Hari Jaisingh
Hari Jaisingh

Saving autonomy of our institutions

Hari Jaisingh

Hari Jaisingh

The steps provided for in the Constitution for an ideal model of development within a somewhat westernized framework is based on the pursuit of four basic goals:

  1. National integration and tackling intricate and diverse social structure of Indian society.
  2. Raising standards of living of people at different levels of income, including the poor, the disprivileged and underprivileged sections, tribals and minorities.
  3. Ensuring social equality
  4. Strengthening the working of politico-economic-social democratic instruments of governance.

These basic goals have had never a smooth sailing. Years of the Janata establishment, as of Indira Gandhi’s Congress before, have exposed the limitations of the Indian polity. And, the sort of politics pursued has not only thrown up a restless electorate, but has given rise to wide-ranging socio-economic conflicts.

Amidst manipulative politics of the powers that be, institutional erosion has followed, even under the BJP-ruled NDA leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

We are all familiar with the working of “caged parrot” called the CBI and now the RBI, the central banking authority, which recently saw the resignation of RBI governor Urjit Patel months before his term was to end. This is an example of institution erosion in the RBI after 48 years.

It is a harsh fact that democratic institutions tend to decline and get eroded when things get politicized as part of vote bank politics and undue emphasis is placed on personalities, the loyalty factor, personal security as well as the attempt is made to use the public realm for self-promotion and resolving personal or electoral matters. For the past several months we have seen precisely this trend. Indeed, this has been a period of marked erosion of institutions.

There has been too much stress on personalized leadership, too little on institutions and ensuring their integrity and functional autonomy. This has not only led to sharp erosion in the effectiveness and morale of crucial segments of the apparatus of several institutions as we have seen recently under the Modi regime. It has also given rise to arbitrariness and highly partisan interventions as in the case of Urjit Patel of RBI vis-à-vis the Finance Ministry.

I honestly believe that institutional erosion in the face of massive social, economic and political challenges facing the country and the rising expectations of the people is a major crisis we are faced with today. It must be said that the distinctiveness of the Indian model of nation-building lay in strengthening powerful institutional structures which could moderate individual drives and ambitions.

Broadly speaking, the main features of this institutional structure includes a party structure that derives its strength from the grassroots, rules and norms to guide the administrative and judicial system, socio-economic planning machinery that derives its thinking from the ground, backed up a network of autonomous institutions and voluntary bodies operating at various levels of society. An informed criticism and debates are part of this viable system.

Historically and culturally, Indians have shown a remarkable understanding of plural identities. The Indian secular tradition has permitted considerable ideological fluidity, but with due stress on ‘an ordering mechanism’. In a way, this can be taken as an all India tradition which of late seems to be under strain.

Regrettably, Indira Gandhi of the Congress adopted a style that threw the old institutional order out of gear, but at the same time she was unable to replace it by a new structure. Instead, she followed increasingly personalized politics that overlooked institutional traditions as well as established political norms. It is a pity that the BJP-led NDA regime of Narendra Modi seems to be following the footsteps of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Viewed on a larger canvas, it needs to be appreciated that the main thrust of our founding fathers of the Constitution was to create a unified system which is to be sensitive to the country’s changing social and economic realities of our diverse society. It is a model for building unity amidst diversities. It also aims at moderating ideologies, politico-bureaucratic and personal power through pressures from below, imbibed by a culture of mutual accommodation and consensus. But the system today is in a period of crisis in the absence of values, norms of behavior and rules of governance.

As already stated, our democratic institutions decayed during the Indira Gandhi regime. N S Saxena, who was at the helm of affairs in the police, was a witness to that period. During the Indira Gandhi era (1966-1984) a system was built in which her personalized politics was in total command. In the process, all principles of fair play in governance were given the go-bye in order to ensure the Congress monopoly over the system and concentration of power in the hands of the Prime Minister.

Equally disquieting was the fact that the successor Janata Party did not do anything to change the vicious system. No wonder, the effects of such a system on law and order and crime control were subsequently disastrous.

Today, we have seen the same trend in the saffron ruled states and even at the Centre under the Modi regime. Prime Minister Modi needs to look back and learn from some undesirable happenings of the past. He ought to realise the importance of an independent Judiciary, free and independent media, autonomy of our institutions and democratic rights of citizens of all sections.

Finally, I must share with fellow citizens that “the price of freedom is constant vigilance”.

- Hari Jaisingh, Senior Journalist.

(The views expressed in the article are those of the author).