other for power at the Centre, States, and local body levels. This makes it absolutely impossible for any political party to govern for a reasonable period of time. No wonder the erstwhile Singapore Prime Minister once said that the Singapore model can’t be replicated in India because India comprises a very complex society.
The third fault line related to the (FTPT) first-past-the-post system of elections. This means that a candidate who secures the maximum number of votes gets elected even if he secures less than 50% of the votes cast. This practice distorts the basic concept of democracy which is that in a democracy majority has the right to rule if it secures more than 50% of the votes cast by the stakeholders.
Until and unless these fault-lines are rectified, I think it will be too much to expect that India shall become a super power in the near future.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Model Lokpal Bill

Every government is expected to provide good and corruption-free governance to its citizens.  When it fails to do so, people demand the appointment of a Lokpal to mitigate their sufferings.  India is passing through this stage at the present moment.

The Institution of Lokpal is not a substitute for existing instruments of governance, nor is it an alternative to the judicial process.  At best, it is an adjunct of the governing process.

Obviously, there cannot be a single Lokpal for the whole country, covering all aspects of governance.  The need of the hour is to adopt a model Lokpal Bill which can be modified to suit different requirements of governance.

For example, from the point of view of governance, the three important pillars of the Indian Constitution are the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.  Each of these organs of the Constitution are independent and act as ‘checks and balances’ on each other.  Unfortunately, there is corruption and poor governance in all these institutions.  Since each of these bodies requires special skills and competences, we require three different Lokpals for them – not one.

India is a federation of States with a unitary form of government at the Centre.   There is division of labour between the Centre and the States.  The States collect taxes from people on behalf of the Centre and the Centre allocates resources to the States.  Since most of the public utilities come under the State government  or local bodies, the common man is affected by what happens at the local or State level.  If the States are to be governed by a Lokpal sitting at the Centre, it will make very little difference to the lives of people living at the village, town and State level.  Therefore, we require a separate Lokpal for each of the States. 

Most of the grievances of the common man have to do with bureaucracy – both at the Centre and in the States. 

Again, from the point of view of governance, bureaucracy can be divided into two parts – one, those who administer at the lower level and two, those who make policy and take decisions at the higher level.  Dissatisfaction with governance at the lower level is in the form of grievances, such as delays, harassment, bribery, etc., whereas dissatisfaction at the higher level is in the form of corruption, such as fraud, misappropriation of resources, misuse of office, favouritism, collection by way of commission, etc.  Now, we require a different Lokpal for the lower bureaucracy and one for bureaucrats at the higher level.  The one at the lower level will supervise, control and punish, while one at the higher level requires greater authority and sophistication to deal with professionals and not interfere with their decision-making and risk-taking capabilities.  In other words, we require a different type of Lokpal for the lower bureaucracy and a different one for the higher bureaucracy.

So far as legislators are concerned, the Lokpal will have to make a distinction between those who are elected members of legislative bodies and those who form part of the Civil Society.  Elected members of legislative bodies are governed by a different set of rules and regulations, so far as their work regarding law-making is concerned.  In other areas, they need to be governed by common law.  Here again, we require a different type of Lokpal.

The case of judiciary is totally different.  The judiciary not only upholds rule of law, but also interprets law and oversees the functioning of both the legislature and executive in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.  This requires a type of Lokpal who understands the functioning of the judiciary and is also an expert in Constitutional law.

Should the Prime Minister be under the purview of the Lokpal Bill?  My answer is yes, subject to the privileges which he enjoys as a Member of Parliament.  As things stand at present, the Prime Minister of India is the most powerful person in the country.  He has the army, police, paramilitary forces, CBI, RAW, CVC, Income Tax Department, Enforcement Department, etc., all under him.  Not only that, even the President of India is bound to act according to the aid and advice of the Prime Minister and his cabinet.  Under these circumstances if a person takes it into his head to overpower his adversaries, including members of his own political party, there is no stopping him or her from doing that.  So, there must be some sort of control of the unlimited powers of the Prime Minister.  Should there be frivolous or false allegations against the Prime Minister, he should be empowered to take legal action against those persons who make such allegations and get them punished.

So far as the three conditions raised by Shri Anna Hazare are concerned, it is not difficult to meet them.  Setting up Lokayuktas in States should be implemented with the consent of the States, if possible, and by law, if necessary. The Lokayuktas in States will, of course, have jurisdiction over the lower bureaucracy.

Having a citizens’ charter should not be problematic.  We are already having the Right to Information Act and the citizens’ charter can be added to that.  Even, otherwise, it is an administrative measure.

To sum up, it is the responsibility of every government to provide a clean, efficient and corruption-free government to its citizens.  In case this is not possible for one reason or another, the government should appoint Lokpal to mitigate people’s sufferings.  The institution of Lokpal should not be a replacement of the existing instruments of governance but an additional help in governance.  There should be separate Lokpals for judiciary, elected representatives and bureaucracy.    The Prime Minister should come under the purview of the Lokpal Bill, subject to certain specific conditions.  It should be applicable both to the Centre and States, higher as well as lower bureaucracy.

I don’t think it is desirable to make the institution of Lokpal a constitutional body like Election Commission.  If that happens, it will act in competition with the existing institutions of governance and will hamper good governance in the long run.  Moreover, it will require a constitutional amendment which requires two-third majority of Members of Parliament voting for the amendment and which is not possible in the near future.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Poll Reforms - Now is the Time

When India became independent, we adopted the British parliamentary system and electoral procedures. Little did we realize at that time that this system was full of flaws and needed to be replaced with a better system sooner or later. That time has come NOW.

One of the flaws of this system is the concept of “first-past-the-post”.

First-past-the-post voting means that the candidate who gets most votes in a constituency wins even if he or she falls short of 50 percent of the total votes cast.

In other words, such a candidate does not command the confidence of his constituency, let alone that of his State, country or region.

The second flaw is that the very political parties which form a coalition government at the Centre compete against one another at the regional level. This results in corruption and blackmail.

The third flaw is that the Prime Minister of a coalition government is often chosen on the basis of opportunistic political alliances before and after the elections rather than on the basis of his or her competence and acceptability by the majority of Members of Parliament. As if this were not enough, a Prime Minister chosen in this way has the power to dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections to improve his or her chances of success in the next election.

To rectify these flaws the British government intends to hold a referendum on May 5, 2011 whether to keep “first-past-the-post” or to switch to another system known as the Alternative Vote (AV).

Under AV, if no candidate wins 50% of the votes, the second preferences of voters who picked last-placed candidates are redistributed until someone reaches the 50%. AV falls short of proportional representation, but is nevertheless an improvement on the current system.

Maybe the Indian political parties would like to follow the British precedent once again and try to improve our electoral system in the light of our experience during the last sixty years.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pragmatism vs. Prudence

Prof. Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2002. He teaches at Princeton University and is credited as being the founder of behavioural economics. According to him, political leaders have a tendency to take big decisions on the basis of impulse or intuition rather than on the basis of deliberate conscious calculation.

One of the most common problems, he points out, is overconfidence. “It is very common for people to have more confidence in their judgement than they should,” he says.

He believes that people make decisions on the basis of their past and present experience. They have no expertise in predicting the future. He believes that if decision makers considered the consequences of their actions, say after ten, fifteen or twenty years, they would arrive at a much better decision.

To prove his point he cites the Iraq war. “The big problem is that once the organization begins to make up its mind, everybody falls in line. And then the information that goes to the top gets biased. This is clearly something that happened with the Iraq war. What the decision makers wanted was known, and the intelligence community basically gave them the information they wanted – and of course, it turned out a disaster.”

The reason why I am mentioning all this is to point out that this is exactly what happened in the case of reservation for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes, Indo-US Nuclear Deal, and the same is going to happen in the case of Women’s Reservation Bill. Once we make a reservation on the basis of gender, how can we stop making similar reservations on the basis of caste, class, religion, language and region? Before taking big decisions, it is always better to think of their long-term consequences and make the right choices as far as possible

Let prudence take precedence over pragmatism.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Time to count our blessings

Read an interesting article in the Straits Times today, "Time to count our blessings" by Mr. Kishore Mahbubani.

I agree with his views and believe that in the not too distant future, Singapore will become for the Asian region what Geneva is for The United Nations.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


A few days ago I read an advertisement in The Times of India which began with the question: “How true is our fairness?” This set me thinking. What does it mean? Does it mean that we regard ourselves as fair while we are not? Does it mean that we are so obsessed with our being fair that we fail to notice our ugliness? Or does it mean that we are dark or fair only when compared with some other thing.

Let us take the first proposition: “Does it mean that we regard ourselves as fair while we are not?” How true it is in our daily life. For example, take the case of Shashi Tharoor. He thinks that if he stays in a Five-Star hotel, likes gym and privacy, pays for his stay in the hotel out of his hard-earned money, it’s fair enough. But a vast majority of people think otherwise. The same is the case with his boss, Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna.

If Sonia Gandhi travels by Economy class and Rahul Gandhi travels by train, they think they are being austere. But again a vast majority of people think otherwise.

Most of the time this is the case with all of us all the time, whether we are politicians, businessmen, doctors, engineers, scientists, policemen, teachers, man, woman, child, husband, wife, son, daughter, etc.

Let us take the second proposition: “Does it mean that we are so obsessed with our being fair that we fail to notice our ugliness?” Again take the example of Shashi Tharoor. He thinks that if he is paying from his own pocket for his stay in a Five-Star hotel, why should there be any objection to it. But when you think of it in the context of hundreds of people starving and some even committing suicide, does it not look ugly that he should be leading a life of luxury when the very people whom he is supposed to serve, protect and nurture are hardly able to make both ends meet? Many believe it does.

Similarly when Sonia Gandhi travels by Economy class and Rahul Gandhi by train, they believe that they are saving money for the nation. But when considered in the context of the money that is spent on their security and the harassment it causes to hundreds of people on account of their security arrangements, does it not look ugly that they should even pretend to be austere. Many believe it does.

Now let us take the third and last proposition: “Does it mean that we are dark or fair only when compared with some other thing?” Again, how true it is. We are what we are, fair, dark or in-between. We are more corrupt when compared with Western countries and less corrupt when compared with some Asian and African countries. Similarly, we are more secure economically and militarily when compared with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, etc., but we are less secure when compared with China, Russia and the United States of America.

Thus, it will be seen that it is all a question of our mind. Mind is very, very mercurial. It rolls back from one extreme to the other within no time. So let us not waste our time on trivial things such as debate on austerity and continue our journey on the road to progress.

I know Dr. Amartya Sen must be giving his toothless smile and wondering whether all Indians are argumentative!

Thursday, May 14, 2009


When India became independent, the people of India adopted a Constitution, which provided for a federation of States with a unitary form of government at the Centre.

It was the right decision because security and unity of the country were of paramount importance at that point of time.

Since the Congress Party was in the vanguard of the Independence Movement, it became the ruling party both at the Centre and in the States.

Over a period of time the Congress lost its original shine but managed to remain in power by appealing to the vote banks of Muslims and under-privileged sections of Indian society.

This provoked the pro-Hindu middle class to consolidate the Hindu votes under the banner of Bharatiya Jan Sangh (present-day BJP) and challenge the supremacy of the Congress Party.

The end result of the division of votes between the Congress and the BJP was that those States which voted for or aligned themselves with the Congress Party or the BJP flourished while the others were neglected. They were compelled to choose between one and another alliance or suffer the consequences of their inaction. Not only that, they had to compete with these alliances in order to survive in their own States. This state of affairs produced a feeling of frustration, cynicism and disillusionment among the non-Congress and non-BJP States and compelled them to seek an alternative.

The alternative is the creation of a truly federal government at the Centre, which owes its allegiance to the Constitution of India and looks after the interests of all the States, irrespective of their religious or secular credentials.

The time has now come when there should be a Union of States with a truly federal government at the Centre. The government at the Centre should represent the Union of States of India and not one or the other so-called national political parties.

To achieve this objective the Constitution of India may have to be amended, which is not possible at the present moment.

The alternative at present is that in case there is a hung Parliament, the President should convene a meeting of all the elected Members of Parliament and ask them to choose the leader of the House. Members of Parliament should be asked to give their first, second or third preference in case no person is able to secure more than fifty per cent of the votes in the first instance. The Prime Minister thus chosen should form a truly federal, national government and remain in power till the full term of the House. In case there is a vote of No Confidence against the Prime Minister, it should be followed by a Vote of Confidence in the new person who should be elected through the same procedure adopted in the first place. The old Prime Minister should continue to remain in power till a new one is elected in his place.

This is the only way in which we can establish a truly federal, stable and viable government in the country.

So far as controversial issues like Indo-US Nuclear Deal, Kashmir, Sri Lanka crisis, international trade and commerce, climate change, world peace, international financial structure, etc., are concerned, these should be solved after proper discussion and debate both within and outside Parliament.

Let us hope that common sense rather than blind faith in secularism or Hindutva will prevail in the end in the larger interest of the people of India and the whole world.