The word soul is often used. But few understand its precise meaning. By soul it is meant an inner controller who holds the compass of life and shapes man'sconscience and underpins his thought and action. If a man'ssoul is impure, his actions, in essence, will remain impure, no matter how much adherence to the outward form of morality and good conduct he may show. For performing honest and earnest deeds, it is the inner compass that needs to be set right.
What is true of individuals is also true of institutions. If the motivation of those who run them is ignoble, the institution would not yield the results for which they were designed. The manner in which the institutions, created by the Constitution, have been functioning in the first 59 years of the Republic, bear ample testimony to this fact.
Take, for example, the premier institution?Parliament. I have myself been its Member fro about 14 years?six years in the Rajya Sabha (1990-96) and eight years in the Lok Sabha (1996-2004). I have seen every aspect of its working as a Member nominated by the President, as the Lok Sabha Member in the Opposition for two and a half years and from the treasury benches as a Minister in the Union Cabinet for five and a half years. On the basis of this experience, I can assert with confidence that there is much fretting and fuming in the Parliament but little significant or constructive work is done.
Jawaharlal Nehru, in his speech delivered on the last day of the first Lok Sabha?March 28, 1957?had said: ?We have gone through, during these five years, a tremendous amount of work and speeches have covered many millions of pages; questions have also been asked?Yet the historians of the future will not pay too much attention to the number or hours of the speeches and questions, but rather to the deeper things that go towards the making of a nation.?
Looking at the performance of the Parliament of the Republic during the last 59 years, I wonder whether the historians of the future would find in its proceedings anything that pertained to ?the deeper things that go towards the making of a nation?. They would certainly note that, amongst our parliamentarians, ?the best lacked all convictions and the worst were full of passionate intensity?.
The Constitution of the Republic intended that the Parliament should function as a political workshop of the Indian democracy.
Besides being a forum for a reasoned debate and sound legislative work, it was expected to serve as an intellectual wing of the governance machinery and help it in evolving an elevating vision for the nation and also for translating that vision into reality. But none of these functions and obligations are now being adequately discharged. On the other hand, the Parliament is sending all the wrong signals to the nation?indiscipline, intolerance and absence of poise and democratic temper. Most of the Members do not even have the intellectual capacity to understand any serious issue. Nor do have they a healthy value-system.
Look at the other main institution?the Executive which includes not only political but also bureaucratic executive. What the Constitution envisaged was an executive of character and caliber. But what do we find today? A sizeable section of the political executive is deficient both in moral fibre and governance skills. It is power-hungry and prone to the creation of ?vote-banks? at the expense of national cohesion. On the whole, it remains oblivious of the need to build an India that is sensitive to higher values of life. Of late, we have even seen a State government which has as many as twenty Ministers who are either facing criminal charges in the courts or against whom police investigations are being conducted. Would such a Cabinet not pollute the administrative environment and extend patronage to unsavoury elements?
So far as the ?bureaucratic executive? is concerned, the Constitution had made all the provisions to enable the civil services to remain politically neutral and discharge their functions impartially and fearlessly. But neither impartiality nor fearlessness is seen generally these days. Most of the officers themselves are willing to become either a docile or active partner in the predatory activities of the unscrupulous politicians. Robert Wade, a noted scholar who has made a special study of irrigation works in south India, has significantly observed: ?The politicians in power and the civil servants have come to share a mutually beneficial relationship in pursuit of self-interested behaviour.?
The third main institution of the Constitution, the Judiciary, is relatively in a better state of health. With the exception of what the Supreme Court did during the Emergency, when it showed both legal and moral timidity and ruled that no citizen ?had a standing to move a writ of habeas corpus, its record has inspired confidence. It has maintained a progressive and purposeful outlook and saved the basic structure of the Constitution by insulating it from the pressures of an ?excited and excitable? democracy. But the overall machinery of judiciary has been crippled by the huge pendency. Justice is being delayed and, in the process, denied. As on November 1, 2008, about 2.64 crore cases were pending in the subordinate courts, about 38 lakh in the High Courts and about 49,000 thousand in the Supreme Court.
What has been the result of the poor health which has visited the main constitutional institutions of the Republic? India today has the largest number of poor, the larges number of illiterate and the largest number of malnourished people in the world. On account of low purchasing power, over 250 million men, women and children go to bed hungry every day. Out of 150 million children in the world who do not attend school, 130 million are Indians. About 640 million people do not have access to sanitation, about 170 million to safe water and about 293 million to health services. In the cities, the slums and squatters? settlements are proliferating, growing 250 per cent faster than the overall population.
It is not that the Republic has not achieved anything. Its recent record in economic development has been remarkable. The size of its ?Information Technology? is now larger than that of any other country, excepting United States. Its steel, engineering, chemical and pharmaceutical industries have become globally competitive. But all this does not offset the impact of many irons in the soul of Republic.
Unfortunately, from the very first day of the Republic, the people in general and the national leadership in particular have developed a propensity to keep aside the hard crusts of the problems and remain content with breaking softer grounds. Even now, while chronic problems mount and infections in the system strike deeper roots, we continue to nurse illusions and derive satisfaction from short-term gains and outward glitter.
What the Republic needs at 59 is an animated leadership in political, social and intellectual arenas, which would generate both purity and potency in her soul, provide her with a new compass and show her a way of building, to borrow Nehru'swords, ?A mighty India?mighty in thoughts, mighty in deeds, mighty in culture and mighty in service to humanity.?
(The writer is a former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and a former Union Minister.)