Fight over 'conscience' cripples Indian democracy

Written by: Shubham Ghosh
Updated: Tuesday, December 25, 2012, 16:06 [IST]
 
Conscience fight hits India's democracy

How long will this continue? The two main political parties in India have locked horns over the Coalgate scam in such a way that the Parliament has stood crippled for three consecutive days now. The Opposition is saying it is not ready for any debate while the government slammed the Opposition for not debating the issue. The current Coal Minister also accused the BJP-ruled states of opposing bidding process at the time of allocating coal blocks.

Whatever may be the point of argument, neither political party has the right to hijack the democratic functioning of the country and make it a farcical national event, which is being aired by the media round the clock.

It looks as if an armed intervention could only settle the issue. But then what is the utility for a democracy if we need the intervention of an iron fist, like many other countries which struggled to nurture a strong political institution?

The problem with the Indian democracy is that it has not learnt to correlate politics with economics, particularly in the last couple of decades after the country chose the path of economic liberalisation. Whatever is termed as corruption today, i.e., appropriating money and natural resources, is a natural consequence of a neo-liberal economic development particularly when a closed society suddenly opens up.

Globalisation is a two-edged sword

The forces of globalisation, on one hand, have resulted in economic uplift of a vast section but at the same time, it has created a turbulence in the Indian way of life. We witness a serious conflict shaping up when the ill-effects of an unregulated economic liberalisation seep into the domain of public life and affect the political discourse. It's not whether the Congress or the BJP is corrupt. Each and every political outfit, big or small, have fallen prey to corruption and just calling for the PM's head is no solution. Any incumbent at the topmost executive position will be equally held responsible. Corruption was no less when the BJP was in power and will be no less if it comes to power again.

Previous economic model to be blamed?

The serious concern is that we lack a mechanism to check the excesses of a neo-liberal economy. And we must hold the pro-public sector economic model of the Congress of the Jawaharlal Nehru days largely responsible for that. The inward-looking 'socialistic' economic model did India little favour in the 44 years since independence before the government of the day in 1991 was forced to take the opposite way. Ironically, it was the same Congress which effected the change.

We thank Manmohan Singh, the then Finance Minister, for having taken the route but it was more a course correction forced by the structural compulsions rather than an individual preference. It was Prime Minister Narasimha Rao who actually deserves appreciation for making the correct policy call, even it was late. Had India chose a regulated free market model of growth in the formative years, her politico-economic culture would have been more suitable in dealing with fall-outs of a globalised economy. If politics ate up India's economy earlier, it is the economics that is gobbling up India's politics today.

This policy call is what the leadership lacking today. Taking the neo-liberal way is no bad for it is this same new economy that has liberated Indians from the 'Hindu rate of growth' and enabled them to live a better life today. But, there has to be a reality check somewhere to ensure that an economic overdrive does not ruin the prospects for the country to reach greater heights.

Manmohan Singh, it seems, did the inevitable by opening the economy but could not finish off the job as the PM. He failed to rein in elements that went on the overdrive to make selfish economic gains and in a way, encouraged, what an expert said, "stimulants to transactions that actually lead to the growth of economy".

As a result, the evil nexus between political and economic classes is continuing to strengthen and breeding corruption. Corruption is all the more glaring for it is the first generation of the post-liberalisation India, which is struggling to cope up with the sudden deluge of a free economy. A minimum regulation is what necessary today.

The disastrous failure of the political leadership to control the new economy has led to a bigger problem. It has armed the Opposition and the two sides have found themselves involved in a stalemate which has done nothing except harming the country's democratic fervour. Thousands of practical problems have been left ignored in the process.

Decline of Leftist and movements for the marginalised

The problem has been worsened by the decline of the Leftist movement. The Left parties, although have slammed the Congress and BJP as 'bourgeois', but they have not succeeded in chalking out a viable moderating mechanism. I say moderating because the days of Left opposition on grounds of ideology are over. Talks of finding an alternative economic system by the Leftists, mainly by the old generation, reveal their lack of understanding of the reality.

These forces, whether the communist, casteist or those representing the so-called marginalised groups, have not done anything noteworthy to check the continuing system even while blaming its inherent problems. The economic liberalism has, in a way, succeeded in levelling majority of the socio-political forces in India. The forgotten minorities have found themselves at a terrible plight.

Anti-graft movement still to deliver

An anti-corruption movement led by social activists also raised their voice, showing that the gap between the Parliament and the common people are indeed widening. But this comparatively new phenomenon, too, has its limitations and is unable to plug all holes at one go. The initial failure of this movement also shows that the general people have a very weak understanding of the problem of corruption and there is no organisational and ideological base to challenge the 'guilty' at the top.

The belligerence and counter-strategies adopted by the BJP and Congress are a sham. The elected representatives are ruining the country's democratic identity by belittling its revered institutions. There is clearly no 'clear conscience' in this fight. The UPA government is in a shambles even before two years of its scheduled completion of tenure while the BJP has developed little credibility as an opposition party.

Nobody is bothered about pressing issues

The country has been plagued by a slowing-down economy, ethnic clashes and threat to national security besides perennial problems like unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, poor infrastructure, crime against women, insurgency but who has time for all those? The national parties, in a pathetic show of obstructionism, have disrupted Indian democracy because they don't know what to do next apart from gaining politically. Economic reforms are what the doctor ordered but there is hardly any political consensus to execute them.

Corruption is a way of life for both of the Congress and BJP and almost all political parties and we have to find a way out of the mess from within the existing system. But the question is: Who has the goodwill to do the country some favour?


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