By Vijay Darda | 13-05-2012
As a parliamentarian, my heart is not exactly overflowing with joy as we celebrate 60 years of parliamentary democracy. I certainly hold my head high when I look back at the initial years of our nascent democracy when the Western world had given us very little chance of surviving even as a unified nation, not to talk of becoming a vibrant democracy. Both the people of our country as well as our leaders came out in flying colours in this test. The unwashed illiterate masses justified the faith reposed in them by our founding fathers in granting them universal adult franchise through their matured earthy wisdom.Time and again these masses have defied pundits and pollsters alike by pronouncing a verdict that is post facto acknowledged by all the doubting Thomases as the right prescription for the nation or state as the case may be. The voters have always rewarded performance and punished those who have let them down. The latest example being the results of the state assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. The voters gave a clear and unambiguous verdict that was beyond the expectations of even the winners.
But then as we are poised to assume a position of global leadership in the comity of nations, I find that my cup of joy is half full. I am not pessimistic, I have tremendous faith in the intrinsic collective ability of our nation to bounce back and surmount challenges. But then I also believe that to be a global power, we need to have quality leadership at all levels. It is not just nostalgia that makes me long for quality leaders like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar or Indira Gandhi but a realisation that at this crucial juncture in the evolutionary history of our nation, we do not have a leader who commands respect and recognition across the country. We do have powerful state leaders who are serving their regions well but then there is this lack of leadership at the national level, cutting across party lines.
The element of concern is that this is not a recent phenomenon. It has now been there with us for quite sometime, and in my more than one and half decade in Parliament, I do not really recall having either witnessed or participated in a debate that touched great heights of either oratory or an expression to some visionary ideas. On the contrary, we seem to be making news always for the wrong reasons. Disruption seems to have become the easiest tool to attract attention.
There was a time when parliamentarians like Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, C. Rajagopalachari, Prof. Hiren Mukherjee, Justice M C Chagla, Piloo Mody, Madhu Limaye, Madhu Dandavate and Atal Behari Vajpayee used to greatly contribute to the parliamentary debate which ultimately set the tone and tenor of the august House. In the later days we had the example of Congress president Sonia Gandhi who preferred public service to the post of the prime minister that every politician craves for. Her sacrifice in the cause of public service has not only earned her praise from all quarters but also contributed significantly to strengthen the democratic process in the country.
The Parliament is not just a place for the members to debate and express their lofty views. This august assemblage acquires an exalted status because of its representative character. As all citizens cannot be present, the members are actually the surrogates of the entire citizenry. In this sense, the members carry a huge burden. So, they have the responsibility of fulfilling the aspirations of the last man in the multitude. The all-round development of the entire country and countrymen should be the end result of parliamentary democracy. Anything less than that is certain to reflect unfavourably not only on the lawmakers but also on the entire parliamentary set-up.
In recent times, the quality of legislative work especially on the drafting side has left much to be desired and this is also reflected in the inordinate delays that take place in the passage of Bills. The legal challenges to various legislations are also an indicator of this drawback.
As a wag remarked, out of the 60 years that Parliament has been functioning, at least 10 seem to have been lost in adjournments and disruptions. I do agree that there could be some situations wherein the members are really agitated to the point that they have to recourse to this method. But when this becomes a political tool, then I have a problem. In this respect as well the latest example was provided by the members of Parliament from Telangana who had to be suspended as they were disrupting the House as a matter of political strategy. When I make these observations, I do not wish to say outright that there are no good speakers in Parliament, but it is to express my anguish and disappointment that such an institution is not able to rise to greater heights and provide the national leadership that is the need of the hour.
To my mind the main problem is the lack of moral authority that overrides all other considerations. When Mahatma Gandhi was able to provide moral leadership to the nation in the freedom struggle against an imperial power, his moral authority was derived from his personal behaviour and commitment to truth. The people had immense faith in him, and they believed that all his opinions were voiced without any self-interest and in the best interest of the country. It is this dimension that is currently lacking from our collective political leadership. I believe that the taint of corruption has a lot to do with this situation, and hence the need for utmost transparency in our systems of governance assumes more than ordinary significance. Only when the political leadership is able to restore faith that it shall make some claim to the moral authority whose absence has weakened the nation.
It is a matter of great relief that the decline in the quality of leadership that is felt in the political field is not seen in the same measure in some other walks of life especially business, industry and technology. The current generation of business and technology leaders have actually built upon the successes of their forefathers and reached greater heights. If India is rated as an emerging power on the global scene it is largely because of the achievements in these sectors. Our leaders from the industrial and scientific community have worked under adverse circumstances to overcome the challenges of growth and competition and made their mark. The same can be said to some extent of the new crop of writers, artistes and cricketers. But then in other fields specially sports our achievements do not do justice to a nation of our size.
As a media person, I am aware that the media too has done well, especially the exponential growth of the electronic media, but then here too my cup of joy is half full. Over the last 60 years, we have surely transited from a stage where the media was a mission to the point where media has become a total business. This is as it should be, but it should not be forgotten that this is a business with public purpose and credibility is its main plank. So, instead of merely focusing on maximising profits, media could have certainly done better, as our nation and our people surely deserve a better media that focuses less on sensationalism and more on the real issues concerning the life and welfare of our masses.
In the context of the media, I am reminded of a conversation that I had with a senior member of the judiciary who wondered as to why the media was not accountable to anyone when every other institution is answerable at least at some level. I feel that the existing arrangement of media self-regulation should be strictly followed so that the democratic set-up is further strengthened.
As I look ahead, I have a feeling that this evolutionary phase in the history of our nation will last quite sometime. The kind of leadership that we need to steer us through the challenges of assuming global leadership that is rightfully ours would emerge through a process of tough trials. As every situation throws up its own unique solutions, I feel confident that our nation with its collective wisdom will also find its own creative solutions. Then perhaps my cup of joy shall be full to the brim.