By Vice Admiral Suresh Bangara (Retd)
Those of us who were born just prior to Independence have lived with optimism and hope. Hope that India will soon overcome complex problems of governance given the plurality, non-homogeneity and diversity of cultural and religious milieu of our people and optimism that we will get our act together sooner than those in the immediate neighbourhood.
Both the hope and the optimism appear to have been belied despite some notable achievements. Compulsions of coalition politics and inability to pass legislations of crying need even when the people of India elect a majority government further accentuates frustrations among well-meaning citizens.
What is increasingly clear to many is that the present form of governing structures has been found wanting. An option that has been examined for many years now has been the Presidential form of government. The pros and cons of this proposal have been debated among experts but has not found sufficient traction among budding young politicians in the making, for fear of enormous challenges of amending the Constitution of India. That the Constitution has been amended about 98 times in 68 years is often left unsaid.
There is a second option which may find traction. That of directly electing a Prime Minister who then has a stable tenure of five years or more. Before commenting on this option, it is prudent to analyse some bitter truth about the citizens who elect the politician and the quality of politicians who populate the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha and the State Assemblies.
In the corporate world,"the Stockdale Syndrome" is often quoted to train a manager to face the brutal realities on the ground while remaining optimistic about his vision and plans. The brutal realities of politics in India need to be faced if optimism is to be the goal. In brief, they are:
• The voter base also consists of semi-literate or illiterate citizens who are often described as very perceptive voters by candidates who talk down to them during campaigning. A vast majority are still up for sale for goodies ranging from liquor, sari, TV to computers.
• Non-implementation of electoral reforms which are stymied by all shades of parties, continues to ensure that money and muscle power play a vital role during elections.
• Given the very limited options of qualified candidates with a clean reputation, the voter continues to punish those who do not deliver but the quality of tainted candidates remain the same.
• Well- meaning and qualified citizens shun politics. They neither contest due to lack of funds nor even vote to neutralise the votes garnered by illegitimate means. The end result is that the same scamster reappears with a range of promises that cannot be delivered. The alienated and poor voter is ready to clutch at any straw in the wind.
• National priorities or interests are often sacrificed at the altar of personal or party priorities.
Our current democratic processes have failed to keep up with the rapid reforms required to implement lessons repeatedly learnt by successive Election Commissions.
No political party has shown any resolve to implement electoral reforms, administrative reforms, police reforms or judicial reforms.
A strong desire to cling to power and the added incentive to dramatically increase the financial status of incumbent politicians, as revealed by recent surveys, have resulted in a strange convergence of interests among otherwise squabbling political parties.
Politicians all over the world irrespective of their ideologies display preference to overlook national interests over political expediency. This may be morally despicable to many not in power, but, it is not alien to human behaviour.
The above is just a representative sample of what a sincere, clean, aspiring politician should be ready to face. Hence, in the current format no individual, no matter how sincere or capable can deliver within his/her tenure.
If a Prime Minister could be directly elected as the Chief Executive, with powers to use domain experts as executives of his cabinet and the parliamentarians function to pass legislations to enable good governance, that model may be an option to consider.
Elected representatives cannot possibly fulfill the role of a domain expert in the rapidly globalised environment when decisions are required to be taken expeditiously by experts with more than adequate experience and knowledge in the concerned sphere of activity.
What is implicit in this model is that only a politician who has national exposure and acceptance can contest a direct election. All the regional satraps would need to give way to a statesman of repute.
All the experts would hasten to bury this concept by pointing out the enormity of obtaining necessary consensus for such a change. But maintaining status quo is an even more dangerous option if India has to discharge her responsibilities at a global or even a regional arena.
Strangely people outside India expect us to assume a global role while we continue to self-destruct with glee.
The author is a former Flag Officer Commanding-in-chief of the Southern Naval Command. He remains an optimist.