It is indeed a privilege for me to be present on the occasion of the formal inauguration of The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy. We require some centres where there would be dialogue and discussions, and where we can address, in an objective manner, from different perspectives, the ills and problems with which we are confronted.
As Mr. Khilnani has correctly pointed out, the frustration which we see today is not confined to only one territorial entity, it is spread all over the world. In our younger days when India started its tryst with democratic destiny, the constitution was framed, we were taught that the essence of democracy is three Ds: debate & discussion, dissent and, finally, decision.
We were told by our teacher of political science that the three Ds are essentials for democracy. When I retired from Parliament, on the day of my election as President, I found there is another D which has been injected — disruption. And disruption of proceedings of the House. On the other hand, we cannot simply brush it aside as irrelevant, that it is not necessary, because persons who are doing it, they are equally Members of Parliament, they are equally responsible political personalities. Therefore, is it not time for us to find out how we can address the issue in its proper perspective? Sometimes it may [be] to compel the recalcitrant administration or government of the day to agree to some discussions or debate through a particular rule. But the end result of the disruption is, to my mind, and as I said I spent some time in Parliament — when I entered in the late 1960s and when I retired, incidentally it happened in the month of July — July 1969 to July 2012 when my membership of Lok Sabha came to an end on the date of my election to President — the present disruption puts serious pressure on the government, or it simply denies the right of individual members to express his views at the highest national decision making body. Whether sometimes it provides advantage to the government? Because question hour is the first victim, and question hour is being used by Members of Parliament, particularly private members more than often to put searching questions to Ministers, not only to get information, but also to sometimes find out contradictions in the policies of the government. Similarly, we talk of electoral reforms; we talk of how the institution should be strengthened. After all any democratic system survives, becomes effective, on the strength of its institutions. If we make a comparative study of where the parliamentary form of democracy has become successful in neo-liberated developing countries that got political emancipation after the Second World War, and where it has failed, perhaps one reason where it failed, [was] to establish the relevant institutions to support the democratic structure. Institutions like independent judiciary, free press, legislature and executive — though in parliamentary form they are one dependent on the other, but essentially, the legislature having total control over the executive in respect of money, finance taxation — and how these institutions could be made more effective.
Again I am drawing one example from my own experiences. When I entered Parliament, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, we used to [have] very illuminating, exhaustive discussions on the budget, on finance bills. Financial transactions in those days were not of a high order. If I remember correctly the first budget of independent India, expenditure was Rs.197crore; Rs.171 crore was the receipt, 197 was the expenditure, divided between not so complicated plan, revenue, capital, non plan expenditure, very simple military expenditure, civil expenditure. Rs.96 cr. was military expenditure and Rs.101 cr. was civil expenditure. Taxations were also very simple: income tax and customs. And for that, Parliament devoted good deal of time.
Size of the First Plan was just Rs.2,000 crore. It was introduced in 1951 and if anybody goes through the proceedings of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, they will find almost four days [it was] debated — on the approach paper of the plan, then when the plan was finally adopted, and in between, when the mid-term appraisal of the plan was placed before the Parliament.
Today our budgetary transaction is more than Rs.12 lakh crore. The Eleventh Plan, which we have completed, and on the end of the 12th Plan, total Plan outlay was more than Rs.37 lakh crore, and it is for us to search ourselves, how much justice we are doing to these huge budgetary transactions, financial transactions over which nobody else, except the elected members of the Parliament and Legislative Assembly have exclusive control as per our Constitution. No money can be spent from the Consolidated Fund of India except by the authority of the law passed by Parliament, no tax can be levied except by the authority of the law passed by Parliament and no borrowing can be made. Of course, there is no limit today, but Constitution has also provided that there should be a law to bring a ceiling on the borrowing. Through FRBM Acts we are trying to bring some discipline. But the short point which I am trying to drive at, that if we want to strengthen our parliamentary form of democratic system, and now if I understand correctly, many eminent lawyers are also present here, that as per Supreme Court’s ruling, parliamentary system is the basic structure of the Constitution which cannot be amended, which cannot be altered. Therefore, how to make it strong, how to make it more effective? The third problem — the huge electorate. When the first election took place, and when the 14th Lok Sabha election took place — you compare what was the size of the electorate. And it is going to be more. You cannot go on increasing the size of the deliberative body infinitely. Therefore, how to establish contact between the elector and the elected? What is the role of the third tier in the government, whether the real authority of power and authority can be transferred in the true sense of the term so that the pressure on legislative assembly and finally on Parliament are limited to few subjects and few ideas.
I have no ready answers to all of these questions. But these questions are staring at our face, apart from what Mr. Ram, Shri. Khilnani and Malini have pointed out that corruption, some sort of cynicism which is entering into our country. How to address it? And I deeply appreciate the objective which they have stated in [the mission statement]. They say we shall function as a public policy resource outlet and not a journalistic resource. This should be. Three basic issues which you are going to take as your primary objective — undertaking research on current topics, promoting dialogue and debate, and holding Track II type Round Tables on [internal] conflicts. If there are informed, structured debates, discussions and finally some view comes, it will be beneficial to all of us. And it will be beneficial to the system.
I sincerely thank The Hindu which has — particularly Kasturi & Sons — for 134 years they have served this great nation. And our history of journalism goes side by side with the history of freedom struggle. The journalists, the newspapers, particularly those like The Hindu and many others have contributed immensely to furthering our national cause which ultimately brought independence, constitution, democracy and republic, and it is our duty to preserve those.
In conclusion I would like to quote Benjamin Franklin. He was the draftsman of the U.S. Constitution. He was asked by a woman, “Well Doctor. We women deliver a child within 10 months. What have you delivered, Doctor for almost two and a half years?” Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s response was, “A republic, provided you can keep it.”
Therefore, our forefathers have provided us with a republic, with constitution, with democracy and it is our responsibility to preserve that.
(This is the edited text of the President’s speech. Read the transcript at: http://t.co/Apn5iMzv )