Does a disrupted Parliament mean electoral reforms are in the offing?

The Indian political establishment has strenuously opposed all attempts to clean it up but is there hope?

shiningpath September 07, 2012 09:52:39 IST
Does a disrupted Parliament mean electoral reforms are in the offing?

Forget the Lokpal Bill. It won’t be passed anytime in the foreseeable future. And if, by some strange turn of events, it does get passed, rest assured it will not only be absolutely toothless, it will also be inherently resistant to any future attempts at installing dentures to improve the bite capabilities.

After all, who in his right mind, would augment the bite capabilities of a watch-dog, whose first instinct would be to tear off some flesh from the master’s own over-sized derriere?

Before I present the argument in support of those seemingly cynical words, let us go back about 2,400 years.

Does a disrupted Parliament mean electoral reforms are in the offing

Can a divided polity offer better hope for electoral reforms? PTI

To borrow from The Republic (Plato), if reason resides in the head, thumos (indignation, love for honor, combativeness) in the heart and appetite in the belly, then it is crystal clear that the political class has been ruling this nation – rather ineptly at that – through their bellies. An appetite for undeserved wealth, devious machinations to corner position as well as power and a despicable propensity for using the law and the institutions of the land to escape prosecution and punishment.

Why would they then, do something as silly as passing a Lokpal Bill?

Irrefutable fact: the political establishment has made multiple breathtakingly insincere attempts at delivering a reasonably effective Anti-graft legislation over the last 44 years. Let us blow the lid on these insincere attempts now, shall we?

The Aborted attempts….

The first attempt was in 1966, when the then President Dr. Radhakrishnan set up the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Morarji Desai. It was this ARC which first recommended enacting a law for the establishment of a Lokpal.

The baby was then gleefully killed in the womb on 11 occasions. Be it the abortionists in the Lok Sabha, or the Rajya Sabha or some superlatively meaningless Joint Committee. Different abortion clinics, same end result.

See what the abortionists did in 1968. And then again in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005, 2008, 2011. Aborted it each time, that’s what!

In light of these facts, calling their attempts to deliver an effective Lokpal Bill “sincere” would be a horrendous absurdity; on the other hand, calling their attempts “insincere” is a truer reflection of reality.

Why this inordinate delay?

Who are these people who are expected to make this law? What standards of integrity and ethics do they adhere to?

When they contest elections, what is the prime motivation to do so, for most of them? Where do they fit into the unholy troika of crime, business and politics?

To quote from The Republic again (520d), in which Socrates makes a case for an ideal state (Kallipolis) where reason, ably supported by spirited indignation, governs appetite:

“…and so our state and yours will be really awake, and not merely dreaming like most societies today, with their shadow battles and their struggles for political power which they treat as some great prize. The truth is quite different: the state whose prospective rulers come to their duties with least enthusiasm [reluctant rulers] is bound to have the best and most tranquil government, and the state whose rulers are eager to rule is the worst”.

And look at, just look at, the lot sitting in Parliament and the legislative assemblies! Falling over one another to contest and win elections before they start excelling in loot and plunder, begging hither and manipulating thither till the repugnantly monstrous nexus between crime, business and politics is firmly cemented, justifying and rationalizing institutionalized stealing of the country’s wealth by using words like “notional” , “zero-loss”, “presumptive” , “public policy” and “hypothetical”, focusing on their own lust for power and wealth……do most of them even remotely look like they are “reluctant rulers” who pride “reason, wisdom, courage, self-discipline and justice” above anything else? [Circa 399 B.C -The just and wise Philosophers, possess these virtues in disproportionately large dollops, as per Socrates – and a full reading of The Republic sets that claim in the proper context; I suspect, that claim holds true in India now, as much as it did in Athens back then].

So when did the Indian Polity start its downward slide from the lofty to the grotesquely vile, till it finally reached a point today where some of us even question the very legitimacy of the Parliament? Is this a truly representative body that has the nation’s and citizens’ best interests at heart? Are some of the elected ones even worthy of being addressed as “Honorable”? Should we even bother to recognize the authority of the Parliament anymore? If thought censorship by the state was a reality, a lot of us citizens would be behind bars! Things half-said, very often, are an indicator of what we truly wish to say fully……are they listening?

Various political analysts and historians have suggested that the electoral landscape was first spotted sporting some serious gangarene-esque wounds in the early 1970’s. Somewhere along the way, the protests against this onset of rot, gradually morphed into a larger JPM (JP Movement) – the very same script from which recent anti-corruption crusaders like Anna Hazare, Prashant Bhushan, Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Baba Ramdev etc. have borrowed their passages rather liberally, if not in toto.

To borrow from Aristotle’s 4 causes, what becomes amply evident here is that no matter how many attempts are made, how many words are inserted into how many documents and debates, how many efficient tools are deployed to give precise shape to the documents and debates, NOTHING meaningful can come out of it unless the final cause (or the first cause) lives and breathes – and that first cause (or final cause) is INTENT.

This then brings me to say, the intent is missing because the current electoral system actively encourages and rewards the worst to dream of ruling over the best.

Electoral Reforms & the importance of controlling what is poured into the Electoral Funnel:

How can it be possible to expect any better results than what the current electoral system delivers, when we continue pouring the worst imaginable sorts into the electoral funnel? And when what comes out the other end of the funnel, lodges itself into the Parliament and state assemblies, is it even rational for us to then expect these elected ones to enact laws and mechanisms that can put the brakes on the institutionalized loot and plunder of the country’s resources?

Over the last 37 years, there have been multiple reports and recommendations on the issue of Electoral Reforms, which have highlighted this root cause of the rot, the very same cause which renders meaningless the attempts to enact laws on anti-graft, whistle-blowers etc:

1975 - Tarkunde Committee Report

1990 - Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms

1993 - Vohra Committee Report

1998 - Indrajit Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections

1999 - Law Commission Report on Reform of the Electoral Laws

2001 - National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution

2002 - Background Paper on Electoral Reforms (Dr Jayaprakash Narayan)

2004 - Election Commission of India – Proposed Electoral Reforms

2008 - The Second Administrative Reforms Commission

2010 - Background Paper on Electoral Reforms (Ministry of Law)

2011 - NEW Recommendations for Electoral Reforms (submitted to Law Ministry & Election Commission of India)

And what came out of all these reports?

Other than a few cosmetic and ineffective changes to the rules of engagement (anti-defection; a form here and an affidavit there, to capture criminal antecedents of candidates; declaration of assets etc), these documents have led to very little meaningful progress or reforms. The evidence in support of the case that politicians have been sincerely trying to clean up the Electoral System, despite the well-meaning observations and recommendations of bureaucrats, academicians, legal luminaries, simply does not stack up.

What is heartening to note though, as one goes through some of these beautifully constructed documents, is the rigorous approach these reports display towards the proposed clean-up of Politics as a Profession. These reports pull no punches, are devoid of euphemisms and hit home hard on several key issues pertaining to all three stages of the Electoral Process: the pre, the actual process and the post.

The current Electoral system holds too many hidden contradictions in its folds, and hence can be summarily dismissed as one that is inconsistent and unstable. The most stunning contradiction of it all being, the power to make effective changes and modifications rests with the very same people who stand to lose the most (private gains, private wealth, private power) were such changes to be effected.

Expecting them to enact laws that can put an end to the daylight robbery they themselves indulge in, is not the way out of this mess.

The starting step has to be Electoral Reforms. But who will do it?

I do not see a way out of this quagmire. Do you?

And finally:

Here is some hope if one ponders a whisper on the depth and meaning the following words hold in their fold:
“Change in any society starts with civil strife among the ruling class; as long as the ruling class remains united, even if is quite small, no change is possible” [The Republic, 545d].

Is the current breakdown in the functioning of the Parliament a sign of that change? Or will it turn out to be another crash test dummy which, what else, tests how much we are willing to silently bear?


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