The nation is at the crossroads and agitated. The confidence of the severely suffering aam aadmi is shaken as never before. The last eight years of UPA regime have been indeed a traumatic experience for the entire nation and more so for the aam aadmi. While UPA-II indicates a celebratory mood on completion of its three years in office, the nation is apparently in mourning. The current tenure of the UPA-II has become synonymous with mega scams, corruption, unprecedented price rise and apathy for the aam aadmi.
UPA-II is in a state of drift, with its constituents sparring with each other over much-touted initiatives like the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). Federalism, a basic structure of our Constitution, is sought to be diluted.
The economy is in a dismal shape, with the rupee plunging to an all-time low of around Rs.56 ; inflation is soaring and manufacturing has declined. India’s economic growth slumped to nine-year low of 5.3 percent in the quarter ending on March 31, 2012. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth fell to 6.5 per cent in 2011-12 as compared to 8.4 per cent in the previous year. Investors at home and abroad are beginning to get cold feet. Rising inflation and a litany of scandals has chipped away the government’s credibility.
Anna Hazare’s ill structured anticorruption movement, which riveted the country over last summer as also recently, tapped into this pent-up anger. The turn out even for this ad hoc group is an indicator of disappointment of the people with the UPA II. The people’s keenness to secure exit of the UPA from the corridors of power is witnessing unprecedented intensity.
For the nation the crusade against corruption has come not a day too soon. In 2011 India was ranked 95th out of 178 countries in Transparency International rating. India's image on tackling graft seems to have gone from bad to worse in the perception of people dealing with the system, .Big corruption scandals, above all the Commonwealth Games and the 2G Telecom Scam, together with many other corruption scams have contributed to India’s low score on the rankings.
There are series of situations that cast a shadow on our democratic working and undermine its efficacy. In such an explosive situation of all round cry against UPA II one needs to engage in finding the causes of such massive derailment of governance.
How does one rationalise the failures of Dr Manmohan Singh, who has long been lauded for his pivotal role in liberalising the Indian economy, acting as Narasimha Rao’s Finance Minister in 90’s! Is it ‘Peter Principle’ (in a hierarchy one tends to rise to level of incompetence) operating to its worst or something else !
The reason is not far to seek. UPA (I and II) have witnessed a systematic emasculation of our constitutional institutions that were evolved after deep deliberation by our founding fathers. The emergence and thereafter virtual institutionalisation of the Extra Constitutional Authority (eca) is an unprecedented and unfortunate phenomenon. It has cut into the essence of our democratic fibre. With this eca firmly in saddle, our claim to democracy is not credible. There is no doubt that the repository of effective power without accountability is the eca and not the PM with his council of Ministers.
Amongst the several facets of such eca is the NAC headed by Sonia Gandhi with her hand-picked members. The framers of the Constitution never visualised such a sabotage of the constitutional mechanism. Sonia Gandhi has emerged as some one “above the Constitution”. The slogan during the dark days of Emergency of 70’s ‘Indira is India’ pales into insignificance with the emergence of this eca. The National Advisory Council headed by her has been engaged in proposing laws that “clearly usurp the law-making powers of the states.”
Dr Manmohan Singh who worked with success in the Narasimha Rao without the eca is now under virtual sieze. He neither appoints nor removes ministers though it is his constitutional prerogative. Cabinet Ministers owe their jobs to Sonia Gandhi. Recently appointed Union Home Minister has only strengthened this when he asserted in public domain that he has been given the job by Sonia Gandhi and would not hesitate to use ‘gun’ if she ordains. The Prime Minister has no control over government or decision making. He has no genuine political power and surprisingly has no grudge for such constitutional deprivation.
There is virtual collapse of constitutional scheme at the Centre. There is no course correction inspite of historic electoral battering of Congress in the Assembly elections in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Dr Manmohan Singh seems to be ever oblivious of the oath of office he took. He remains in saddle unsure of the next day in office. From within his ruling Congress Party there are repeated, if oblique, demands for him to step aside, in favour of his presumed successor, Rahul Gandhi. This unseemly unconstitutional spectacle has resulted in abdication of constitutional obligations.
The other institutions including the President, Vice-President , Speaker too have fallen in line for the eca. Supreme Court long back delivered its verdict to hang the Parliament attack mastermind Afzal. The UPA government (both I and II) have conveniently been sleeping over it for last 8 years on the pretext of some mercy petition. To protect their ‘minority’ vote-bank Congress looked expediently the other way from the general perception and the President didn’t have enough time during her five year tenure to look at the mercy petitions lying on her table. In the process there was mockery of the power available under Article 72 of the Constitution. No nationalist minded President believing in the Constitution would fail in sacred duty. It is a case of emasculation of the Presidency. No nation believing in itself can countenance such a mockery of its tirade against terrorism and respect for our nationalism.
Adjournment of the Rajya Sabha by its Chairman during the debate on Lokpal Bill has shocked all. So is also the case with the Speaker Lok Sabha affording an opportunity to Rahul Gandhi to render his discourse on Lokpal during ‘Zero Hour’. Both actions did not find precedence as being in conformity with parliamentary practice. It is a fundamental premise of criminal jurisprudence that the investigating agencies need to be beyond executive control. As Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, who has times without number emphasised that the investigating agencies are independent of the executive,sent an executive fiat to National Investigation Agency (NIA) not to oppose the bail pleas of the nine persons arrested in connection with the 2006 Malegaon bomb blasts case. Worse, the NIA capitulated.
The entire nation lauded the CAG report that exposed the mega 2G scam of unprecedented magnitude. Union ministers M Veerappa Moily and Kapil Sibal criticised the CAG in public to the level of ridiculing the constitutional body. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh surprised observers when he too lashed out at the CAG Vinod Rai. It was left for the Supreme Court to vindicate the CAG by concelling the 122 licences in 2G scam.
External Affairs Minister SM Krishna was caught in a public gaffe when he read out the speech of the Portuguese minister at a 2011 UN Security Council meeting. It was left to India's envoy to the UN Hardeep Singh Puri to secure retrieval of the absent minded move. This political misdemeanour was not even officially noticed.
Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid, a post once held by Dr B R Ambedkar, in utter disregard to constitutional propriety publicly ridiculed the Election Commission by most infamously declaring that he “would ensure the rights of backward Muslims even if the Commission hangs him”. A formal complaint by the Election Commission to Prime Minister failed to evoke the required exemplary consequence.
The whole nation was galvanised into action in recent years to secure to the nation’s black money stashed away abroad, Dr Manmohan, under the control of eca was unfazed and unmoved. The Supreme Court, that turned out as a saviour of the nation, in a considered order pulled up the Union government for not “showing seriousness” in bringing back black money stashed away abroad, and constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to take steps to bring back unaccounted monies.
In the order the Court in anguish reflected “We must express serious reservation on the steps taken by the government…It's clear to us that investigation was completely stalled and expedited only after the court's intervention. “It was only upon this court's insistence that proper investigation was conducted in the Pune stud farm owner Hasan Ali Khan’s case.”
UPA II acted with much vigour to have the aforesaid SIT stalled by moving a petition before the Supreme Court after this order. Indeed a fraud on the interests of the nation.
The biggest challenge India faces in 2012 is probably reinstating proper democracy. The country is heading from federalism to centralism and from democracy to autocracy, The constitutional outfits are subverted by rendering them accountable to eca. The system of checks and balances evolved by the framers of the Constitution has been rendered paralysed and spineless. The framers of our Constitution never visualised a captive Prime Minister. We have a Prime Minister who lacks all the authority that goes with the august office.
Dubbing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as an “underachiever” by Time magazine is being soft on him as he by being a puppet Prime Minister of the largest democracy has outraged the spirit and essence of our Constitutional values. It is betrayal of the nation. His personal achievement lies in sticking to his position in a spineless manner at the cost of national interest. Dr Manmohan Singh would go into history as the first Prime Minister who yielded his total constitutional space in favour of eca.
One couldn’t agree more with what Advani has written in the epilogue to his autobiography My Country, My Life—“India is weakened not only by financial corruption and misuse of power in politics and administration, but also by pseudo-secularism, minorityism, vote-bank politics, criminalisation, emasculation of institutions and insult to the sacred symbols of our nationalism.”
Democracy can be restored only with the exit of UPA II. Sooner it takes place, better for the nation. This can happen only when the elite and intelligentia of the nation vow to exercise their right to vote alongwith the aam aadmi so as to further the cause of nationalism and democracy, come what may.
(The writer is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court & former Union Minister).