The Fifth Pillar of Indian Democracy

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.

Legislature

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.

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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.

Executive

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.

Judiciary

We have a judi­cia­ry bur­dened with a huge back­log and a his­to­ry of cor­rup­tion.

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.”

Press

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.

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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.

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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.

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  • sushrut­bid­wai

    I won­der if why you think that Except Jait­ley, all oth­er min­is­ters are pup­pets? I think Gad­kari, Prab­hu, Raj­nath Singh, Piyush Goy­al, Jual Oram and Par­rikar seems to be doing very well and dont seem like pup­pets. Not say­ing oth­ers are. Only min­is­ter I think is not giv­en due free­dom is Anant Geete and main­ly as Modi is not in favor of long last­ing rela­tion­ship with SS. Would like to hear your rea­son­ing behind the con­clu­sion.

    • OK, I should have said “most of” because yes, there are excep­tions. But more glar­ing are the pup­pets.

      Our For­eign Min­is­ter has been con­spic­u­ous­ly absent or in shad­ows dur­ing PM’s trips abroad. She bare­ly knew our For­eign Sec­re­tary was about to be replaced.

      Our HRD Min­is­ter has to take advice from Jait­ley on every issue.

      Our Envi­ron­ment Min­istry quick­ly and hasti­ly agreed to change norms of envi­ron­ment project clear­ances based on PMO direc­tives.

      Cab­i­net Min­is­ters can­not even appoint their own OSDs (Offi­cers on Spe­cial Duty).

      Etc., etc.

      It is not a ques­tion of whether Min­is­ters are doing well or not. If strings are pulled cor­rect­ly, the pup­pets will dance mag­nif­i­cent­ly.