As we approach 75th year of the Republic many observe that on accomplishments of the country, it is glass half empty situation. Can we catch up and see that the glass is full by 2050 by when India becomes the only Republic to complete hundred years uninterrupted! This of course does not mean that we wait for another thirty years to realize much cherished goals of the constitution and the Republic. But then if we look at certain landmark changes that our Parliament has made making no difference we need to be concerned. For example, thirty years ago voting age was reduced to 18 from 21, Panchayat Raj Act was ushered in for decentralized governance, reservation for women was brought in local bodies but that made no difference. Despite 17 general elections, what difference we see in the very representative character of those sitting in the Parliament and Assemblies today? Can we expect that linking voter ID with Aadhar number is going to make any difference? Can we expect six general elections, we are going to have next 30 years, are going to expedite the process any differently so that we have “good governance” by 2050?
Taking advantage of the dilemma, the divides and decline in basic values, some leaders today are determined to destabilize the affairs in the name of reforms or welfare, as if unconcerned of the implications. Their concern is more for control and command. The motivation is quest for popularity and luring of voters. All that as if cutting the branch of the tree one is sitting on. Deception in destabilizing strategies has dangerous consequences. Leaders riding on majoritarian wave are more likely to be the villains as well as victims of that process. And yet, no sane voices are heard about this new phenomenon.
Some ambitious programmes
India tried to “leap frog” over the years. For example, “green revolution” was expected to bring change in agriculture of the country. Mother and child health initiatives were expected to better the health of the people of the country, but never before individual families had spent so high on health as today. IITs and IIMs have, of course, made visible change but has the education of people over all has brought the kind of changes envisaged. Has adherence to rule of law improved? Has violation of laws come down with so many legislations? About ten percent of people are deprived of public services provided for them, and corruption affecting the people across had gone up over the years. This situation has made some critics to call or advocate revolution or prefer a national emergency-like rule, and today we see destabilization of public services and institutions which is even claimed as a way to catch up with the missing links. Many believe that normal growth is not good enough otherwise to realize the cherished goals, even to narrow widening inequalities. Is destabilization going to help?
An analysis of public policies in the country (Union and some states) in recent years, brings out something different and drastic outlook of the powers, indicative of their anxiety to showcase themselves more going by electoral concerns. And more often it amounts or implies destabilizing the existing order. The belief was that destabilizing is not necessarily disturpting. Leaders bereft of grassroots, lack of concerns beyond votes, and no ideological instincts tend to take destabilizing route without creating public awareness or sensitivity about the process of policy making and difference in outcomes. For these leaders destabilizing has become a way to control and command every thing. No wonder that a decade ago Arun Jaitley, leader of the opposition in the Parliament sanctified “disruption” as “a legitimate instrument of parliamentary democracy”. But today it has become a strategy for popularity, diversion of public attention from more critical issues, and an election-centric methodology. Destabilizing independent institutions however brings out vicious or negative intentions than earnestness for positive outcomes. This happens even more when majoritarian regimes take to destabilizing route.
Destabilization a strategy
Destabilization has become now a strategy of party in power even when the party is in command of majority. Opposition parties try to destabilize the party in power. But that is mostly limited to the legislatures. Situation of coalition governments too imply uncertainty when destabilizing route is taken. What should be of a concern is the kind of destabilization that the party with comfortable majority in legislature takes to. For, the tendency is to bypass or ignore procedures, norms, and even fundamentals of democracy including the institutions of checks and balance by suppressing or undermining independent institutions. Interestingly, in the last thirty years, coalition and minority governments accomplished relatively more overall and also there was more peace and participation than during the majoritarian governments. Which are more divisive, authoritarian and destabilizing not one way but in many respects including credible statistical base?
Eleven points to note
Destabilization is so blatant as if there is no one to question and nothing to bother about except control and command and consolidation of the power as if one wishes to rule for ever unconcerned of the past and even the future. It is contagious too. Destabilizing one service leads to the other service. A first signal for destabilization is the surrender of the executive or the bureaucracy. Postings, promotions and transfers become prerogative of the party boss. Second, party and its interests become supreme, people and their concerns become secondary. Third, Parliament and Assemblies are reduced one sided shows with opposition becoming notional and even irrelevant with no debate, passing bills into legislations with none even in the House knowing what the bill is all about or why it is required. This dilemma was articulated by the CJI a month ago. Fourth, “free and fairness” of elections come under constant questioning and the constitutionally independent regulator comes under the grip of the leader in power. Elections become more money guzzlers than pursuit for people’s representation. Fifth, public finance and the economy come under frequent changes with overnight consequences even threatening savings and confidence of people in independent institutions which are also part of checks and balance. Rumours become constant threat which no economy can afford. Sixth, educational stream with constant change in the curriculum, merger of levels, change of directors in the case of higher institutes, research is no longer an independent pursuit of academics. Seventh, even creative enterprises like the film or cinema is the latest one to go under the belly of the party in government in a state. Eighth, there is no more sanctity of data that government puts out or media covers and even of specialized and independent agencies. Data becomes yet another instrument to destabilize. Ninth, change of definitions, it is party policies not public policies, welfare is more dole out and poll-centric. Constitutional ambiguities come handy to justify destabilization. Tenth, successive governments endeavour to reduce citizen dependent on government irrespective of constitutional provision, dissent becomes punishable, and protest lost out, even becomes “anti-national”. Eleventh, mass media, both conventional and social, lost out as the Fourth Estate and independent watchdog status with government policies facilitating that manipulative process.
That is how destabilization by the ruling regime has become a routine strategy now. It is not so much by climate change or floods and cyclones or boarder disputes or conflicts or a Covid like pandemic. With people’s upraise becoming a thing of past, protests and demonstrations are defamed or bad named or branded, these lost out as means of change and lungs of democracy. More than any of these it is paradigm shift in the way the elections are conducted, practised by parties and campaigns are held. This is what could bring the country out of most dilemmas and prevent destabilization that the country is in.
Double edged approach
Destabilization is a double edged approach. What are the criteria or yardsticks that could justify such approach as a political weapon or strategy? To realize positive outcome of destabilized policies of a government certain minimum signals are desired. Such as: are we integrated as a country and harmonious as people? Are our independent institutes like RBI, CJA, ECI, and even the judiciary independent with sue motto initiatives, are we confident as people of different streams to engage in? Are checks and balances provisions implied are evident or not? Is destabilization going to trigger leap frog on basic problems the country is facing? Are people able to convey their concerns and get grievances redressed? Is civil society having a say in the public policy formation and implementation? How well elected ones are representing the people inclusively? How well transparency provisions are being respected?
Destabilizing a state is easier for a leader today once basic independent institutions and practices are a thing of past. Not for getting out of the resulting damage. For that, leaders need to be wiser and mature. It may even be a situation of Padmavyuha.
(Dr N Bhaskara Rao is a New Delhi based longstanding research based public policy analyst, now in his native village, Mudunuru).