Institutions are the structural architecture on which sound democracies are built. A good democracy is one which has a well spread out network of credible institutions which act as check on the tendency towards absolutism in others. All of these derive their powers from a Constitution, a national agreement based on broad consensus among people regarding the kind of country they want to live in. Constitutions define specific responsibilities of the institutions and draw operational boundaries of each institution to ensure that there’s no overlapping of functions or transgression into each others’ territories.
In the language of Economics, the arrangement could be called division of labour and specialisation, the primary driving forces behind the evolution of modern civilisations. The world would go chaotic if everybody tried to do everything. Democracies find themselves in a quandary when the institutions develop the tendency to go beyond the constitutional role assigned to them and infringe upon the territory of others by assuming on their own a role far bigger that what is expected of them. Situations like this lead to crises.
India is in a crisis now. And it’s not necessarily something negative.
Several institutions are keen on having a say on the way the country is run and they have been busy using the tools of their trade to brilliant effect. The Comptroller and Auditor General believes the policies of the government on allocation of natural resources are flawed. So they get into the calculation of ‘notional’ loss to the exchequer from particular policy decisions and strongly advocate auctioning of the resources. In the process, the line between the hypothetical and the actual gets blurred.
The judiciary has expanded the scope of its powers exponentially through Public Interest Litigations. It has worked as a boon for the ordinary masses. But it has also meant restrictions on the powers of the government to frame policies and act on them. For example, the judiciary can take an ideological position and make the Chhattisgarh government stop its action against Maoists or it can force the government to make auctioning of national resources compulsory. It has the power to deliver judgments. It need not worry about the negative consequences since it is not directly accountable to anybody.
The media are a force-multiplier. Their power lies in providing magnitude to developments around. In democracies, which are run by people, it’s a power of great consequence. The problem arises when they stop being the watchdog and assume the role of barking and biting dog. Television channels try to run the country from their studios and other media from elsewhere away from public glare. They have assumed the moral authority to criticise the government for everything. It’s alright till they start looking confused about everything.
They blame the government for not doing enough to stop the exodus of people from the North-East from cities running scared after intimidating SMSes and social media messages. However, when the government puts temporary restrictions on the SMSes and social media outlets, they charge it with attacking individual freedom. They launch fiery attacks on the government for not cutting down on oil subsidy, but when the government hikes fuel prices they become the mouthpiece for the ‘common man’, alleging the former of working against the interest of the latter.
Among all institutions in the country, the media are the most confused. When journalists start dancing to every music on the street, you know the profession is in a crisis.
The civil society is a fluid institution unlike others, lacking a clear structure and idea. It is in still an underdeveloped state in the country and needs to mature quickly with time to be a counterforce to other institutions.
However, of what we seen of the civil society so far it seems to be driven by an agenda strongly inclined towards politics. It too wants to decide the policies of the government and run the country by proxy.
Where does that leave the government? By government we don’t mean any specific government but the general idea of it. The political class entrusted with running governments obviously has not delivered the goods.
Also, it has not helped that other institutions have been rendering it weak by transgressing their constitutionally defined role.
The stark reality of the country, as of any mature democracy, is it’s ultimately political class-led governments that will run the country, not other institutions. It is the political class which is directly accountable to people and responsible to them, which is not the case with other institutions. It has to find solutions to the problems of the people and chart the best way ahead for the country.
The present crisis is good because it brings out in public several anomalies in the affairs of the country that need to be addressed on an urgent basis. Institutions other than the government have played a role in it.
But they should not be allowed to overdo it. It is a prescription of chaos in the country.
Someone must ask them to stay confined to their constitutionally defined role.