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Preserving the Indian Republic

Updated: February 12, 2011 11:55 am

The Republic of India is tottering. Any effort to deny this would be indulging in self deception. Corruption is so rampant and widespread, tainting every segment of society, that even sympathetic sections of the world are taking notice. International media is reporting the state of corruption in the country. London’s The Economist wrote on corruption in India in an article entitled “Rotten to the Crore”. Australian firms going bankrupt because India reneged on payments incurred during the Commonwealth Games are contemplating legal proceedings. India’s illegal money stashed in foreign banks exceeds that of any other nation. The government has not moved in the matter to expose the culprits or recover the money. The Supreme Court lashed out against the government on the issue. The judiciary itself is dreadfully tainted. Retired Chief Justices of India are being openly accused of being involved in corruption. Leading lights of the media have been exposed as agents of big business to plant stories and to lobby on its behalf for ministerial appointments. Insurgency and separatist movements continue to simmer across the nation. Disparity in the real standard of living between the microscopic rich and the groaning mass has never been wider. As doomsday approaches to threaten India’s high profiteering big business, members of India’s elitist civil society are at last waking up.

                Fourteen prominent members connected to India’s corporate world including a couple of retired judges have written an open letter to “our leaders”. They express worry over corruption and the lack of governance. Their concern though dreadfully belated is welcome. But the suggestions they have offered to rectify the situation are quite inadequate. They want “constitutionally constituted regulatory bodies manned by persons who are judicially trained in the concerned field”. They want Lok Ayuktas in every state and the Lok Pal Bill to be passed in Parliament to combat political corruption. This is all old hat. People in India seem to have become prisoners of a flawed political legacy and seem unable to free themselves from it. Creating more and more institutions will not help. One window for clearance is much easier for the public to monitor than a dozen small windows. Therefore at risk of inflicting pain on readers I iterate my view because the situation now has become truly critical.

                India will never be governed satisfactorily and corruption will never be stemmed until we implement our Constitution as it has been explicitly written. I suggest that the original Constitution without any of the introduced amendments be appraised afresh. All the amendments should be reconsidered and those that arose from expediency should be scrapped. That would include the 42nd Amendment which curtailed the President’s powers. The introduction of that amendment betrayed the unease of politicians over the deliberate obfuscation of the Constitution’s objectives which intended a substantial role for the President instead of rendering the office into a titular head. It was the height of perversity for Parliament to curtail the powers of the President during the Emergency when it was imposed in fact by a corrupt Prime Minister.

                To reclaim the Constitution, rectify the political system and preserve the Republic the following steps need to be taken. The original explicit Constitution must be re-read and interpreted according to its written word. All its amendments need to be reappraised and those unnecessary should be scrapped. Minor new amendments that do not disturb the basic structure of the Constitution should be introduced. One new amendment that suggests itself would be to make Parliament, the President and all state assemblies co-terminus and hold their elections simultaneously. Thereby the President would be elected by new incoming legislators and not by previously elected legislators. By this simple amendment the President would get a mandate as popular as obtains for the American President.

                The President’s powers outlined in the Constitution are wide ranging. And if the original Constitution is read the President is virtually the chief executive. The relationship between the President and the Prime Minister would be akin to that between the Chairman of the Board and the CEO. The Indian President’s role in that sense would be closer to the French President rather than the American President. If the Indian President would utilize the powers assigned to the office by the Constitution to focus on just one single aspect there would be a sea change in the current situation. The President alone in the oath of office is sworn to preserve and protect the Constitution and law. If the President would achieve just that one single responsibility, corruption would be contained and governance would be on track.

                What must be appreciated is that in the last six decades information has spread and the democratic impulse has become much stronger all across the country. What served India during the early Nehruvian years will not work any more. The reality of a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious, continental nation has surfaced. The reality of the Indian federation is asserting itself. We should take a leaf from America. In the US, the states are more powerful than states in India. In the US, the President is a stronger executive than the cabinet in India. We need more democracy at the grass roots. We need more cohesion at the centre. The Indian Constitution provides us opportunity to claim both. But we must have the will to re-read it, reinterpret it, and implement all its neglected Articles and Directive Principles of State Policy. Unless the present drift is halted by a drastic reappraisal the future of the Indian Republic remains inordinately bleak.

By Rajinder Puri

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