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"Reconciling Coalition Dharma, Good Governance & National Security"

The 2009 elections were considered a landmark in several ways. Once the results came in the collective sigh of relief from a large majority of the Indian population was audible across the length and breadth of the country.
The prospect of a stable government at the Centre after the months-long prognostication of fractured coalitions based on Third and Fourth Fronts with any number of other strange combinations thrown in for good measure was indeed a welcome relief. Quite possibly the dread of unholy alliances without any pretense to good government had conveyed itself to the electorate. While welcoming the results there is a need to examine as to how this landmark election that paved the way for governance stability came
about. To recapitulate a few aspects:

-The conduct of elections for an electorate of 700 million voters, 400 million of which were exercising their franchise can be deemed to be remarkable by any reckoning.

-In many respects the exercise can be said to have been unique, practically almost impossible to replicate on this scale elsewhere.

-Since T.N. Seshan became the Chief Election Commissioner about 15 years ago and showed the power that inhered in the Election Commission (EC) under the Constitution the EC has grown from strength to strength. Of course, such was the unfettered authority that Mr. Seshan vested in himself that an alarmed government had to appeal to the Supreme Court, which decided to make the Commission a 3-member body. Nevertheless the EC since the Seshan days has developed institutional vigour. It has won the respect of the electorate for holding 'freer & fairer' elections, even the grudging respect of the political parties.

·By now such is the stature of the Election Commission that political parties that were ruling the roost as part of UPA-I government (i.e., the first UPA government from 2004 to 2009) and have got decimated this time around have meekly accepted the people's verdict. Nobody has seriously made the charge of 'rigging'. This has to be compared with the turmoil in Iran after the latest presidential election and the unrest that
follows election results in many other countries, not excluding the USA and the controversy in Florida that brought Mr. George W. Bush to the White House in January 2001.

·It is thus a fitting tribute to the maturing of India democracy and the respect that the Election Commission has earned for itself within the country and around the world.

·Since it has become one of the strongest pillars of Indian democracy it has to be seen to that the government ensures that Election Commissioners are persons of exceptional merit and intellectual honesty.

·Therefore, the new government should follow the time-hallowed practice of selecting the best persons of irreproachable character and probity in consultation with the leader of the opposition.

·Similarly, retired Election Commissioners must not be given plum government positions for at least 10 years after retiring. In fact, such should be the strength of character of the Election Commissioners that even if offered tempting post-retirement sinecures, they should refuse. Unfortunately, this has not happened.

·In the 2009 elections - both at the centre and for the state assemblies that went to vote - the results have been termed as a 'watershed' by most political analysts and commentators.

But how did this result that brought a 'collective sigh of relief' across the length and breadth of the country come about. If one were to examine the composition of the  400 million or so voters who cast their votes it would be seen that the large majority of them, possibly over 80 percent, were from among the weaker segments of society, the lower middle class, the semi-destitute and most of them below the poverty line (BPL voters). As a guess based on inputs gleaned from the media it can be assumed that the depressed classes - the have-nots of society - generally turned out in full strength or very large numbers to cast their vote. The same unfortunately cannot be said about the middle class - the more affluent sections, the haves. Their voting percentage seldom exceeds 25 percent on an average; actually it may be lower. From the foregoing analysis one comes to the ineluctable conclusion that the so-called unlettered backwards constitute the backbone of Indian democracy, physically by their sheer mass as well as for their commitment to democracy. They are rooted in India's soil. Their better-off upper crust brethren are more part of the new market-capitalised global fraternity that leaves much the heaviest foot-print on the fast depleting resources of the planet. It is the former who, yet again, displayed the rare wisdom to give India governance stability not only at the Centre, but practically in all the states where assembly elections were
simultaneously held. Is there a lesson in this, which both the government and India's wealth producers should take note of.

Now after the self- congratulatory bouquets it behooves us to discern the dark clouds on the horizon. The elections were staggered over a period of several weeks. Why was that necessary? Of late it has become almost mandatory to deploy central paramilitary forces in fairly large numbers to ensure that there is no booth capturing or voter intimidation. The geographical spread of the country and the remoteness of some of the areas make it very difficult, if not impossible, to deploy paramilitary forces and independent election observers in requisite numbers simultaneously all over the country. This mode of conduct of elections at the national level has come to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Why should that be the case? In a manner of speaking isn't it only a step away from conducting national elections under the aegis of the Army?

The reason is that throughout the country, almost without exception, there is misgiving about the competence, impartiality or neutrality of the state law and order and governance machineries. It is a severe indictment of the local police and bureaucracy. Many chief ministers go out of the way to appoint partisan police officers and civil servants in certain constituencies prior to the elections. In fact, such was the ire of one of the chief ministers in the recent elections that several police officers and district magistrates were summarily transferred, as a punishment, where the chief minister's party lost. In other words they were made to pay for not having sufficiently interfered with the conduct of free and fair elections. Even after this outrageous action, completely lacking in even elementary governance finesse, the CM got away with it without the Governor, the High Court or the Centre asking for an explanation. Ultimately the Supreme Court appears to have asked for an explanation based on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). In sum, the constitutional authorities that justifiably could have intervened chose to look the other way. Why, because the conduct of practically every political party leaves much to be desired.

Criminalisation of the Polity

Inevitably one is faced with the grim reality that the political parties - practically one and all - have contributed solidly to the criminalization of the polity. They have started giving tickets - approved at the highest levels of the concerned parties - to known criminals, notorious for their gangsterism, voter intimidation and even elimination of troublesome opponents. Their cases continue to languish in the courts for years, even decades. It would not be wrong to say that the political parties have joined hands to usher in 'robust gangsterism' into the political process - pre-election, during elections and post-election. The Election Commission as well as the Judiciary appear to have become listless bystanders of this mass rape of democracy. What are the consequences of this seeming indifference on the part of those who have the power under the Constitution to set matters right. According to some studies, as compared to the year 2004, the number of MPs with criminal records has gone up. In the  2004 Lok Sabha, there were 128 MPs out of which 55 had serious criminal records and now there are 153 MPs with 74 having serious criminal charges against them. Thus, there is an increase of about 17.2 per cent in MPs with criminal records and 30.9 percent increase in the numbers of MPs with serious criminal records. Both the Congress and the BJP
are studded with 43 and 41 such MPs respectively .Out of these, Uttar Pradesh has maximum MPs with criminal cases (total of 31 out of which 22 have serious charges against them). Maharashtra is second with 23 MPs having criminal cases out of which 9 have serious cases against them. It is followed by Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. The criminalization of politics has become an extremely big concern. Even the numbers of MPs with serious criminal cases has gone up. The biggest reason for this seems to be the undemocratic and autocratic selection and nomination of candidates by political parties. Money and muscle power has become the electoral dharma of the political parties, the two largest among them, so-called main national parties, turning out to be the biggest agents for the criminalization of the polity and, by extension the entire process of governance. To put it another way, they are steeped in adharma.

In India most people understand the meaning of the word dharma. Very simply it can be explained as: "Dharma means every ideal which we can propose to ourselves and the law of its working out". Of course, in this country the Karmic consequences of adharma are fairly well understood by most people, although the lust for power and short-term gains makes them lose sight of where their true interests should lie. Democracies work on traditions and conventions; however, a parliament with as many as 25 percent MPs with criminal backgrounds will certainly not be one that respects ethics, morality and democratic norms. It then becomes self-evident that 'adharma' has crept into the DNA of the new parliament, as was the case in the earlier parliament. As to how much of the 'adharma' creeps into government functioning will depend almost solely on the authority of the Prime Minister and his 'desire' or ability to express that authority seeing that many of his ministers have a background that puts them in the 'unsavory' category.

To amplify, in the previous government, in coalition UPA-I, the Prime Minister's office, whatever anyone may say, lacked true authority. He was 'appointed' by the party leader as were several of his cabinet colleagues who did not show sufficient deference to him as should be the case in any cabinet system. This time around victory of the Congress Party is attributable to a considerable degree to Dr. Manmohan Singh himself. The nation has vested Dr.Manmohan Singh with a stature and authority that would be the envy of many leaders. The mandate is his, in the first instance, to restore "dharma". The rest will automatically follow. It needs to be reiterated that in 2009 the Prime Ministership was not bequeathed to Dr.Manmohan Singh as it was in 2004. He is now the Prime Minister of India due to the assertion of the national will. The mandate is his as much as that of his party. From here on, the failure to raise the moral and ethical standard of the government will be directly at his doorstep. In the light of the forgoing the first 'order of the day' for the PM should be to work towards the amendment of the Representation of People Act to exclude criminals from becoming legislators. A simple amendment to the affect that: "anyone against whom a court of law - not the prosecution or the executive - has framed criminal charges would be ineligible'. For no matter how improved the government functioning, the stench of criminality and, by extension, corruption from the legislative bodies pervades the land.
Their numbers - of legislators with criminal backgrounds - has become so large that taking into account the state assemblies their combined strength exceeds the strength of any single political party. Taking the argument a step further, should a rallying cry go out for all legislators with criminal backgrounds to unite in casting their vote in the electoral college for the election of the next President or Vice President, they could materially affect the outcome. So pervasive is the corrupting influence of legislators with criminal backgrounds, more so in the state assemblies where 'collectively' their numbers might at some stage give them a simple majority in the legislature, that it is one of the biggest threats to national security. This threat being from "within" the system becomes even more insidious. If not 'yet' at the centre to the same extent, in the states the criminal- politician-bureaucrat nexus has become so entrenched that even when elements from the underworld, suspected as being amenable to infiltration from outsiders with anti-national motivation, are identified, the state police either feels helpless to act against them or puts their cases on the back burner because they have become too powerful to be proceeded against. Many such examples have surfaced from time to time in the national media. In the regional media journalists are routinely intimidated and even eliminated.

It should be understood that in many of the states the inroads made by anti-social and anti-national elements into the state government organisations are so deep that good governance has become virtually
non-existent for large segments of the population. It is perhaps the single most contributory factor to the rise of 'naxalism' and 'maoism' in many districts of India. Who then is responsible for this state of affairs? To a man the blame for it rests almost entirely with the political parties and their fatal embrace with the criminal elements that they have taken to their bosoms. In the case of some regional parties the leaders of the political parties themselves have several cases against them. They have become chief ministers and home ministers, in charge of police and state intelligence forces. The rot is already too deep. There was a case, several years ago where a legislator with several criminal cases, including murder, against him was being strongly recommended for becoming the Home Minister or Minister of State for Home at the centre.
By now it should have become clear that in several states of the union a point has been reached that the damage is almost beyond repair. Occasionally judicial intervention keeps the system from completely going under. Remedial action by the Centre to restore good governance and the rule of law is nowhere in sight. Again the reason is that the two major national parties, the Congress and the BJP are themselves hopelessly complicit in the unholy nexus mentioned earlier on. Just make a tally of the number of people with criminal backgrounds to whom these two parties have given tickets for the Lok Sabha election 2009; add to that the tickets given for elections to state legislatures, the figures become much too high. They can no longer shy away from their role in the spread of corruption and decline in governance and law order across the country.
Amidst this dismal narration the ordinary, largely unlettered Indian voter, thanks to the impartial conduct of elections by the Election Commission has given the country another chance with a decisive mandate for stability and good governance to get rid of the corroding influences that have crept into the political parties and the legislatures. It is to be noted that while the numbers of legislators with criminal backgrounds may have gone up, some of the most notorious and entrenched mafia-like dons in UP and Bihar, after decades of ruling the roost through terror and voter intimidation, have had their comeuppance in the 2009 elections; almost entirely due to the sagacity of the voter and the tough no-nonsense approach of the Election Commission.
The voters have not only given a stable governing majority at the Centre, they have repeated the pattern in all the state assemblies where elections were held.

To sum up this part of the presentation it can be said that the "foremost" duty of the Prime Minister and his government is to enact the necessary legislation to bring in an enabling environment for the expression of good government, restoration of law and order for the common man and the rooting out of corruption. The situation today is that even the most laudable programmes of the government do not reach the beneficiaries because the instrumentalities of the state for delivering the benefits at the end of the chain have been thoroughly corrupted or blunted. No doubt there are plenty of civil servants and police officers who remain uncorrupted. It is they who are carrying on the business of governance and have prevented the system from complete collapse. Their numbers, however, are fast dwindling. In the light of the above the foremost legislative priority before the Manmohan Singh   government should be:-

· Amendment to the RPA as explained earlier.
· Completing the Police Reforms as ordained by the Supreme Court; and setting up of the National Judicial Council and the Judicial Accountability Council.
· Ensuring that key institutions like the Election Commission the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission remain totally insulated from political interference. Only the Prime Minister is in a position to ensure the agenda outlined above. He must act swiftly and decisively to reassure the public
that he means business.

    All the legislative exercises mentioned above should be followed through on overriding priority. In any case, they should stand implemented, latest by 31 December 2009 - in the year of the mandate that revived the hope of Indians that the country could be well on the way to good governance and inclusive growth for all - the former being a prerequisite for the latter.

National Security

    In the last part, the presentation goes into an aspect of National Security that is on occasion subtly, even surreptitiously, undermined without the public at large, or even the coalition members, being aware that decisions being taken on behalf of the government in the field of foreign affairs were being made without reference to the rest of the cabinet or ministers of the coalition partners. In the two cases cited below they were made, more on the spur of the moment, violating the principle of collective responsibility of the party heading the coalition, or the coalition partners. In short, not enough evaluation was carried out as to their long-term ramification for the country. What is worse they were not even brought before the CCS for clearance.
The first item relates to the unilateral abrogation of the 1972 ABM Treaty by George W. Bush not long after coming to the White House. Of course the new president rejected many other protocols leading to consternation around the world. It would be recalled that the ABM Treaty between the USA and Soviet Union (later on Russia as the successor state) was the linchpin of the global security architecture after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Besides keeping a check on the billions of dollars being poured into Star Wars technologies, the Treaty essentially prevented an open militarization of space.
The whole world - East and West - favoured the Treaty, India more so than others for reasons that would
generally be well known. Nevertheless, almost immediately after the announcement being made in Washington, the MEA endorsed it whole-heartedly, taking the US media and the world by surprise at the speed at which India's long-held position was overturned. Similar dismay was expressed in the Indian press. A cartoonist even showed the US flag flying on MEA vehicles. Needless to say, that neither the Cabinet nor the CCS and CCPA were consulted before the declaration from New Delhi. The coalition partners remained totally oblivious till much later. There was a suggestion by one of the commentators that somebody was personally trying to curry favour with the new US administration. Whatever be the case, it lowered India's image in the eyes of the world.

   The second instance is more recent. One fine day in 2007 practically the entire media in India as well as foreign policy veterans were shocked to learn that the previous day India had voted against Iran at the IAEA board meeting in Vienna. The amazement in Iran was palpable at every street corner. The reason being that since the visit of the foreign minister Sardar Swaran Singh to Tehran, followed by the visit of Smt. Indira Gandhi in 1974 relations between Iran and India had improved considerably. After that memorable opening the two countries started moving together in the economic field and India's views carried weight in Tehran, as would be confirmed by diplomats posted to that country from that time onward. Besides the obvious energy security provided by a close neighbour in the region the two countries had been cooperating in Afghanistan  along with Russia. India's connectivity to Central Asia through the only country whose assistance was available received a boost. Geopolitically it was crucial for India to remain friendly with Iran. Regardless as to how India felt about Iran's quest for advanced nuclear technologies prior to the Vienna vote or post-facto after the deed was done, India's geo-strategic imperative for a friendly Iran can hardly be denied. India could have abstained, in spite of the US pressure. After the casting of the negative vote relations between the two countries have taken a downturn. The Iranian government, irrespective of the hue, no longer trusts India. The image of the country of India's size has also taken a hard knock. India cannot be trusted to take an independent stand was the feeling that swept the region, the pat on the back from the Western world and USA notwithstanding. However, without going into the long-term consequences of that fateful decision the fact remains that it was again not a collegiate decision. The Cabinet, CCS, CCPA or the coalition partners were not consulted. Had these entities been consulted it can be stated with reasonable certainty that the collective decision would have been to abstain rather than cast a negative vote against Iran in Vienna under pressure from the Americans.

By hindsight the consensus would be that both were hasty and wrong decisions. However, in raising this issue the aim is not merely to discuss the correctness of the decisions or otherwise. The point being highlighted is that due process was not followed and due diligence was not carried out by experts, even in-house experts. The basis of the conduct of government in a coalition or even a single party government is the concept of collective responsibility of the cabinet. Not only in the field of foreign policy, even in the case of decisions that constitute drastic departure from existing policies, the reference to the CCS and the CCPA, where applicable, has to be mandatory. This principle should become sacrosanct. The principle of collective responsibility where critical issues are at stake must become inviolable hereafter. It should invariably be the collegium that should weigh and collectively decide on such very weighty matters. In both the coalition governments, the NDA government headed by Mr. Vajpayee and UPA I, headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh the collegium was given the go-by, sometimes even the PM was given the go-by. This elementary principle of governance which is the cornerstone of parliamentary democracy must never be allowed to be violated with impurity in UPA II and all government that follows.

Concluding Remarks

Governments in the past have shown a strong penchant for shying away from reforms that enhance transparency, curb corruption at the higher levels of government or other legislative measures that would improve accountability. Some of the most urgent measures like amendment to the RPA, Police reforms and strengthening of the independence of the CBI, CVC and allied investigative agencies have been spelled out. The personnel deficiencies of many of these agencies have also to be made up on top priority. The other burning issues before the government, again in order of priority, relate to the setting up of the National Judicial Commission and the administrative reforms recommended by the Moily Committee.
  The government of Dr. Manmohan Singh should not hesitate to bring in the above-mentioned reforms at the earliest. The combined strength of the Congress and BJP comes up to 322; with just one or two of the major allies they are in a position to drum up a two-third majority for enacting the type of legislation that could take the country to the front ranks of well governed nations. The voters have spoken. The ball is squarely in the court of Dr. Manmohan Singh.

*Based on the talk delivered at the India International Centre on 16 June
2009 by Maj.Gen (rtd) Vinod Saighal, Convenor MRGG - Movement for
Restoration of Good Government. The talk was chaired by Dr. Kavita Sharma,
Director IIC.

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