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Let us not forget what our founding fathers told us

  By Vijay Darda | 25-09-2011

Recently, two issues fired the imagination of our society in an unprecedented manner. As Anna Hazare’s agitation got its agenda, setting 24×7 live coverage from television channels, these issues reached our drawing rooms, and then captured our daily discourse. The first issue was of course corruption, and the second was the functioning of our constitutional democracy. Even among those who agreed that Hazare’s demands related to corruption were right, there were legitimate questions about the impact his agitation was leaving on our democracy. For instance, a question that was bothering the people was whether lawmaking henceforth would be always subjected to such pressures from street agitations?

As a parliamentarian with over a decade of experience, I am really glad that in the end there was a balanced resolution of the dispute that at one point seemed to be getting out of hand. Both sides displayed the maturity and flexibility that is required to handle such situations. The Parliament, I should say, even at the risk of sounding partisan came out in much better light, as compared to the scenes of disruptions that are witnessed usually in the Houses.

However, now that the heat of the moment is behind us, we can carefully reflect on the nature of the two issues. We must accept that this is not the first time that the issue of corruption has emerged as a matter of public concern. Nor is it for the first time that we have been made aware of the threat to constitutional democracy from forces that appear to be at loggerheads with the government of the day.

Indeed, it would be very instructive to go back to the constitutional debates that took place more than 60 years ago to get a more reasoned perspective on these twin issues. As a nation, I feel that we owe a sense of collective gratitude to the great minds that shaped our Constitution. These veterans drawn from different walks of life had the foresight and the vision to work out a document that has by and large stood the test of time. They debated not just the legal issues but also dwelt at length on the social and economic aspects of a nation that had just got freedom from foreign rule. As the chairman of the Constituent Assembly, Dr Rajendra Prasad, observed in his remarks before the Constitution was actually voted for adoption that a set of independent authorities had been provided for to guard against the failings of the system.

“Another independent authority is the Comptroller and Auditor- General who will watch our finances and see to it that no part of the revenues of India or of any of the States is used for purposes and on items without due authority and whose duty it will be otherwise to keep our accounts in order. When we consider that our Governments will have to deal with hundreds of crores, it becomes clear how important and vital this Department will be. We have provided another important authority, i.e., the Election Commissioner whose function it will be to conduct and supervise the elections to the Legislatures and to take all other necessary action and connection with them. One of the dangers which we have to face arises out of any corruption which parties, candidates or the Government in power may practise. We have had no experience of democratic elections for a long time except during the last few years and now that we have got real power, the danger of corruption is not only imaginary. It is therefore as well that our Constitution guards against this danger and makes provision for an honest and straightforward election by the voters. In the case of the Legislature, the High Courts, the Public Services Commission, the Comptroller and Auditor- General and the Election Commissioner, the Staff which will assist them in their work has also been placed under their control and in most of these cases their appointment, promotion and discipline vest in the particular institution to which they belong thus giving additional safeguards about their independence,” he observed.

The danger from ‘corrupt politicians’ was also highlighted by other members, and Mahavir Tyagi was particularly very eloquent on this issue. He said: “All democracies are run by professional politicians and I am afraid that is the main cause of their failures, because such people begin to live on democracies.”

It becomes with them a profession, the Statecraft, becomes their only source of living. That is the bane of democracy and I want to make the future generations aware of this. It creates professional politicians – those whose earning depend on politics, with the result that they cut themselves adrift from all creative professions. If this democracy is also to be run by such persons who will have nothing else to fall back upon, and who live on Ministries or on the memberships of the Parliament, then this democracy is doomed, I am sure. Such is the danger. I therefore want the coming generations not to play into the hands of persons who are professional politicians. This Constitution should rather be run by political professionals – persons who have their own professions to live upon, but who come here to run the State voluntarily or on small pays because along with their own personal professions they had an interest in politics and had a will to serve the country. This is how I would like this picture to work. But the picture from the villagers’ point of view is dull and dead.”

Tyagi then suggested the rather egalitarian option to fight corruption by advocating a future amendment to the Constitution. “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Constitution, no citizen of India shall draw for his personal use either from the public exchequer or from private enterprise a pay, profit or allowance which exceeds the earnings of an average wage earner.”

Of course, this suggestion runs contrary to the concept of right to property, but then it has the virtue of creating economic equality, and that as the erudite Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar warned in his concluding remarks was to be the touchstone of our evolution as a free country. With his typical foresight, he said: “In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.”

If we look at the broader perspective of this current clamour against corruption, it will not take us long to discern that the popular resentment against this malaise is actually a fallout of these inequalities that Dr Ambedkar referred to. But then, he strongly disapproved of the methods that were enunciated by Hazare to press forward the demand.

He recalled that India did have a democratic system even before the British came. As he told the Constituent Assembly: “It is not that India did not know Parliaments or Parliamentary Procedure. A study of the Buddhist Bhikshu Sanghas discloses that not only there were Parliaments – for the Sanghas were nothing but Parliaments – but the Sanghas knew and observed all the rules of Parliamentary Procedure known to modern times. They had rules regarding seating arrangements, rules regarding Motions, Resolutions, Quorum, Whip, Counting of Votes, Voting by Ballot, Censure Motion, Regularization, Res Judicata, etc. Although these rules of Parliamentary Procedure were applied by the Buddha to the meetings of the Sanghas, he must have borrowed them from the rules of the Political Assemblies functioning in the country in his time. This democratic system India lost. Will she lose it a second time?”

Then as if he were almost predicting the emergence of an Anna Hazare type of hero, Dr Ambedkar said: “.. in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”

So, as we reflect on the aftermath of the agitation and the debate in Parliament, and wait for the future deliberations on the Lokpal Bill, we would do well to remember the words that our founding fathers had to say.


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