Thursday, November 18, 2010

System of Governance for a New India

Through various posts on my previous Blog titled Understanding Contemporary India and Its Problem (, it has been established that the illnesses afflicting the body politic of India such as degradation of political morality, corruption in public life, poverty and economic disparity, and social unrest and insurgency, which have been systematically getting worse over the last six decades since independence are dominantly due to free India adopting the same system of governance that was designed and used for ruling over a colony for its exploitation and consequent impoverishment and degradation. In the previous post on this Blog, it has been shown that if India’s diverse problems are to be solved and the nation is to be spared further degradation and deterioration, the essential first step is to change its anachronistic system of governance. It is not that this prescription for treating the illness of India and bringing it to health and vigour is a new found discovery and realization. While waging the struggle for freedom of India under his leadership, Mahatma Gandhi had unequivocally stated on several occasions that the struggle was against the oppressive and exploitative system of governance and not necessarily against the British people per se. In fact, he had warned that if power is simply transferred to the Indian hands without the desired change of the system of governance, the exploitation and degradation of the masses would continue unabated, albeit in different forms and guises. In Gandhi’s perception, what India achieved on 15 August 1947 was political independence which was only an essential enabling factor to bring about the desired change in the system of governance capable of ushering in the long suppressed socio-economic transformation in India which only would lead to what may be termed its real freedom. In adopting essentially the same system of governance, rather consecrating it by doing so, in the Constitution of India which was framed in the period while Gandhi was either forlorn or not alive, not only was Gandhi, the architect of India’s political independence, betrayed, India was denied that real freedom which was prime motivation for its freedom struggle and for which million of Indians were inspired and had sacrificed. Almost three decades after India’s independence, Jai Prakash Narain (JP), who had actively taken part in India’s freedom struggle and was disillusioned by India’s performance in political, social and economic spheres since independence called for ‘total revolution’ implying “change of the system of governance rather than change of the government”. Although people gave overwhelming response to JP’s call and for the first time since India became a republic in 1950, a non-Congress government was installed at the Centre by Janta Dal, a party formed under JP’s guidance, the desired and professed change of the system of governance did not come about. People were soon disillusioned and demoralized.

Thus, India lost two historic opportunities of changing its system of governance for which people were inspired, motivated, and even made sacrifices. In the first case, it led to India gaining political independence from more than a century of colonial bondage as a prelude to this change under the visionary leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. However, people’s ardent desire and aspiration for change was sabotaged by a collusion of vested interests of the colonial masters who wanted a perpetuation of colonial dispensation in the country in which their physical continuation was made untenable as well as of the privileged groups of Indians in the colonial system. Political independence was hijacked, Gandhi was betrayed and the masses of the Indian people who made sacrifices for the change were short changed. In the second case, people again overwhelmingly expressed their ardent desire for change of the system for governance. In this case, people were disillusioned on account of the leader failing to define the changed system of governance, even if it might have been clear in his mind, and educating his followers for the same. It might have been on account of the failing health of the leader and short duration of his life after the political party Janta Dal came to power under his guidance.

We must learn the right lesson from these two momentous failures in India’s post independence course of history. In order to bring about the change of the system of governance, which is now India’s crying need in light of the experiences of six decades of the post-independence performance of the Indian state and polity, we must not only be clear about the changed system of governance, we have also to educate and motivate the people for the same.

The idea of the desired system of governance for free India comes basically from the vision of Mahatma Gandhi, who held the prevailing colonial system of governance, being exploitative and degrading, accountable for poverty, miseries and demoralization of the masses of India. It was on the basis of his vision of governance for free India that he inspired and motivated the masses to participate in the struggle for freedom. In his vision of governance, the basic and ultimate source of the power of governance lies in the individual. All institutions of governance, i.e., governments at various levels derive their powers from this basic source. Just like when a stone is thrown in a still body of water, the point of impact as the centre gives rise to concentric circles of waves with ever greater radii encompassing ever larger areas, various levels of governments are formed covering ever larger territorial jurisdictions, all deriving their power of governance from the individual at the centre. Circles of governance nearer to the individual have greater power directly affecting his life and living with smaller areas of jurisdiction. In such a concept of governance, an individual would ideally become a government unto himself. The colonial system of governance is entirely in contradiction to this concept where power of governance flowed from the top, which in colonial India was the British crown, exercised through the British Parliament, to the bottom. In the colonial dispensation, this flow of power from the top to the bottom was not even uniform. As the vast number of persons required to run the colonial government could only be the native Indians who could not be trusted, real powers of governance were concentrated at certain nodal points in an hierarchical manner. The persons who were in the colonial government formed a different class called “government servants’ (not ‘public servants’ as euphemistically called now) which enjoyed certain privileges and concessions not available to people who were after all subjects of the British crown. The colonial government ruled by creating awe for which distance and distinction of those in the government from the people to be ruled over was helpful and necessary. Higher the person in the governmental hierarchy, more distance from and less accessible to the people was he in order to inspire awe of governmental authority among the people. This concept of governance eminently justified higher government officials living and working in exclusive residences, offices and even areas, with the highest authority i.e., the British emperor situated seven seas away. The ‘top to bottom’ concept of governance even characterized the way India got its independence. The Indian Independence Act passed by the British Parliament in 1947 transferred power from London to Delhi. The rest of the governmental power structure was ordained through this Act to remain the same as existed in pre-independence India, which was governance from top to bottom. When India framed its own Constitution through which it had the opportunity and authority to change this power structure to accord with its aspirations, the representative character of the Constituent Assembly was rendered highly skewed by machinations of the departing colonial power in collusion with privileged classes of the Indians. It resulted in a Constitution with high sounding words and ideas taken from many reputed Constitutions of the world but retaining essentially the same system of governance as existed in pre-independence colonial India, thus negating the entire freedom struggle waged with the sacrifices of millions of Indians under the inspiring leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Why and how it happened has been discussed in my April 24, 2010 post on the previous Blog. Be that as it may, the ethos of governance of free India or the Indian republic hardly changed from what it was during the British colonial days. While the elections held periodically at tremendous cost and effort for the state assembles or the national Parliament are trumpeted as grand festivals of democracy, it does not inform India’s governance either at the levels of national or state capitals or at grassroots levels (see my first and second posts dated 8 May 2009 and 8 June 2009, respectively under the previous Blog). Powers of governance are still concentrated at certain nodal points such as D.M., C.M. and P.M. Although the Constitution stipulates that sovereignty of state power lies with the people, this constitutional stipulation is far from evident in interactions of the ‘sovereign people’ with the ‘public servants’. Free India’s governance also relies on awe, distance and distinction to exercise state power rather than on rule of law. The Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi where the Head of State of India officially resides looks far more imposing, awe-inspiring and inaccessible than the White House of Washington, D.C., the official residence of the President of the U.S.A., considered the most powerful person in the world.

Following from his concept and vision of the system of governance for free India where ideally an individual is considered the basic and ultimate source of power, Mahatma Gandhi prescribed that every village of India will have a government of its own, which will be fully autonomous to deal with all matters directly affecting the life and living of its residents. For these matters, it will be the primary and most powerful level of government. To reflect these points and features of the village government, he termed it as Village Republic. In fact, Gandhi’s vision of free India was it being a conglomerate of village republics. Of course, there would be governments at other levels, such as at district, state and national levels, each assigned to deal with matters that are most logical to be dealt with at that level with effectiveness and efficiency. The governments at various levels would be democratically elected by the people in their respective jurisdictions and would comprise all the three branches of government, i.e., legislative, executive and judiciary. Generally, the subject matters to be dealt with at each level of government would be distinct and different. Where there are logical and necessary overlaps in matters of concern between different levels of government, they would be well defined so that there is no chance of confusion in jurisdictions and duplicity of actions. In any case, there is no question of any superiority and inferiority, or higher and lower governments. Concentric circles of governmental responsibility and commensurate authority indicated earlier aptly describe the jurisdictions, roles, responsibilities and authorities of the various levels of governments. While no circle is above or below any other circle, all circles have come into existence due to, and hence are related only to, the individual at the centre. This structure of governance is distinctly different from the pyramidal structure that we have now. This is not to say that there will be no interactions between the functioning of different levels of government. As a smaller circle is also contained in the larger circle, there are bound to be interactions between the functionings of different levels of governments. The national constitution would define, regulate and facilitate such interactions.

There may understandably be some misgivings about the validity of such a system of governance, particularly in the minds of those who are entrenched in the prevailing system of governance and are not exposed or open to altogether different systems of governance. These misgivings are mainly on account of two points, one is economic viability and the other is national integrity. In the present set up and scenario, one may think that the village governments would not be economically viable and self sustaining because of their poor resource base. Such thinking arises purely on account of the exploitative nature of the prevailing system we are used to. Wealth is created by dint of the human resources (labour, skill and intellect) suitably applied to the natural resources (land, water, forest, and minerals). Overwhelming majority of the villages is not at all poor in these resources. In the present system, on the one hand, wealth is not created efficiently and optimally due to infirmities and inadequacies of the system and, on the other, the benefits accrued from these resources are exploited out of the villages to cities, state and national capitals and, in the globalized and privatized economy, to corporate houses. In the changed system of governance the politically empowered villages would not be subject to these negative factors intrinsic to the existing system.

In the existing system, the government at the national level, i.e., the central government has been kept powerful at the cost of federalism on the plea that a powerful centre can better deal with separatist tendencies on the part of states or other parts of India and is thus better able to maintain integrity of the nation. In the changed system of government, each level of government will be strong in its own domain of assigned functions and will be better able to carry out those functions. The national government will be rendered stronger for carrying its nation-level functions by not having to dissipate its energies in duplicating the functions assigned to other levels of government which are empowered to carry them out competently. As may be discussed in later posts, social unrest and insurgency will lose its base and hence will disappear in the changed system of governance, thus relieving the national government of a considerable burden. The apprehension that strong and autonomous governments below the central government may give rise to fissiparous and separatist tendencies is misplaced. The feeling of nationhood is engendered and sustained by shared history, geography and culture. It has been experienced that strong local governments promote such a feeling better than weaker and disgruntled ones. In any case, preserving the integrity of the nation will be an important assignment of the national government which will have necessary power to deal with it effectively.

The above-mentioned system of governance and governmental structure for India based on the concept and prescription of Mahatma Gandhi is not utopian as many tend to consider as such and to dismiss it on this account. In a democratic country like the U.S.A, the Gandhian concept of governance is a functioning system, and is a major factor, more than any other, for its sustained prosperity.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Vital and Essential Step for Emergence of a New India

In the freedom struggle waged on the principle of nonviolent passive resistance, it was made clear by its charismatic leader Mahatma Gandhi that the struggle was aimed at removing the oppressive and degrading system of governance designed and used by the British Government to systematically exploit India which was their colony. He emphasized that the struggle was not necessarily aimed at driving out the British people in the Indian government or living in India.
When India was granted freedom through Independence of India Act 1947 passed by the British Parliament, it was specified therein that the Govt. of India Act 1935, under which colonial India was governed, would remain in force till the Constituent Assembly of India framed its own Constitution. However, as discussed in my April 24, 2010 post under the previous Blog, the Constituent Assembly was constituted in 1946 by the British Indian Government under Cabinet Mission Plan which resulted in a Constituent Assembly dominantly representing those sections of Indian people which were beneficiaries of the colonial system of governance and dreaded the system of governance constantly advocated by Gandhi and thus had a vested interest in the status quo. Leaders of the masses of India, who were inspired by Gandhi’s ideas of governance for free India were in abject minority in the Constituent Assembly. Gandhi himself was rendered irrelevant and was totally neglected in the exercise of making the Constitution which was to determine the future course of free India. Gandhi, the architect of India’s freedom who died before this exercise ended was betrayed, the masses who looked up to the freedom of India for deliverance from their sufferings were short-changed and freedom was hijacked by Macaulay’s children who prevailed in this exercise, resulting in a Constitution which had all the trappings of a modern Constitution but its operative core remained the Govt. of India Act 1935. Thus, the journey that the Indian republic began on 26 January 1950 was off-track from day one. The problems that were created and exacerbated in the course of its six decades of journey are all before us to see and suffer from. This off-track journey of the Indian republic has been discussed in my blog-post dated 15 August 2010. The moot point is whether there will be any deliverance from the sufferings the people of India are subjected to on account of abysmally low level of morality of contemporary Indian politics and politicians, corruption at all levels of government, poverty and increasing marginalization of the poor due to widening gap between the rich and the poor, and social unrest and insurgency. All our endeavours made in the past to deal with these problems in isolation have utterly failed. In fact, these problems have been systematically getting more and more serious over time in spite of these endeavours. If the basic illness afflicting a human body or body politic is not diagnosed and treated, treatments of its diverse symptoms in isolation are bound to fail. And that has been the experience in India over the last 60 years. So, in order to rid India of the serious problems sapping the vitality of the nation, we have to strike at the basic illness, i.e., the colonial system of governance that sneaked into our Constitution due to the machinations of the British government in complicity with the vested interests of India, and replace it with a system which Mahatma Gandhi constantly advocated throughout the freedom struggle spearheaded by him, and which accords with our aspirations of India being a “democratic, socialist, secular, sovereign republic” declared in our Constitution but achieved only in illusions, not in reality. What is this system, how it can be put in place, a vision of India with this system in place, who will do it and related questions will be addressed in my subsequent posts under this Blog.