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Updated: January 17, 2013 00:28 IST

Overcome by a sense of betrayal

Prem Shankar Jha
Comment (60)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

People are beginning to believe that democracy, in which they had faith all these years, is part of the problem and, therefore, cannot be part of the solution

The torrent of anger that erupted all over the country after the 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi — whom the media named ‘Nirbhaya’ — was raped and thrown out of a moving bus has obscured a profoundly disturbing anomaly: the rape was a criminal act committed by individuals. But most of the anger of the public has been directed at the government. Barring a few lapses, the Central and State governments acted promptly, and with commendable efficiency. The Delhi police captured the alleged rapists within hours and the government spared no expense in its attempt to save her life.

The police also showed an uncharacteristic restraint in dealing with the protesters. To control the crowds with a minimum of violence, policemen put themselves repeatedly in harm’s way. A constable, P.C. Tomar, laid down his life doing his duty. Many others were injured.

The Delhi High Court and the State government took the pent up grievances of women’s associations and other human rights groups to heart and acted speedily to meet their demands. The former set up five special courts to hear the backlog of rape cases. The Lt. Governor made it mandatory for police stations to register all complaints of rape and other crimes against women. So why did the media and the public spare no effort to shift as much of the blame as possible on to the shoulders of the state?

Smouldering anger

The answer is that the rape acted as the trigger for an older, and deeper, anger in people — one that has been smouldering for years in their hearts. This stems from a profound sense of betrayal. Democracy was meant to empower them. Instead, in a way that few of them understand even today, it has done the exact opposite.

Empowerment requires the rule of law. People feel empowered only when they know that they have rights, and that the institutions of government exist, first and foremost, to enforce them. The rule of law is, however, only another name for justice. Empowerment therefore requires justice. The bedrock from which the anger that erupted on December 17 sprang is the denial of justice. In spite of being a democracy for 65 years, the Indian state has not been able to create something that people value even more than material benefits: a just society. It has achieved this unique feat by making both its elected legislators and its bureaucracy, not to mention its lower judiciary, immune to accountability. It has therefore become a predatory state that the people have learned to fear.

The hallmark of the predatory state is the universality of extortion. In India, we regularly lump extortion together with bribery under the generic title of corruption. In doing so, even the most ardent of reformers inadvertently conspire with the predators to hide the true, ugly, face of our democracy. Bribery and extortion are, in fact, two entirely different forms of predatory behaviour, and have markedly different effects upon the relationship of state with society.

Bribery is voluntary. The bribe giver chooses to give money or favours to influence a choice, steal a march over rivals, or hasten (sometimes delay) a decision. Bribery harms the economy and society cumulatively over a period of time by preventing optimal choice, increasing cost and lowering the quality of the product or the service rendered. But it has limited political impact because it is a voluntary transaction between consenting adults and the injustice it does is confined to a small circle of rivals.

Extortion is an entirely different form of predation. It requires no contract; no negotiation; and therefore no element of consent. It is a simple exercise of brute power by an employee or representative of the state over the citizen. Its commonest form is to deny the citizen the services to which he is entitled until he agrees to make a ‘private’ payment to the functionary in whom the power of the state is vested. Every act of extortion is a fresh reminder to the citizen of his or her impotence. This becomes complete if he or she is denied redress for the abuse of power.

In India this has been all-but-denied not simply by law but by the Constitution itself. Article 311 of the Constitution reads: “No person who is a member of a civil service of the Union or an all India service or a civil service of a State or holds a civil post under the Union or a State shall be dismissed or removed by an authority subordinate to that by which he was appointed.” It makes it clear that this injunction applies to not only civil but criminal cases as well. For the Central services, the empowered Authority is the President of India; for the State civil services, it is the Governor. This has meant that no prosecution can by initiated without the permission of the Central or State government. As the dismal experience of the Central Vigilance Commission has shown, in civil cases this permission is rarely given.

Complaints against police

One set of figures illustrates the impunity with which civil servants can break the law. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s annual report Crime in India 2007, between 2003 and 2007 citizens filed 282, 384 complaints of human rights abuses against the police. Of these only 79,000 were investigated; only 1,070 policemen were brought to trial and only 264 — less than one in a thousand — were convicted. All but a handful stayed on at their posts, free to wreak vengeance on those who had dared to complain against them. It is therefore a safe bet that the actual number of such abuses is at least 10 times the number reported. It helps to explain why a girl who filed a complaint of rape with the police in Lucknow about two months ago was raped by the Station House Officer, then repeatedly by the investigating officer, but could not muster the courage to get the latter caught, and report the former till she felt empowered by the protests in Delhi.

The Constituent Assembly lifted Article 311 almost verbatim from a clause in the Government of India Act 1935 whose purpose was to protect British civil servants, notably the police, from incessant harassment by sharp-witted Congress lawyers. But the 1935 Act did not put the civil servant above the law. This was because he could be held accountable, as Edmund Burke had shown, by the British Parliament. In independent India, however, this restraint was destroyed by the progressive corruption, and criminalisation, of the political class that it now serves.

The root cause of both is the lack of any provision in the Constitution for the financing of elections. In Britain where the average constituency covers 380 square kilometres and has around 60,000 voters this is a nuisance. In India where the parliamentary constituency covers 6,000 sq km and holds 1.3 million voters it has proved a catastrophe.

In the 1950s, the need for funds was met to a large extent by the rising industrial class and by the Princes. But when these two began to desert the Congress in favour of the Swatantra Party and the Jana Sangh in the 1960s, Indira Gandhi banned company donations to political parties and abolished the privy purses. After that the only way in which political parties could stay in the game was to break the law.

Over the ensuing decades, two sets of predatory networks have developed to finance, or otherwise influence, elections. The first is of criminals who provide the muscle to intimidate voters; the second is of local money-bags and power-brokers who rally support for candidates belonging to one or the other party in exchange for favours when it comes to power.

As these have become more entrenched, they have virtually eliminated intra-party democracy at the grass roots and progressively reduced the number of constituencies in which State and Central party leaders can bring in fresh candidates chosen on the basis of merit. In the current Parliament, for instance, at the last count 159 MPs had criminal charges pending against them. Another 156 are second generation ‘princelings’ whose parents established the clientelist networks that now serve them. The State Assemblies are even more closed to new aspirants: 44 per cent of the MLAs in Bihar, 35 per cent in West Bengal and 30 per cent in Gujarat face criminal charges. The proportion of ‘pocket boroughs’ is also higher in the States than at the Centre.

Predatory state

The perennial need for money lies at the roots of the predatory state that India has become. Today, its ruling class consists of corrupt politicians who are served by an extortionate bureaucracy and police that are shielded from public wrath by nothing less than the Constitution of India.

In earlier decades, people’s anger was held in check by their faith in the democratic system. They therefore gave vent to their demand for accountability in the state by turning out to vote in ever larger numbers and regularly overthrowing incumbent governments. Only in recent years has it begun to dawn on them that democracy has become a part of the problem and cannot therefore be part of the solution. The protest is therefore moving closer to the borders of revolt. This has been apparent in the Maoist uprising that began in 2005, and has driven the state out of large parts of 83 districts in the country.

The Anna movement last year was another turning point because it was the first time that the urban middle class took to the streets. December’s mass protests in Delhi were the second time. History teaches us that this is the point at which the state usually begins to crumble. Were this to happen in India, it would not lead to the emergence of a more just and accountable Indian state but to its disintegration.

There is still time for our Central and State leaders to remember that no society that has lost its sense of justice, and, therefore, its moral legitimacy, has survived for long. But they are beginning to run out of it.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

More In: Lead | Opinion

The incident that Mr. Balakrishnan pointed out, namely him mentioning
that NRIs do not have the right to complain about India, and then
receiving a reply that people who participate in reform-based measures
in India are often attacked, points to a common pedestrian excuse made
by the NRI population. I think it is shameful and cowardly to use
someone else's efforts to justify ones right to complain. Also, often
change is met with resistance. It took the US a civil war to pass an
amendment against slavery, and even 100 years after that, the blacks
did not get equal rights. Comparatively, India is a very young
democracy. Thus, just because a reform movement was attacked cannot be
an excuse to abandon hope and complain.
Personally neither do I attach much importance to the NRIs complaints,
nor do I think these complaining NRIs would have done any reforms
staying in India, but it would be nice if the NRIs reflect on these
thoughts before indulging in such trash talk.

from:  Abhinav
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 17:20 IST

Amazing article Mr. Jha. Very thought provoking, critical and objective.
I hope many ppl read it.

from:  Adit
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 16:25 IST

Mr Jha's writtings are very informative and sorted they need to be read by the youth and children to better understand our responsibilities and not just our privileges. His article reminds us of the first failed democracy the Romans.

from:  suraj
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 16:22 IST

97% of population do not pay an income tax in India (government
statistics) and most of them get subsidies/pension/aid from the govt.
They do not want to protest against the govt. for fear of being asked to pay tax on their income.
Rest 3% people do not have a considerable impact on the govt. because of
the silent support of the 97%.

from:  Ritesh
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 15:22 IST

An excellent article!! The author has done a commendable job of pointing out the problems with the functioning of democracy in India. A very important point would be the almost non participation of young voters particularly in the 25-30 years old demographic. It is imperative that this vibrant group be a part of the political system. In most of the countries with entrenched democracies, it is this group that handles the day to day running of politics. The absence of available options to young people to even observe the political process at work is hindering the evolution of India as a true democracy. Instead, political seats are inherited thus creating an oligarchy. As for the state of affairs, it is oddly reminscent of the conditions in 1929 Germany. Lack of opportuinites with a slump in economy caused most young people to veer towards a certain Mr. Hitler. The rest as they say, is history.

from:  Varun Sreenivasan
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 14:59 IST

One of the most complete ,deeply analysed and unbiased article ,expressing the true
feelings of the masses ,i have read in the recent times..
truly recommendable

from:  Rishi
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 12:54 IST

Good article. I recently asked my brother's son when he complained
about India that we had no right to complain since we left India for
the USA. I further stated as a Democracy India gives all a chance to
change the nation by starting a new political party. I was told that
some IIT students in Chennai tried it and they were all threatened
with threats to their life by entrenched political establishment and
hence abandoned their efforts. I was shocked even though I knew
something like this happens across the nation. I hope the people of
India will not succumb to fear. After all when we fought for
independence the British did kill people like Lala Lajpat Rai and made
people like V.O.Chidambaram, Subramanya Siva and others suffer badly
in prison. It was also felt that VVS Iyer must have been killed by
someone when he was swimming. Fear did not deter Indians then. I hope
that fear will not deter them now and let Indian's fight to fulfill
Bharathiar's vison of India expressed in his songs

from:  S.Balakrishnan
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 10:41 IST

Because, the Democracy in our country made handicapped by the class-
interest of the Rulers,- that does not mean that Democracy itself is
failing.

from:  Pradip Dasgupta.
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 10:38 IST

Democracy in India is not working the way it should. True representatives of people are not sent to the parliament by means of voting which I believe is a fundamental flaw in the system of electing one representative from a bunch of political parties. Take for example a constituency of 1000 citizens with 10 leaders going in for polls. Out of the 10, 9 leaders receive 99 votes, however the 10th receives 109 and is declared the winner. Here is the flaw, with 109 votes there is a winner, however the fact remains that the winner has 891 opponents and therefore he is not in majority and therefore not leader of the people. Time has come in India to become a bi party democracy. But who will change the constitution of India?

from:  Amitabh Das
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 09:04 IST

I congratulate Premshankar Jha for writing the consequences of the truth "no rule of law" and the "role of Civil Services" atleast now,though this truth was obvious since 15th August 1947 for all those honest journalists who considered common or poor Indians in differant castes and communities as the reference for judging governance visavis Constitution of India.
However I differ with his optimism in reforming the present state of affairs under the present Constitution (which if only implemented in spirit as envisaged in its Preamble all these years, would have createted heaven on earth)which has failed miserably all these years.
Something new has to emerge to bring order.

from:  R.Subbarao
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 05:55 IST

Mr. Jha,
An excellent and a much needed analysis.
It is unfair to respond to this in less than a 1000 words.

I disagree with your assessment on Democracy being part of the problem. As already pointed out by you, the enforcement and enactment of laws meant to empower people are the principal culprit. But that in turn, is the failure of Indian leadership after independence to revise and formulate new laws to give enforcement to the vision laid out in the constitution. Laws laid out by the British were not meant to serve the people of India, rather control, manage or suppress. The British were not in India on an altruistic mission of creating an equal or just society. A key difference. One cannot use these laws formulated with the aforesaid intent to enforce a different outcome.

Contd...

from:  Anamendra Bharati
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 03:17 IST

Although I enjoyed reading the article, I disagree with the writer's
point of view that people are angry with the democracy. People are
angry with the people whom they have chosen to run our democratic
country. People are angry with the fact that even after knowing that
the majority of elected members (both state and center) are dishonest
and corrupt, they cannot replace him/her with a honest person even
after an election.
I believe Article 311 of the Constitution was written keeping in mind
that majority of elected members will be honest in discharging their
duties. The Constituent Assembly wouldn't have imagined a situation
wherein majority of elected members are dishonest and corrupt.

from:  Sandeep
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 01:38 IST

The present state of India w.r.t to its democratic form of government
is a gross anomaly in the the calculations of our founding fathers. It
seems that they were eager to adopt this form of government by simply
imitating their western counterparts. What they failed to see was the
gross economic and social inequality and ignorance in the Indian
society which prevails till date. It is this inequality that rendered
this form government to no use. It's is an irony that though our
constitution has conferred extremely liberal rights to its citizens,
it has not provided for a solution to the problem of the failure of
state in executing its duties dutifully. For democracy to deliver with
optimum efficiency,it is imperative that all its citizens play an
active role in the functioning of the state. Citizen empowerment is
the bedrock of democracy which is extremely deficient in this state.
So when a citizen realizes of this anomaly,he feels cheated and
retaliates with a directionless fervour.

from:  Malesh Gangani
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 00:10 IST

I agree with the timely and apt analysis of the situation. The recent protests are the outcome of accumulated anger and frustration with the system, a slowing economy didn't help the matter either as economic growth is necessary to produce jobs to employ the burgeoning young population of the country.
A constitution that doesn't have the adequate checks and balances on the public employees is a faulty constitution, it needs fixing in an urgent basis.

from:  Suvojit Dutta
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 20:05 IST

A very thoughtful and insightful article. I wish such articles end
with some specific recommendations too. For one thing, we need to get
the word "ruled by" instead of "governed by" when referring to the
government. We as a people still seem to have the same pre-
independence attitudes towards the government as a ruler not as a
servant and enabler of the people. For the long run, that psyche needs
to be altered.

from:  V. Ramaswami
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 19:55 IST

Only the Times of India called her Nirbhaya...pls make that correction in the article. For instance, The Hindu did not give her any name. Equating TOI to the Media in general does a great disservice to all other newspapers.

from:  murty
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 19:45 IST

A very thought provking and must read article. This article needs to reach the maximum number of people as it identifies the structural flaw in the constitution viz regards to accountibility.

from:  Ashit
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 18:06 IST

Hats off to Mr Jha for writing such a piece. It was enlightening to read
what he had to say. Lessons from History are a must for this government.
They just can't use police force or criticism to keep youth from
protesting. I support Mr Jha in asserting that these protests were the
sign of a deep, old anger that is now unable to hide itself. People are
frustrated at how the country is run. Politics is not anymore about
public service, it's all about private gain now. I just hope someone
from the Government reads this.

from:  Manas
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 17:48 IST

The sense of illusion of independence with chained foot is depicted in this article.
Now the question is now that the democracy power is rather misused than being put into effective use in India, what should be the next step.
Its alomst like being ruled with an iron fist like in Germany except that the iron fist is greesed at the end to smother the feeling of being knocked out.

from:  Raghu
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 16:30 IST

Mr.Jha's expert analysis is no doubt great. But will this 'stating the obvious' help us to establish a credible political system under the existing loose-ended constituional provisions, under which anybody can do anything and get away with it? Wouldn't it be better if we could bring in the pending police reforms, electoral reforms, land reforms and others for tightening the noose around the perpetrators? There are thirteen electoral reforms recommended by successive Election Comissioners, still lying in the ghettos of parliament. One Anna Hazare or one weak Lokpal will not be enough to bring in much needed transparent and accountable good governance. Time to insist on these reforms and usher in a great Indian movement for making India a really living democracy on earth. Unfortunately, youth of the nation are slumbering and they have to be woken up and made responsible to create a new India that is governed by value based political and other systems. Mera Bharat can really be Mahan.

from:  Vasanthkumar Mysoremath
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 16:23 IST

A thought provoking article. The fact that India being a multi-linqual also could have attributed to this sorry state of affairs. Karnataka refusing to give water to Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra adopting 'sons of the soil' policy can be cited as examples. Improving the level of education alone can cure this malady. Let us be optimistic.

from:  Narayanan Kanagarajan
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 15:46 IST

A very good timely, topical article by the renowned Mr. Jha.The origin of flow and limits of power to various agencies can traced back to British rule. The whites were the ruling class, the Sahebs or Saabs, the 'mylords", the your honours'. We were tought to write your " faithfully". No question can be asked of the British ruling officer.No inspection for imported from British leyland when I worked for Ashok Leyland! The masses have been conditioned to slavery, to obey rules, to obey authority , to obey the land lords, the bosses, the owners, the Maliks .You cannot punish a parliamentarian if he does any civil offense inside parliament.
My frustration tolerance level is so low that I leave it here for the sake of me.

from:  Swaminathan
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 15:31 IST

Jha's analysis is correct but like most analysts, he carefully stops short of articulating the solution that follows from his piece: Need for internal democracy and financial transparency in the functioning of political parties. This is also the solution to the problem of Article 311 of the Constitution because only the political establishment can amend the Constitution. Internal democracy and financial transparency in the functioning of political parties was recommended by the Law Commission of India way back in 1999 but the entire political establishment has consistently ignored those recommendations. Several civil society groups have been demanding this.

from:  Jagdeep Chhokar
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 15:14 IST

Great article - thanks Mr Jha! It was an ironic but good reminder that
the protests in the Delhi gangrape directed towards the bureaucrats
when they did act timely for a change. The angst surely can't be for
this case specifically - hundreds like this and worse occur every year
- but pent up from all the justice that has been denied in the past.
Also the massive protests first for IAC, and now for the rape case do
reflect the angst of young India which demands a better governance and
will no longer let it be. Revolutions in the middle-east could be
successful because they were in very small states, but we do stand a
real threat of socio-political disintegration. All of us should
realize this threat and act in whatever capacities we can, least by
following a citizen's duties, to speed up the necessary fixes - to the
police, the judiciary, party politics, the constitution wherever.

from:  Parul
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 14:23 IST

Mr. Jha has been watching India for a long time and his words deserve to be taken seriously. I differ from him re the recent action by the State regarding the rape case. Yes, they have rounded the culprits and charged them. But what about the policemen who essentially abdicated their duty. A mere suspension or transfer?
I do agree with the remainder of the article. One suggestion I would make is to make it legal for all political parties to function in a democratic manner. Ensure that all members are properly registered; allow only members from a given constituency to elect their chosen candidates for the election by secret ballot supervised by the Election Commission. Yes, it will cost some money to do this. India
has the money; but does it have the will power?
And, I am not the only person clamouring for fast track trials of all members of Parliament/Assemblies facing criminal charges.

from:  DR.R.VENKATARAMAN
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 13:58 IST

very good article

from:  Gyana
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 13:53 IST

i can swear by every word written here. that impotence - Mr. Jha talks
about , oh i have experienced hundreds of times.

from:  abhi
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 13:45 IST

Re Mr. P N Nagarajan comment : it is like blaming the police for the
crime and not the criminal. The main cause of the incurable malaise is
the deep-rooted corruption and our proclivity to dip our hands in the
till / break laws whenever we can get away with it - either with money
or political patronage or "triviality" of the act.

from:  K.Chandrasekharan
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 13:27 IST

Democracy is the only option we have, whether we like it or hate it.
This is the form of governance found to be better amongst all the
others. We shall pray and hope that democratic machinery will continue
to grind, albeit slowly, but should never stop grinding.

from:  Gautham K
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 13:00 IST

A very good article. But I would disagree with the author on the point that constitution itself is a shield to corrupt bureaucrats,politicians and police. No system is absolute and perfect. The problem with Indian constitution and the system is that it is not evolving at the rate the society demands and moreover the changes made are sometimes very irrational. Democracy demands high degree of tolerance and mature citizens. Tolerance we have but what we lack is maturity. There are some structural problems in our constitution and they can definitely be removed through strong political will.

from:  Divya Prakash
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 12:36 IST

Its easy to criticize but to actually try to change things...its easy to
criticize bureaucratic framework than try to be a part of it and make
things right(if they are wrong)..its even easy to blame every politician
for every problems we have than to participate in social service and
make our way up to the representative institutions with support of
people..all politicians are not criminals...for many years they
participate in social work in there constituency and get elected nobody
gets elected just by giving each voter money before the day of
election...democracy doesnt just come with rights and power it also
demands from citizens to perform their duties...and those who blame
corruption is it that difficult to make a call(or sms or even an online
complaint) to anti-corruption bureau?...violence of mob should not be
glorified for any reason..no government will be accountable when it is
established using power of guns..thats why Gandhiji adopted satyaghraha
and not armed rebellion..!

from:  Rahul
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 12:35 IST

I agree with the author on some points but I am against most of the points. First there is no strong leader in the center like Modi, the current leader is just a puppet in the hands of a Italian lady. Second the law and order is of colonial style with no modifications barring a few. For eg: Less punishment for chopping a hand with cleaver than shooting a finger with a gun. forensic dept is a sham using archaic technologies. Archaic and unequal laws of british Era are still applicable. Appeasement and divisive politics on caste and religion which is the core of congress since 1984 is the crux of congress regime and their allies. Large govt PSUs are lethargic and elephant type corporations which heavy budget and low output. DRDO for years and crores of funding hardly been able to generate anything worthy. There are hardly any leaders left in current govt just crony capitalists and corrupt people.

from:  harsh
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 11:54 IST

An excellent article which captures the feeling of most Indians but not
adequately articulated or emphasised in various discourses on media. The
question is the present political class up to the task? While one would
like to reserve judgement on the question the shallowness of the
political and administrative responses to the issues probably indicate
that we have a long wait.

from:  kanchan paul
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 11:38 IST

Before collective anger crushed the hopes of 99% the hope was that the
state should work as it works to save the interests of 1% via
institutions like police,governance and judiciary.Now it is clear that
these institutions are designed to serve only the corporate-politician
nexus of few and is free for extortion on the rest commons.There is need
to have collective accountability mechanism of say police and judiciary
to both Public and Politicians.

from:  Rakesh Manchanda
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 10:59 IST

You have nailed the problem Mr Jha and thanks for writing it in a way that makes it easy to understand and assess the gravity of the situation .
These days a lot of opinions are being presented in the print as well as elctronic media but only a handful of them try to find the real cause for a public reaction.
Thanks again for giving word to what i feel could be the feelings of the masses but they couldnever express them in words as you did.

from:  Margoob Siddiqui
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 10:45 IST

About the best and most timely article on the subject. The closest parallel to modern day
Gandhi's India would be Caucescu's Rumania. extortion at all levels is the straw that will
break the camel's back and as the author says, we are almost there.

from:  veeresh malik
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 10:33 IST

The problem is centralized government. Democracy has not been able to solve that.
Large electorate has made the government unaccountable to people.

Instead if we have distributed government, where most of the issues and authority
and resource collection and spending was at the village level, and very little power
and responsibility was higher up, government would be more responsive to people's
needs in a democratic framework.

from:  Arvind
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 10:27 IST

I would go a step further and ask the question - why does the
politician need so much money to fight elections? In my limited
understanding, it is to create "pocket boroughs", patronage networks
and vote banks, which are ever willing to choose the wrong person for
the wrong reason as their legislator! While change has to happen on
multiple fronts - constitution being one of them -we cannot forget
the role that each one of us has to play, by looking inwards and
changing ourselves. Else, we will only end up overthrowing the
existent set-up, surrender more authority to a order and be exploited
even further

from:  Sankara Narayanan
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 10:18 IST

Nice article. What Mr. Jha calls as 'Bribery and Extortion', I would term it as 'Collusive and Coercive corruption'. What he says about constitutional protection to corrupt officials, can be called 'Systemic Corruption'. Perhaps the authors of our Constitution saw the need to protect the corrupt more than provide transparency and accountability. Hence our Democracy has been disappointing. All things said and done, it is still the best among the worst forms of governance. It is up to us, the people, to make it work by actively participating, cooperating, complaining and confronting it whenever necessary. Delhi protests, Anna's movement are small steps in the right direction.

from:  Vidyaranya G. R.
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 09:44 IST

Very thought provoking article. A lot of rules were borrowed from the British colonial regime and hence,nothing much has changed from that era to this, except that the state is milder in its proceedings.
But apart from this, I would also like to add the breaking value system, and race for materialistic pleasure are also a catalyst for such changes.

from:  sourav jha
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 09:22 IST

I must appreciate the scrutinity with which all these observations have been made and hence pointed out. But the issue still remians. Money is being laundered, women are still being subjected to injustice and the people still fear from approaching the police which in itself is an irony. Why do we need such incidents that trigger our anger, which eventually subsides again with the passage of time?
Granted that paving a solution to all these problems in one go is literally impossible. But can we have atleast some changes, some rights among all that is wrong?

from:  rahul dalal
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 09:12 IST

It is a very timely article. I too am afraid for the country. The danger signs are everywhere. The question is who among today's leadership, has the pan-india vision of the framers of our constitution. The citizens, however, poor, corrupt or ignorant want thoughtful, caring, judicious and competent government. We have tons of institutions and politicians of all varieties but no person or group who either understands the genius of the country or have the personal character and strength to lead the country out of the current mess. Since different parts of India live in different centuries in terms of development of modern thought and sciences, it is a hugely difficult task to keep us all pulling in the same direction. But the author is right in saying that if people, regardless of their station in life, are to have any faith in the system, they must at least feel things are run in a fair manner. May our leadership at least recognize that.

from:  V. Gupta
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 09:02 IST

Dear Prem Shankar Jha ,


The act of the public servants taking bribe or extorting money has a serious illegality about which not much thought has been spent.

When they take bribe for reducing the financial burden on the citizen they become a party to cheating the government of its rightful revenue. They being employees and in a position of trust, they are betraying the trust placed by the government on them. Such a betrayal is against the nation as well. The punishment for such betrayal should be very heavy because the welfare of the nation is involved.

In other cases they curtail the rights and privileges of the general public by giving preference to persons giving the bribe. This is also an act against the national welfare.

from:  T.S.Mani
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 08:24 IST

A comprehensive piece. However I believe the Higher Judiciary is the
least accountable as it selects itself and is shielded by contempt of
court against any criticism . It can only be removed by a
horrendously complicated process as time consuming as our cases in
courts.There is no accountability for delayed or incorrect
judgements.The usual scapegoat is the politician.With their recent
foray into the realms of policy making under the garb of
activism,,surely the judiciary can set its house in order.
The author should have made at least some suggestions as to how to
deal with the situation.Diagnosis is necessary but without treatment
it is not sufficient. I think if our judiciary is made accountable
from top to bottom in terms of delay and poor quality , the other two
arms would improve automatically. The politician faces the people
once ever so often. The bureaucrat almost everyday but the judiciary
rarely.So it is necessary for the judiciary to be above suspicion
like Caeser's wife.

from:  P N Nagarajan
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 08:19 IST

Dear Prem Shankar Jha ,

It is an excellent and timely article you have written. The situation to day we are in reminds me of the famous picture “The Tale of Two cities” where the start of the French revolution in the poverty stricken slums is shown and grafiiti appear on the walls. The situation in India is no better. But for the docileness of the Indian public a similar revolution could have erupted.

You have referred to the restriction by the Indian constitution and said that “This has meant that no prosecution can by initiated without the permission of the Central or State government.”

The constitution mentions only about the act of dismissal and removal. This is valid in any situation. Only the appointing authority can dismiss the person. But this does not prevent action being taken for transgressing law. The police and the court can take action and recommend dismissal. We should not read more into the constitution than what is intended and simple.
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from:  T.S.Mani
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 08:06 IST

It is a long time since, i had read a meaningful commentary on the
present state of india. Thank You Mr.Jha for this thought provoking
piece. The middle class which was not taking an active part in the
electoral process of elections, must have understood the results of
their non-participation in elections. They should make it a point to
elect honest persons for the councils/assemblies/parliament.
The politicians thus elected should have a relook at the
outdated criminal justice system and change the laws, giving more
power to the average indian rather than to the bureaucrats and the
political leaders.

from:  S V Padmanabhan
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 07:45 IST

One more thing has caused great damage to Indian democracy, that is rise
of regional parties. The regional parties do not have vision for India
as a whole,hence only luring the voters by money and power. After
getting elected they blackmail the ruling party depending upon their
strength. This is why local mafias are on high. Moreover that the eye
catching projects are being dragged to regions which do not have means.
The best example is Railways. This throttles the anger among other
regions. Clearly a visionary leadership is the demand of the time.

from:  sachin
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 07:25 IST

Overawed at this analysis.

from:  karthik
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 07:17 IST


A lucid analysis of the state of affairs in India. However, this is
the logical consequence of the options available 65 years ago.
Clearly a diverse and divided society coming out of centuries of
subservience could not have emerged as a nation without the basis
choice for democratic setup allowing for give-and take. BUT,
China discovered early in the twentieth century that Democracy or
merely its superficial garb often fail people. AS one of the members
of the Wall Street Journal once candidly stated that democracy and
unrestrained capitalism are inherently incompatible (99% would often
opt for their collective interest and not for the 1%) and when a
choice is to be made it should be for capitalism. This is implicit in
the neoliberal thought now sweeping the world economies. On the other
hand, emergence of the new social media may still empower common man
and rule of law and justice prevail.

from:  Mudholkar
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 07:08 IST

Sir you do raise very tangible concerns but I think it is not
appropriate to blame the Constitution for the present situation we find
ourselves in. May be the safeguard was put in place so as to ensure that
members of the services can discharge their duties honestly and
fearlessly without being bogged down by petty politics. Clearly, our
visionary leaders could not imagine the ease with which can put our
selfish interests before the well being of India.

from:  Abhishek
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 06:17 IST

A brilliant analysis of the lamentable state of governance and the public reaction to it in India. The point about the protection provided by the constitution to the extortionate political class, their servants the bureaucrats and the police is revelatory. It is indeed true that all human societies of the past have first striven for law and order and only then for material and economic progress; for what good is accumulation of wealth or any kind of property if it is vulnerable to plunder by the government itself. And we know this plundering is not limited to property and wealth but has claimed things far more valuable - kin, friends, dignity and honour. I would urge the author to follow this article up with a series of equally well thought and researched pieces on how the Indian people and the various interest groups can channelize their anger to bring about a radical change over the next 2 to 5 years with no strategy, tactic or response being a step too far!

from:  Maneesh
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 05:47 IST

In a democracy, people get the government they deserve!

from:  umesh bhagwat
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 05:35 IST

The pirates of the bygone years had a system of democracy! The rouges of the society would make the collective and put in the seeding money to get a ship to sail. They then would elect a captain and set sail to rob the people and other lesser vessels. The loot will be then brought back and shared with the sovereign while the captain and the crew would get the acclamation and social rewards such as knighthood! The democracy in itself is not a panacea for proper governance and fairness. It is the responsible and informed democracy that would bring those fruits to the populous! Unless there are strong ground rules of who can be a candidate, the rouges would put themselves in and get elected to the powerful institution called the parliament and the rest is imaginable. This is where the Indian democracy has gone off the rails! If there is any salvation of the parliament that is envisaged, that can only come by allowing people with scruples be allowed to nominate and no one else!

from:  Saratchandran
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 05:10 IST

“There is still time for our Central and State leaders to remember that no society that has lost its sense of justice, and, therefore, its moral legitimacy, has survived for long. But they are beginning to run out of it.”
Correct.
Power corrupts anybody; including our politicians bureaucrats and police.
The problem seems to me that we are a tolerant society. Any thing is OK here.
And our politicians are expert manipulators of the masses. “rape” or ‘border clashes” are not real major problems; but masses tend to believe they are.. Our Justice system and mass media are all part of the problems
It will take time –very long time-for real people to understand the real problems. Until then our “crony” democracy can continue.

Gopinathan Krishnan is Scientist in Bangalore.

from:  Gopinathan Krishnan
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 04:52 IST

A wonderful article. The root cause, as has been identified by the
author too, is the lack of intra-party democracy and privy election
financing. Fix both and the "ruling class" will be more responsive to
the society. Even though money plays an enormous role in the U.S
elections, at least we know who paid how much to the politicians.
Once the Indian public knows the sources of local parties' election
finances and the reason for their MP/MLA choices, their outrage will
gain focus and meaning. How is it that parties that are so averse to
being internally democratic suddenly become democratic flag-bearers
once elected? They are not. Democracy is about a serving govt; not a
ruling govt. If the representative you "elected" is not elected by
you, but by moneyed special interests, the govt is not beholden to
you. Only to them. SOLUTION: LEGISLATE FOR TRANSPARENCY IN ELECTION
FINANCES. ELECT A GRASSROOTS REPRESENTATIVE.

from:  Hemachander
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 04:19 IST

Democracy fails horribly when those who are elected to govern cannot be held accountable by law. Indian democracy, therefore failed many decades ago, because those who governed, systematically perverted and negated the process of law to the extent they are now immune from prosecution. Now, Indian democracy has degenerated into a fake democracy of pretenses.

from:  Ramesh
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 02:14 IST

Well written, Prem Shankar Jha. It is a pity that corruption, bribery and extortion has got mixed up to such an extent that we tend to lump it as one word, corruption. What was given in gratitue for help by a civil servant ,went on to become a demand if some work has to be done. Today, nothing moves in the Public Service without money.
While Anna has a good motive, it is hidden in the politics everywhere. I only hope that this does not lead to a revolution that might take away the good points of a democratic rule that was established by our forebears.
The big question is: How do we get rid of corruption in the Government at all levels, including ministers?

from:  Nat Iyer
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 01:51 IST

For once someone in the media is looking at the bigger picture...

from:  joseph
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 01:39 IST

The author makes a logical analysis of the situation in India. However the protests that are happening in our country are more due to clash between the ideals a young population and the motivations of a low calibre political class.
As a part of this young demographic, I believe that young people still have lot of faith in democracy but have no faith in the people in power (old generation). Generally any generation considers themselves smarter than the previous and wiser than the next. However I believe that the current young genertation for the first in human history is wiser than the previous.
My appeal to all young people is to be wise, have patience and do the right things. It might take us 20 years or more to get a good leadership in all places of governance but we should stay focused and achieve our goal.

from:  Nikhil Kal
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 00:52 IST

Immediately after Independence, we should have had a President's rule
or Military rule for 20 years to first solve basic problem of poverty,
hunger, shelter, health food and drinking water to everyone living at
that time , i.e in 1947. With that achieved, Govt should have planned
for future and growing population and everyone would have fallen into
place. Instead, we relied on Democracy to solve things and what really
has happened, is people who were middle class & above at that time
lives improved, whereas poor were pushed down further and forced into
poverty and into crime and also causing serious law and order problem
- thefts, murders, rapes we are seeing today. The seeds of today's
social discord were sown decades ago.

from:  jayaram abbaraju
Posted on: Jan 15, 2013 at 00:41 IST
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