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جمعرات، 3 فروری، 2011

Failure of India’s democratic institutions

 If some visitors to India from foreign countries go by the scenes on TV channels and by to the reports in our newspapers, they may return home convinced that India is already in danger of becoming a failed state. In a survey conducted by the Washington based Foreign Policy about four years ago, India ranked 97th in the list of 146 countries in the failed States Index.
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By Kamran Saadat

Over the last few years the criteria for assessing the failure or other­wise of the states have changed marginally but the most important among them continues to be valid even now — the collapse of the institutions of democracy. The facts about Indian society as revealed by a former Governor of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra are quite sufficient to discern, why India is a failed state. The crux of the analysis is reflected for a common reader. If some visitors to India from foreign countries go by the scenes on TV channels and by to the reports in our newspapers, they may return home convinced that India is already in danger of becoming a failed state. In a survey conducted by the Washington-based Foreign Policy about four years ago, India ranked 97th in the list of 146 countries in the failed States Index. India, though its institutions of democracy have not undergone such devastating distortions as in many other developing’ countries, has the additional vulnerability of being surrounded by many failed states (Pakistan ranked 9th place, Afghanistan 10th, Burma 18th, Bangladesh 19th and Nepal 25th). Since the institutions of democracy are functioning, though with varying degrees of efficiency, India has earned the reputation of being one of the successful democracies of the world. However, certain disturbing features have appeared in the working of certain institutions which make one feel doubtful about their survival in good health. While it may be difficult to assess the vulnerability of these institutions and the democratic practices in India, one can easily identify two factors which should cause concern about India’s survival in good health as a state. The first and foremost is the all pervasive corruption in practically every sector of activity, public or private. The charges of corruption against those responsible for holding the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October 2010 is a disgraceful indicator of the extent to which corruption has spread in India. In the early years of Independence, India was ruled by a set of administrators and legislators who were trained in the Gandhian values of treating public office as an office of trust to serve the people. However, with the rise of a new generation of rulers and legislators, corruption has come to be tolerated as an essential evil in our country. Public offices have always provided ample opportunities to the corrupt to enrich themselves in the short period of their occupying seats of power. This is quite apparent if we glance through the declaration of assets by candidates for election to the legislatures. Those whose assets were nominal just four or five years ago, have unabashedly shown large increases in their assets and no questions have been asked as to how they were able to perform the wonders of multiplying their assets. The reason is obvious. Most corrupt people who have succeeded in misusing their seats of power to enrich themselves know that no one will “cast the first stone” as everyone is guilty of the same offence. The tragedy of the rapid spread of corruption is indeed acute when we find that today even senior public servants who are expected to be responsible for checking corruption have no shame in satisfying their greed for money by themselves becoming corrupt. The government has reserved for itself the right to grant or deny permission to prosecute corrupt officials and thereby provide protection to the corrupt whenever it chooses to do so. An interesting feature of people’s attitude to corruption is that they are shocked when news of corruption breaks but very soon forget that eternal vigilance is the price a nation has to pay for good governance, as it is the case with liberty. Just two years ago, newspapers published a surprising fact that India was on top of the list of depositors of black money in Swiss banks and that if the government requested for the list, the Swiss banks could provide the information. According to the bank’s estimate, Indians have $1,456 billion in Swiss banks, which is more money than what the rest of the world has put together in these banks. Nobody appears to be losing sleep over these huge dishonest deposits. The second factor which has the potential of dragging the nation to the path of failed states is the absence of a clear policy on the part of the government on how to deal with Maoist terror. Unfortunately, successive governments at the Centre and in the states have been quite confused in their thinking as to what has to be done to meet this danger to internal security. To begin with, the threat to internal security was treated as a nuisance when violence by Maoist groups started on a small scale in three states, namely Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Later, more states came to be affected by this menace - Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Orissa and Chhattisgarh. Now it has spread to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Uttaranchal. Whenever the question of Maoist terror is discussed in the legislature, it is common to see members of the Cabinet expressing sharp differences about the strategy. In the past, Prime Ministers took very serious objection to any member of the Cabinet expressing his/her views on what should or should not be done after a definite policy had been adopted by the Cabinet. But today no such discipline is being followed. Failure to take decisions in time has been the cause of avoidable delays in several government projects. The Maoists expect that if they hold out longer, government will one day come around to accepting their terms, including nonsurrender of arms. Decisions on important issues like dealing with Maoist terror certainly require discussions to know the views of the people but there has to be a limit for such discussions and talks. Otherwise, decisions when taken about issues like Maoist violence may prove to be the proverbial cause for failures on the part of the government, namely too little and too late.

kamransaadat73@yahoo.com
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