Need independent institutions in India to strengthen democracy

India as a nation looks divided. We have serious problems relating to health, defence, and the economy of the nation. Unity is needed to meet all these challenges

Brij Bhardwaj Jan 11, 2021

India as a nation looks divided. We have serious problems relating to health, defence, and the economy of the nation. Unity is needed to meet all these challenges. Like any democratic country, we have a majority party which rules and opposition parties that keeps a close watch on the working of the government.

But during the last few years, this model has been under threat. The ruling party and opposition parties are not even on talking terms. Debates in parliament are no more constructive. The number of days it meets has become fewer because of the coronavirus and even when it meets more time is spent in disruptions, walkouts instead of debating. The worst example of it was the last session of parliament during which important legislation relating to farmers was passed without a debate.

The result is that thousands of farmers are sitting on the borders of Delhi protesting against these controversial farm laws for the last forty days. Several meetings have been held between Union Ministers and the representatives of the farmers but a solution has not yet been found. Several concessions have been offered and the government has agreed to amend the farm laws but farmers are not satisfied. So the agitation still continues. If the farm laws had been discussed in detail in the parliament, the agitation could have been avoided.

The debate in parliament has become difficult and cooperation between the ruling party and opposition has become impossible when those disagreeing are called anti-national or called Maoists or Khalistanis, which was done when the farmers’ protest started.

The task of reviving the economy, fighting coronavirus, and facing challenges on the border from China and Pakistan will become difficult if the current state of confrontation between the ruling party and opposition continues. This is also leading to friction between the center and opposition-ruled states, which can hurt the federal structure of the country. The ruling party at the center, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has the right to expand its footprints in opposition-ruled states and challenge the parties in power. This, however, has to be done in a democratic manner. While the central government should not use its investigative agencies to harass the opposition parties, parties in power in the state should also not deny democratic rights.

In the prevailing atmosphere, both sides are suspect. The office of governors is often used to help the party in power at the center, while the state government use police and other agencies in their favour. In democracy, bureaucracy and institutions like the judiciary, Election Commission, and central agencies like Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax department are expected to play a neutral role.

The neutrality of these institutions is a major factor that makes democracy work. They help in maintaining rule of law and thus help in the functioning of the country, according to the provisions of the constitution. They all have served India well in the last seventy years. We have held elections that have been fair and the transfer of power has been smooth. There have been times when attempts were made to violate democratic norms but they all were corrected.

Today doubts are being raised again whether the institutions are strong enough to ensure that various institutions like the judiciary, Election Commission, and the bureaucracy will continue to maintain their independence and neutrality.

The functioning of the three pillars of democracy is necessary for its smooth working. They are parliament, judiciary, and media. They in turn depend on bureaucracy as they implement the policies. But all these are under pressure, despite the fact that India has been a democracy since independence. It seems that India has not developed a democratic temperament. Justice is being denied to the poor, particularly women and those belonging to lower castes.

Functioning of courts is subjected to long delays and we rank very low in human index development. India has to work for a model that tries to build unity in diversity which can be done in a democratic manner only. Attempt to encourage dictatorship or one-party rule will lead to divisions and threaten national unity. Our constitution makers have given us a model suited for development and any tinkering with it will create chaos.

India has to be a secular, socialist republic where all deserve equal rights as provided under our constitution irrespective of religion, region, caste, or community.

(The writer is a veteran journalist. The views are personal)

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