Note: Very very long rant follows… Read only when you have loads of time at hand.
Each year on 26th Jan, the Republic Day, there will be a section of Indian press and also the general public who go on to whine about how the ‘system’ is greatly flawed and dysfunctional. They express a feeling that the country is going to the dogs and the constitution doesn’t isn’t really doing much to help the nation or the common man. I am sure that some readers of this blog might be feeling or have felt this way at some point.
One should take note that ‘flawed’ and ‘dysfunctional’ are two very different allegations altogether. I concede that the system may not be functioning optimally today but it is because those who are occupying constitutionally created posts are not doing their constitutionally mandated duties in the spirit which the constitution and the oaths they take ask of them.
However, I firmly believe that the ‘system’ of governance itself is not flawed in any way. It is ironic that those who criticise the constitution fail to see that they are able to do so only by the virtue of their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. We are lucky to be the citizens of one of the very few liberal countries in which it is possible for a layman or the press to openly criticise the system of governance without facing any prosecution by the state.
Of the many wonderful boons of our constitution I shall highlight the ones that I feel are the most important. The things that we take for granted including ‘apolitical military’, ‘free and fair elections’, and an ‘independent judiciary’ are something that millions living under undemocratic or authoritarian regimes can only dream and aspire for.
Apolitical Military -
This I think is one of the finest features of the modern Indian state and highlights the beauty of the constitution. Most former colonies all around the world have at some point after independence experienced a coup by the military. India remains a firm (and possibly the only) exception. Despite undoubtedly having tremendous manpower and capability, Indian armed forces have never felt the need to take the matter in their own hands. The constitutionally separation of armed forces and politics (You cant contest an election while in the employ of the armed forces) also ensures that the military does not influence any government policies and remains under the control of elected civilian representatives. Some may attribute this to the traditions of the British Indian Army. However, the armed forces of our neighbouring nation who also share the exact same heritage have staged numerous coups over the same period of the past 64 years.
Free and Fair Elections -
The Election Commission which conducts every single election in India, from the all important general election to the smallest village panchayat election, is completely autonomous and not subordinate to any minister or state or central government. If it feels that some person or party tried to rig an election through violent means, it can even cancel the previous votes cast and call for a fresh election in the affected constituency. Election Commission not only conducts elections but also decides constituencies and thus prevents the government in power from gerrymandering. Organisations that conduct elections in some other democracies are not as independent as India’s Election Commission and are accused of gerrymandering. While it maybe true that many of India’s elected representatives are corrupt and that some (or is it most?) of them have criminal backgrounds, it is also true that every single one of them has gained the more number of votes than all others competing against him. That is the only criteria for a fair election.
It is notable that most of those who condemn electoral practices in India are the ones who have never contested an election or in some cases, individuals who do not even vote when elections are held. The reason for less than optimal elected representatives is that educated citizens candidates are reluctant to contest and voter turnouts are not very high (though higher than many other democracies including US and UK). It is unfair to blame the constitution for this.
Independent Judiciary -
State governments, Central government, statutory bodies, PSUs, private organisations, private companies and even the armed forces, all find themselves at the receiving end of scathing criticism by the Indian dailies at some point or the other. At times, some newspapers have even published editorials asking that Prime Minister should resign. Censorship of political content is almost unheard of. Every political party has its own newsletter and never before in Indian history has any government of any political party moved to ban a political publication of another mainstream party nor has any government in power sued a newspaper for criticising it. This is simply because the judiciary would definitely overrule any such attempt.
The Supreme Court actively plays its role as the defender of the constitution and ensures that the government does not trample on constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights. Our constitution cleverly ensures that nobody is immune from prosecution, not even the Prime Minister and the President. Similarly, the Prime Minister and his cabinet do not have any right to appoint or fire judges at will which ensures the independence of the judiciary. While some of the lower courts might have contracted the disease of corruption, the Supreme Court Justices are still the best of the best and SC judgements are even quoted in other parts of the world. The system as a whole does not have any inbuilt biases and can be largely depended upon to give fair judgements. The most persistent criticism of the judiciary is too many pending cases and subsequent delayed justice. While it is definitely a concern, it is also a proof of the fact that the common man believes that the courts deliver fair justice to those who approach them because much of the pending litigation is civil litigation.
Most of our country’s problems are not indications of a bad system but the consequence of good and educated individuals choosing to be armchair critics rather than activists and electoral contestants. If you do not agree, feel free to criticise the country, its system, the government or even me and this blogpost, (I will be more than happy to hear your views) for it is a part your constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech. However, I urge you that before you form your opinions about which system is the best please try putting yourself in the shoes of the following men and see if your opinion changes:
1. The guy in Cryna who cannot approach the courts for help when the government demolishes his house to build a road without giving him any compensation.
2. The opposition politician in Dance-a-pore who has very little chance of winning any election because the authority that draws constituency boundaries is a government department that leaders of the ruling political party can influence.
3. An African soldier who has attacked his own capital and its presidential palace more number of times than patrolling the international border.
OMG! 1210 words! I got carried away! Thanks if you take the trouble to read this rant all the way till here, and congrats! you have developed an incredible amount of patience :]