Re-structuring our Political Process : the Electoral Process Reforms

(i). Introduction
I believe only some radical changes in our electoral process can ensure our Parliament play its right constitutional role in our polity. Parliament has to perceive its role with perspicacity, and to assert the people’s will through its legislative and constitutional powers. It is under duty to provide the nation with pro-people vision. I have felt that certain reforms in the electoral process are needed to equip this institution to play its right role. I have suggested certain changes in Chapter 22 ( pp. 338-339) of my Autobiographical Memoir, On the Loom of Time [ see http://www.shivakantjha.org]. When I heard Anna’s queries on the possible reforms, consequent on his decision, on August 2, 2012, to provide the nation with ‘a political alternative’, I wrote an article setting out my suggestions which are in tune with what I have stated in the said Chapter. You can read that article at http://www.shivakantjha.org [entitled ‘The Anna Movement enters decisive phase through its Response to the Challenge. My Reflections on the day he decided to cross the Rubicon, and blew his Panchajanya’. It can be read in the folder ‘DemocracyWatch India’ on the website.] It is unfortunate that this clarion-call seems somewhat lost in the vacillations on the part of Anna himself. But point survives for us to consider pro bono publico.

What ‘We, the People ‘ can do
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that in a political society the whole gamut of the ‘sovereignty’ of the realm resides wholly, and exclusively in the people of the realm metaphorically described in our Constitution
In my considered view, ‘We, the People’ of India possess all the powers which come within Segments ‘B’ and ‘A’, the powers coming under Segment ‘B’ can be exercised only in terms of our Constitution and law, whereas the ‘powers’ within Segment ‘A’, can be exercised by our people in those rare, but most demanding moments, when the exercise of this ultima ratio of a free political society is considered justified in the collective consciousness of a political society. At page 338 of my On the Loom of Time, I had drawn up the Line of Fire on which protests and movements tend to ascend to acquire the dimensions, velocity, and efficacy of a revolution. The nodes ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ of that Line of Fire come within the Segment ‘B’ of the above diagram, whereas the nodes ‘D’ and ‘E’ on the Line of Fire come within the zone of extra-constitutional powers which inhere in people, and in people alone.

E

D

C

A – Public Criticism
B – Organised Protests
C – Parliamentary Actions
D – Revolutionary Sparks
E – Revolution

Such extra-constitutional acts ensue from the sovereign people’s ultimate political creativity.

(ii). Let us build our political trajectory in our villages: Let us evolve our Panchayati Raj to provide solutions.

Two movements must go on to achieve a sound and satisfactory political process (analogically as distinct and as integrated as the Earth’s well known two movements going on simultaneously: ‘rotation’ that causes day and night, and ‘revolution’ that causes seasons): these to be well revealed in —
(i) Steps to make the Panchayati Raj work effectively to achieve its ideals, and
(ii) Steps to make our Parliament effective, mission-conscious and accountable to our people.

Granville Austin has aptly appreciated the reasons that Nehru had advanced to go ahead with the community development and panchayati raj programmes ‘whose purpose may be said to have been integration through decentralization and unity through participation, in addition to their obvious aims of economic development and social improvement in villages. These programmes were to be the ideal combination of the grand themes of unity, democracy, and social revolution’[Granville Austin, Working a Democratic Constitution p. 167]. “One of the big problems of modern life is to find a balance between the tendency toward concentration and the need for decentralization,”’ Nehru believed. It was this high idealism that led to the framing of the Article 40 of our Constitution prescribing, as a directive principle for state policy, the organization of village panchayats to function as the units of self-government. Now the Part IX of our Constitution deals with the Panchayat by clarifying its role and prescribing its wide powers, and reach. Article 243G contemplates that this institution would play a role in ‘the preparation of plans for economic development and social justice’, and also in ‘ the implementation’ of such schemes as are entrusted to the Panchayat.

As I have observed in Bihar, the institution has not worked well for many reasons, which include these: (i) the political parties do not allow people’s participation at the grass roots levels as they fear that their monolithic and vertical power-structure, under the top-down command system, would suffer [Granville Austin aptly said : “State politicians resisted village power for fear of losing influence]; (ii) the political parties love controlling power at the top because it delights their controlling caucus which in turn builds up a hierarchy of their Samurais (fighters) down the line to promote their powers, and to reap and distribute the ill-gotten gains; (iii) the transparency, natural under the Panchayati Raj, is disliked by all the beneficiaries of the Realm of Darkness which permit the crooks and looters operate unseen and undetected; (iv) the Panchayati Raj, if successful, would set afoot a system under which ‘economic development’ would get priority over the idea of the GDP-indicated ‘economic growth’; (v) the ‘corporations’, the MNCs, their mentors, protégées and lobbyists want centralised government where things can be easily managed, and manipulated; (vi) the crooks and the criminals dislike the Panchayati Raj as they cannot afford to play their game under people’s direct gaze, and also because they cannot build filters, shelters, hiding places and Alsatias to escape being caught. Granville Austin correctly felt that the “State politicians resisted village power for fear of losing influence”, as the ‘segmented structures and primitive institutions’ of rural society ‘could not generate a responsive and creative leadership’. Austin felt that these “same factors would continue to inhibit the development of panchayats and community programmes for years to come.” [Granville Austin, Working a Democratic Constitution p. 168-169]. We must build up a well-functional system of our grass-root level democracy to frustrate the corporate conspiracy , already afoot, to claim even weighted voting rights to send their representatives to our Parliament, thus providing legitimacy to their attempts to establish corporatocracy.

(iii). I Revisit my Suggestions for Restructuring our polity
I revisit my suggestions set forth in Chapter 22 pp. 338-339 of my Autobiographical Memoir, On the Loom of Time for restructuring our democratic polity. I would deal with some points under two tiny segments which follow: one in which I plead for the vibrant Panchayati Raj; and the other in which I plead for organising our national political system with its trajectory in the villages.

The Gram Sabha-centric village Panchayats
History tells us that the decentralization of powers makes a polity participative, accountable and shared. Decentralization of powers eliminates all tendencies to arrogate powers. The best way to organize our polity is, as done under our Constitution, by an amalgam of the right measure of ‘decentralization’ through the rural republics that the Panchayati Raj aims to establish, and by the legitimate and purposive centrality through our federal structure integrated to work symbiotically with the strong central government, but wholly under constitutional restraints. I have shown how this model of political restructuring is in tune with our people’s genius, and our long and rich traditions.

The Gram Sabha of the villages, and the Lok Sabha of our country, are essentially ‘deliberative’ assemblies’. The skill that can be learnt from the right functioning of the Gram Sabhas would stand us in good stead when our representatives function in our Parliament, and in other similar bodies. The Panchayat would provide a close and inter-active world for integrated cordial actions, where the participants can themselves see that what they reap is only the consequence of what they do. .

The ‘decentralization of powers’, through Panchayats, would establish nearness between the wielders of power, and the people under their care. The absence of such a close bond between people and the government would always imperil ‘democracy’. J. Bronowski had aptly said in his The Ascent of Man (p. 435):
“We must not perish by the distance between people and government, between people and power, by which Babylon and Egypt and Rome failed. And that distance can only be conflated, can only be closed, if knowledge sits in the homes and heads of people with no ambition to control others, and not up in the isolated seats of power.”
If the Panchayati Raj works to set up vibrant village republics, great socio-psychological changes would be brought about under our polity and governance. The possibilities of this great experiment in the decentralization of powers were recognised early. Our leaders had great expectations from these indigenous and village-centric political experiments. Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze have rightly noticed that the ” implicit belief, expressed in some writings, that government interventions are, by and large, guided by the demands of social progress is surely a gigantic folly.” They have recognised what can be done best: to supplement ‘reforms’ with a more active programme of social change going “hand in hand with an expansion of public initiative and social movements aimed at more widespread literacy, a stronger political organization of disadvantaged groups, and a more vigorous challenge to social inequalities, they would represent a real opportunity to transform village politics in rural India.” It is possible to develop good education in the villages only after involving the grass roots level institutions. I would endorse the view of Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze: “In most states, teachers are accountable to the Education Department, not to the village community. Official complaints have to go through complicated bureaucratic channels, and are particularly difficult for parents to understand…..” Reforming the chain of accountability, and bringing the levers of control closer to the village community, are important means of improving teaching standards.” Socio-economic measures can work better if they are conducted under the local vigilance, supervision, control and audit. The authorities at the higher structural levels should only help, and supervise.

This system would make the Right to Know, granted under our Constitution, more effective. Besides the participative political process would give our people the satisfaction of discharging public duties, and would also help them develop their skill better. We find in our villages many persons illiterate, but they are not unwise. I feel it is the time to trust our villagers’ wisdom. They are loyal to our country, and are patriotic: they are under no temptations to steal our country’s wealth to carry that to the tax havens and other dark destinations abroad. Let us structure our polity by giving it a creative touch best done by reposing trust in people.

II

An Extract from my Autographical Memoir, ON THE LOOM OF TIME on the Electoral Process Reforms

“I suggest that time has come to Restructure our Polity
It is high time for the citizenry of this Republic to think about the restructuring of our polity to achieve the objectives of our Constitution; and to provide ways for the eradication of corruption. I suggest for the consideration by my fellow citizens two sets of ideas: (a) to improve the present party system; and (b) to go in for partyless government.

It is worthwhile to consider prescribing the following as mandatory requirements:

(a) Only the persons really domiciled in a constituency be selected to stand for election from that constituency. It would reduce election expenditure as the people of the constituency would not require a propaganda to make people aware of the worth of the candidates, and their views on matters of public interest. Secondly, such candidates will always be under the electors’ critical gaze. Thirdly, such candidates would have better sense of attachment with people amidst whom they lived. Fourthly, they would be subject to socio-cultural pressure from the people of their areas. Fifthly, they would hesitate in resorting to unfair means as they would be under their own men’s scanner, and they would hesitate in amassing ill-gotten wealth as they would shudder at their humiliating plight after being found out.

(b) The people of the constituency electing its representatives must have ‘right to recall’ their representatives if they have acquired ill reputation, or have betrayed people’s trust. This procedure underscores the fact that the ‘sovereignty’ lies with the people. This procedure would not let the representatives forget the people whom they represent. This procedure would inhibit the lobbyists of the corporate world from trying to subvert our institutions for their unworthy ends. No foreign powers or lobbyists would be able to get things done to their heart’s content by bribing, or persuading our representatives through pressure and persuasion. How the procedure to give effect to these suggestions would work should be considered, discussed and devised so that proper balance between stability and change is ensured. A People’s Tribunal can be set up in every constituency which can consider serious allegations of omissions or commissions by the representatives, if made on affidavit signed by one-fourth of the voters of the constituency. The Tribunal’s decision can be overseen by an Appellate Tribunal, presided over by at least two High Court Judges. In case the final decision is to recall a sitting member of a legislature, the order must be given effect.”

***
You are requested to send your comments on
democracywatchindia.skjha@gmail.com

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