Why there is a growing sense of frustration as well as helplessness about the prevailing political culture? What can be done today by each one and any one of us about it beyond the Jan Lokpal Bill and December, 2011?
There are three clear reasons, if not more. First of all, as a citizen we are given to feel that we do not count as citizens unless we become identified with a caste group, interest group or political formation. It gives any alert citizen a sense of ‘unbearable lightness of being’, which is always very uncomfortable. Secondly, there is a declining significance of politics of common good and nation-building. It makes you doubt the relevance of the ideal of being a good Indian and encourages you for a bit more carelessness about the duties as citizens of India. Finally, there is growing weight of ‘money power’ and ‘political patronage’ ( or ‘connections’) in all walks of life. You need either money or ‘contacts’ or both in most of the times – from a bed in the hospital to a seat in schools and colleges to a satisfactory response from bureaucracy, police and judiciary. Your being a law abiding and honest citizens counts so little in getting your dues from the system. Only your status and contacts make the world move in getting you justice and security.
This is not a healthy situation and it needs to be changed. It is not changing because there are some well organized groups and forces who are getting benefits out of it. At the same time, some of the alert and fearless people have come forward to make a change in it by identifying corruption at high places and lack of respect for accountability among the position holders as two intertwined facts of our public life as the root cause. They are correctly mobilizing the opinion in favour of a better system of supervision and punishment to punish the corrupt and irresponsible elements in our governance system.
It is a much needed first demand as it has the capacity to create the needed social support and nation-wide consensus for interrogating the forces responsible for declining fairness in our national life, and the consequential loss of trust between the citizens and the state. The growing support for Jan Lokpal Bill is a great symbol of this national awakening about the need to get counted against the prevailing prominence of those who are a) promoting crony capitalism in the name of liberalization, b) crime - politics nexus under the cover of representative democracy , and c) a culture of ‘black money’ through the facade of globalisation.
But this process of awakening the nation through mobilising peoples power in favour of the demand to check corruption at high places by introducing the provision of a very powerful authority – Jan Lokpal - of vigilance, investigation and punishment is only the first step. What about the immediate next steps to get us going towards a political culture beyond the politics of patron-client networks and in-built corruption.? How we move in the direction of reinventing the Indian democracy for getting it based upon active citizenship, which was the key for the success of our national movement for freedom for the foreign rule! We need to think about it. Is it not necessary to go for a three dimensional change after the Jan Lokpal Bill – reforming the election process, cleaning the party system, and decentralizing the state, and not rolling back, to create space for the effective institutionalization of Zila Sarkars and Gram/ Nagar Swaraj.
The need of putting an end to the pollution of our election process due to the togetherness of three Ms – money power, muscle power and media power is already getting some attention in the context of identifying the preventive measures in favour of creating a corruption free political leadership. State funding of elections, right to reject, right to recall, a new mix of electoral reforms to promote inclusive politics against identity politics and vote bank politics, and a functional value of the party workers in the election process are some of the urgent issues.
But this cannot be done unless we make our political parties sanitized through restoring their ideological contents and transparency in their functioning. We cannot afford to deepen our democracy on the basis of ad-hocism based party system, nepotism based leadership, and corruption and opportunism based coalition system. Let us not take any more risks about it. The society has to become responsible for creating a healthy party system including a proper system of party building, ideological training, programmatic clarity, inner democracy and healthy sources of financial support. We have to fund not only our election system but also invest in creating healthy political parties. Let us give some money, as party building and election process tax, for it so that good money pushes out the bad (‘ black’) money from the political discourse.
There is also the problem of growing disconnect between the level of policymaking and levels of programme implementation. Can this be achieved without giving new content and enough strength to the concept of ‘Zila Sarkar’ and ‘Gram Swaraj’? We are getting more and more centralized in search of new policies and programmes. For example, the national parliament is nearly over whelmed by National Advisory Council. Similarly the state level governance system is becoming more and more influenced by the lobbyists of the corporate and global players than the elected representatives of the people in the provincial assemblies. This problem was anticipated by the votaries of Gram Swaraj and decentralization, particularly the Gandhians and Lohia led socialists, from the very beginning of the debate about structuring the state apparatus beyond the colonial discourse of power. The plea of Jaiprakash Narayan for the reconstruction of the Indian polity and the Lohia line for a four – pillar state ( Chaukhambha Raj) deserve a fresh look to restore the linkages between our community life and the governanace system. The 73rd and 74th Amendments proposed by Shri Rajiv Gandhi, after the successful initiatives of the state level decentralisation to take government to the doorsteps of the voters , by the governments of the Janatra Party ( Karnataka), the Left Front ( West Bengal and Kerala), and Telugu Desam Party ( Andhra Pradesh), was one of the boldest steps to promote the possibility of decentralisation and good governance through citizen-centric decision-making and programme implementation bodies. It was made very attractive by the provision of reservation for women and the other weaker sections in the grass roots governance authority.
But it all got disoriented due to the pressure of IMF and The World Bank sponsored ‘ Manmohanomics’ - rolling back of the state from the economic sphere and enlarging of the spaces for market mediated economic projects and neglect of villages and agriculture based economic activities since the early 1990s. It became the vehicle of decentralization of corruption and misrule. Let us look at our present system and its growing distance from us – the voters. It may be a better world if we have more power to the Gram and Zila Sarkars as they will be a little more visible, accountable and responsive to our needs of daily life – water, electricity, health care, employment, housing, education, social justice, environmental protection, waste-management, and law and order. Bihar has made some improvement by restoring its faith in the process of decentralization and coupling it with gender justice and political empowerment of the weaker sections. If it has worked in Bihar - the national sanctuary of Jungle Raj for more than 15 years, nothing can prevent it from working for us in the rest of the country!
Can we expect that these next steps - beyond the Jan Lokpal Bill and the December, 2011 session of the Loksabha - may become part of the priorities of the five key players of today’s political order : Group Anna , the National Advisory Council, the UPA Government , the NDA parties and the Left Front? Why not? But if it is beyond them, some others (including us) will have to move on through citizen action groups – small and big - with our own concern for a sane society, collective power of active citizenship, and commitment for a better tomorrow by re-constructing the democratic framework for a healthy system of polity - society relationship.