Knee-jerk Response to a Complex Crisis

On April 8, the Rajya Sabha approved the Bill which seeks to remove the residential requirement for election to the Upper House from a state, and provides for open ballot, so that party leaderships can ensure election of their nominee. Predictably, this legislation (Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2001) has raised several questions about representation and attracting talent into legislatures.

Politics of Tokenism and Democratic Deficit

If there is one word which aptly describes the nature of our politics, it is 'tokenism'. All public debate and political discourse are reduced to mere symbolism and insincere tokenism. Much of our economy has suffered over the years because of this severe flaw. But greater damage is done to the political process itself, undermining democracy and institutional vitality.

People’s Verdicts and Political Shenanigans

The continuing political uncertainty in Jammu and Kashmir after the courageous participation of voters, braving bullets and bombs, once again exposes the shenanigans of our politicians.  The murky politics of power and dissidence in our largest state of UP too expose the increasing divorce between people’s mandates and government formation.

 

A Welcome, Though Belated Initiative

The sub-continental air is thick with elections. With polls completed successfully in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir, elections being held at last in Pakistan giving democracy a modest chance, and Gujarat poll dates to be announced soon, there is talk of political competition and elections everywhere. But the middle classes in the sub-continent in general are showing enormous contempt for the political process. There is very unhealthy cynicism and dangerous yearning for authoritarian solutions.

A Difficult Time for Politicians

All democracies are prone to a healthy dose of skepticism about their politicians. Once the distinguished chaplain of the US Senate Reverend Everett Hale was asked, “Reverend, do you pray for the Senators every morning?”. He replied calmly, “ No; I look at the Senators, and pray for the country”.

Perils of Westminster Model

The events of the past one month in Maharashtra hold a mirror to the crisis in our democratic polity.  Once again, the nation witnessed buying and selling of legislators, party hopping, back room deals, political instability, holding MLAs captive in tourist resorts in other states, a vote of confidence, and the usual scramble for loaves of office in the impending cabinet expansion.  This has been seen in several states all over the country over the years.  Now this culture of ayarams and gayarams has inflicted a grievous blow to India’s most prosperous state.

Politics of Fiefdoms

The Gujarat carnage over the past few weeks and the continual Kashmir imbroglio deflected national attention from a momentous event in the evolution of our democracy. On May 12, we have successfully completed 50 years of our parliament. This is a rare achievement among post-war democracies. There is a lot to celebrate. We are a robust and cheerful democracy. Our people treasure the freedoms guaranteed to us under the Constitution. Elections have been held to Lok Sabha under the Constitution of our new republic without break since 1952.

How Do We Desubsidize Painlessly

One of the recurring themes of Indian public expenditure and budget making in the last decade is the fiscal rigidities making it difficult for governments to change policies and priorities. In the Union budget, interest payments, defence expenditure, transfer of resources to States and wages are more or less inflexible, and there is no room for manoeuvering. It is now axiomatic that subsidies cannot be removed without incurring high political and social costs.

Wasted Decades — Time for Purposive Action

Starting this fortnight, the nation began to celebrate with great fanfare and nostalgia the birth centenary year of Loknayak JP. For a whole generation of youngsters, in whose lives the emergency period was a defining epoch, JP remains an authentic hero. Only those who lived through that period will understand the ecstacy and hope with which the fall of congress and the victory of the fledgeling Janata Party on March 21, 1977 were welcomed. Those were days of great expectation and genuine belief that a peaceful revolution had indeed begun.

Long-term Public Good vs Short-term Political Costs

One of the great challenges in a democracy is how to reconcile the long term public good with the short term political price to be paid. Most major public policy decisions have a slow rate of social pay off, and involve instant political losses.  Leadership is essentially the ability to persuade people to accept the temporary pain for long term gain.  While there is no substitute to visionary and inspiring leadership, the political culture of a society and electoral system have a  profound  impact  on this ability to reconcile public good with political costs.