Wednesday, 26 January 2011


What exactly does the republic day signify? It is the day when the Indian constitution came into effect on 26 Jan 1950. The opinion expressed by an American Constitutional authority, Granville Austin, was significant. He said that the Indian constitution was "perhaps the greatest political venture since that originated in Philadelphia in 1787." He described it as a “social document”. We should never forget that the Constitution, as envisaged by a committee under Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, was to foster a social revolution.

A few years after the declaration of the Indian republic, Sir Anthony Eden, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom said, ‘Of all the experiments in government, which have been attempted since the beginning of time, I believe that the Indian venture into parliamentary government is the most exciting. A vast subcontinent is attempting to apply to its tens and thousands of millions a system of free democracy. It is a brave thing to try to do so. The Indian venture is not a pale imitation of our practice at home, but a magnified and multiplied reproduction on a scale we have never dreamt of. If it succeeds, its influence on Asia is incalculable for good. Whatever the outcome we must honour those who attempt it”.

Republic Day is, thus, an affirmation of common aspirations, hopes, strengths, responsibilities, and will of our people. Therefore, one cannot and should not celebrate R-Day unless one pauses to take stock of how far we have come with the vision of the forefathers of the Indian constitution. Let us, therefore, not look at the Constitution of India as a holy cow but pause and critically assess the social revolution that the constitution was meant to bring about. Where are we at the end of 61 years of this social revolution? Here are the facts:

Eighty percent of the Indian population lives on less than two dollars a day. We have nearly 500 million people who live Below the Poverty Line (BPL, a term used to describe those who have less than the UN stipulated $1.25 a day), which constitutes nearly 45 percent of our population. This amounts to one-third of the world’s poor. We have more poor in just eight states of India than in all the African countries together.

Why does it not compare well with our “spectacular” GDP growth? It is because, as brought out by Mani Shanker Aiyer (the then  Minister for Panchayat Raj), about four years back, our so called 9% GDP growth had not made dent in the lives of more than 0.9% people. MSA was of course made a pariah in his party for this and other statements. I tried doing a check on the veracity of the statement and found startling facts: One, about 10% of the GDP is because of the richest 10 Indians; and two, the richest 50 Indians control as much as 30 percent of the country's GDP. As a contrast, on the day Madam Pratibha Patil became the President of India (and hence owner of this social revolution called the Constitution) two farmers in her home place committed suicide, unable to pay the loans they had taken to raise their crops.

At the time we declared ourselves a republic, we coined a term called ‘Public Servant’. Broadly, the definition describes a person who holds a government position either by election or by appointment. Sixty-one years after the constitution came into effect, have we cared to think, to how many of our political leaders, bureaucrats, doctors, engineers, technocrats etc can this moniker be applied. For instance, can we call a certain A Raja, the former Telecom Minister, as a “servant of the people”? Did he cause the loss of `1.76 Lakh Crore in issuing licences for 2G spectrum in the interest of the Indian public? Did Suresh Kalmadi make crores of rupees in preparation for the commonwealth games (CWG) in New Delhi last year so as to distribute these amongst the poor? Now that the Finance Minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee has taken cognisance of the public concern in bringing back black money stashed away in Swiss banks, do you think that this money has been stashed away by ‘Public Servants’ or by those we elect to rule over us?

What exactly went wrong with the best of the intentions of the makers or drafters of the constitution? I think the origin of the problem lies with the way we have implemented democracy, the sacred cow of our Constitution. We are very fond of saying that India is a shining example of democracy, a lotus flower of democracy in a pond of autocracies around us.

I am not going to give my perceptions but some facts and figures that would make us all sit up and take notice. The only perception that I want to give is that democracy or rule of the people is conveniently used by our leaders to escape the clutches of the law. Initially, when a minister is accused of a scam, his response is a very noble, “Let the law take its own course” (smug in the knowledge that if law is an ass, Indian law is the biggest snail in the world; very few get justice during their life-times). As soon as this minister is convicted, he displays his total contempt for the law by declaring, “This is a political vendetta; is ka faisla to ab janata ki adalat hi karegi” (I shall go to the people’s court for justice). He succeeds there because of the shortcomings of our democracy. He succeeds because the collective memory of our people is short. Elections these days are an exercise in deciding - what we feel as – the least evil.

So here are the promised figures. In our esteemed democracy, on the average, about 50 to 60 percent of the electorate votes. What is an electorate? Since it comprises the registered eligible voters, it would be naïve to assume that 100% of the eligible voters are registered. The correct figures are close to only about 80%. So when 60% (the higher average) of the electorate votes, it means only 48% of the eligible voters do so.

With multiplicity of candidates, a candidate is declared a winner if he/she gets between 13 to 25% of the votes cast.  This would make him represent between 7 to 12% of our electorate. This means that about 90% of voters have not voted for him/her. And yet, when he becomes a minister, as A Raja did, he does not feel any need to consult the other parties, let alone common people, about a subject that is going to affect their lives in a big way. What kind of democracy is it? Why are we so proud of it? How can we forget that due to this, we rank 119 in Human Growth Index out 169 countries in the United Nations Human Development Report released on 4th Nov 10, just eighty three days before the celebration of our 62nd Republic Day. How can we forget that we rank not just below China but also below Sri Lanka, Namibia and Nicaragua?

Now let’s look at the issues with which this winning candidate (who secures, on the average, backing of maximum 12% of our eligible-to-vote people) fights his election. Do you think that he/she takes to people pragmatic solutions to their poverty and lets them decide whether he/she should be elected on the basis of these plans and programmes? No, on the other hand, the primary issues on which he fights elections are the denigration (verging on mud-slinging) of the other parties.

I am not going to bring out other issues about secularism, respect for all castes and creeds, and other fundamental rights. All I am saying is, without giving vent to perceptions and biases, that the lot of the Indian common man, after 61 years of our social revolution, sought to be fostered by our constitution, brought into effect on 26 Jan 1950, has not improved. There is no remedy in sight because he/she does not exercise a choice.

On the 62nd Republic Day, let’s all put our heads together and think how can we empower our people. All facts and figures prove that so far we have scarcely empowered them.

Here are some of the arguments used to bolster our feel-good factor: "these days even the road-side cobbler has mobile phone", "even those in slums in Mumbai watch colour television", "Slumdog Millionaire won many Oscars", "our fashion industry is growing at a stupendous rate" etc. These are arguments given by the political class and the elite to make us forget the failures of Indian democracy.

“Hum honge kamyaab” (We shall succeed). Sure, pal, first let’s decide on what we want to succeed at. I am sorry but on the 62nd Republic Day, we still have only a vague idea, let alone a firm plan.

1 comment:

  1. Super Article, well analysed ! Any short term and long term solutions ??


I welcome all your comments as long as these are not vituperative, use obscene language and are communal