Indian democracy is said to rest on the venerable four pillars of the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, and the press.
All the four pillars have cracked to a great degree and Indian democracy is not healthy.
In brief, we have:
- A legislature epitomized by a non-functioning Parliament
- An executive whose power is centralized in two individuals
- A judiciary that is outdated, backlogged, and corrupt
- A press that has no freedom of speech
Let me elaborate.
We have a strong government with anti-national right-wing extremist elements who brazenly continue to disrupt the social fabric with its Hindutva agenda, resulting in increasing hostility in radical Islamists, and a leadership that abstains from publicly denouncing them.
We have a crumbling, dynastic, and leaderless national opposition party, which refuses to evolve beyond its myopic, historical and outdated thinking.
Finally, we have a plethora of regional and/or caste-based parties with populist agendas and democratic power to disrupt the legislative process of our Parliament, none of whom act beyond regional or caste-based ideologies in national interest, acting instead to attract attention with histrionics.
For a healthy democracy, with a thriving legislature, we need to have a credible opposition.
There are no serious debates about any legislative act; the only opposition to any legislation is driven by populist political agendas that sacrifice national interest at every opportunity. The legislature is now so severely handicapped that the government has to resort to “ordinances”, i.e. the executive, to enact, i.e. act.
It is no secret that our current crop of ministers are only puppets pulled by strings held by the PM.
Other countries may well be forgiven for not knowing who India’s Foreign Minister is, for the PM has personally dominated foreign policy and visits in conspicuous absence of the FM.
A well functioning executive would have a Cabinet of Ministers where discussions and debates happen, but nobody in India has any illusions about what transpires in today’s cabinet: diktats from PM end all discussions and debates. In previous governments, it was the dynastic “high command”.
A cohesive, dictatorial Executive is good for the country in terms of efficiency and reforms, but not when it compromises sustainability in the long term.
As in-depth observers note, India’s Executive is controlled by only two men: Our PM and FM. Which is at best unhealthy, given the history of India’s diversity, reasoned democratic dissent and debate.
A judiciary that has become embroiled in governance issues because of corruption in government.
A judiciary whose Supreme Court ex-justice thinks a Bollywood starlet should be the President of India. A former Supreme Court judge (ex–High Court of Delhi, Chennai, and Allahabad) who ranks Chief Ministerial candidates based on their feminine beauty.
A judiciary which upholds Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code framed in 1860, that considers homosexual intercourse as a criminal offence. In case you wonder why, read this from the former Supreme Court judge:
“To fulfill this role of nature, a woman has to get hold of a man, not merely to make her pregnant, but also to look after her and provide for her financially while she is performing this role.”
We have a press whose freedom of speech no longer exists, a media that is owned and controlled by corporate conglomerates, and TV channels that are besotted with covering every political melodrama on a minute-by-minute basis irrespective of its irrelevance in national or long term significance.
The more melodramatic minutiae the media happily laps up as “Breaking News” in the endless quest for higher TRPs, the more political parties are happy to supply the goods, further incapacitating the legislature.
The Silent Fifth Pillar
Is there hope? Yes, there is.
There is a fifth pillar of our democracy which unfortunately has not been christened as such, never given its due in the theoretical framework of pillars underpinning democracies.
That pillar is the Indian citizen, who has been gloriously featured on the front page of India’s leading daily newspaper for over five decades.
The “common man” is always silent, except when it is election time. His “voice” is heard only once in every five years.
In the last general election, he has spoken the loudest in two decades. Still, neither the opposition, nor the extremist elements in the ruling government have listened.
As an optimist, I have faith he will continue to speak. With all the other so-called “pillars” of our democracy crumbling, the true, solid pillar of the Indian citizen is our only hope for generations to come.
P.S. If you have read this far, please do also read the first “related post” from 2009.