India Grows At Night : A Liberal Case for a Strong State; Gurcharan Das; Allen Lane/Penguin, Pp 307; Rs 599.00
GURCHARAN Das is one of India’s better known intellectuals and writers, one of whose books India Unbound has the distinction of being translated into many languages, in addition to being filmed by the BBC. What is so special about him is that he thinks out-of-the-box and challenges one to think afresh and that is the USP, as his current work so clearly indicates.
The point he makes is that India is growing at night while the government is largely at sleep, meaning thereby that it is not the State that is responsible for the country’s remarkable growth as much as the people themselves. And no truer words were said. What comes through in his assessment of the situation in India today is that what the country has is a strong society and a weak state, a point which he makes again and again, laying stress on the fact that Chief Ministers of the states are more powerful than the Prime Minister in Delhi. Whether that in itself is an acceptable development calls for consideration and Gurcharan devotes considerable attention to it. He delives deeply in the development of Indian society, the role of dharma, the failure of law and the reasons for it. He is aware of India becoming a ‘flailing state’, thanks, in part, to the failure of political parties none of which, according to him, is managed professionally, with almost a third of parliamentarians having a “hereditary connection”.
As Gurcharan sees it “when family interests prevail, political parties become weak and governments do not perform”. Actually, more than two thirds of the sixty six MPs under the age of forty are hereditary and every Congress MP under the age of 35 is hereditary. As Patrick French portrayed a troubling scene in India “if this trend continues, most members of the Indian Parliament would be there by heredity alone and the nation would be back to where it started before the freedom struggle with rule by a hereditary monarch and assorted India princelings.” Is that what India needs? Even as things stand “a weak State and the lack of inner party democracy in the political parties – especially lack of transparency in selecting candidates – enables felons to enter politics. And felons have indeed been in politics both at the Centre and in the states.
Of the 4,896 MLAs and MPs who constitute the electoral college for the presidential votes, 31 per cent had declared in sworn affidavits before the Election Commission that they had criminal cases pending against them. Of these 641 had serious cases of rape, murder etc after them and they are all cheerfully attending Parliament and Legislative Assemblies showing not the least feeling of guilt. How is one to handle such a situation? Gurcharan Das wants the setting up of a new party, a replica of the old Swatantra Party, put up by stalwarts like C Rajagopalachari and Minoo Masani to give a new lead to people. Some hope, that. But, says Gurcharan: “The idea of a new secular party of governance and reform may seem hopelessly idealistic to the voter who has grown cynical over time, but isn’t it common sense to want to satisfy our most basic needs and reflect our aspiration to create a better India?”. Yes, but where are the equivalents of Rajaji and Minoo Masani today?
Gurcharan reminds us that the reality today is that India is run not by Delhi but by regional parties in the states which may be okay in the short run but may end up, as Selig Harrison feared in his 1960 book India: The most Dangerous Decades with the disintegration of India into linguistic nation states. Gurcharan does not refer to atrocious behaviour of parties in Maharashtra like the Shiv Sena and its other face, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena which want to keep Bihari labour out of Mumbai but if adequate steps are not taken soon, Harrison’s fears may yet materialise.
Do we want India to be broken up again, as it did towards the end of Mughal Rule in Delhi with several states like the Nizam’s Hyderabad pretending to pay obesience to Delhi while running them like their personal fiefdoms? Can we really expect some of our local satraps to listen to the voice of Delhi run by a weak Prime Minister? There is every possibility of the word ‘autonomy’ being misused. Gurcharan Das concedes that “strong and decisive regional leaders have emerged in recent years and many have been delivering good governance…. (and) are making up for a feeble Centre”. That may all be very well, but we have to learn from the past.
A week Centre, such as we have now, may end up in a new set of Nizams taking over power and thumbing their nose at Delhi. Gurcharan issues a low warning. Probably the best answer to Gurcharan’s gut feeling is amending the Constitution to create a Presidential form of government with no coalition partner able to blackmail him. The Constitution can also be amended to scrap the linguistic structure of states and to form a unitary form of government with the district as the basic unit. That should put the Karunanidhis, the Jayalalithaas and Mamata Bannerjee’s in their place.
As Gurcharan sees it, as of now we can be proud of the fact that “the stubborn persistence of democracy” continues to prevail in India and so it has been over the past sixty five years and that, that democracy “has shown itself to be resilient and enduring”. The moral code underlying our democracy is what PV Kane regarded as “the dharmic text”, to which Gurcharan says, he wants to subscribe. He wants “good persons” to enter politics and observe dharma and the “politics of true aspirations”. But who is to define what “a good person” should be like? Can he be a Raja or a Suresh Kalmadi?
As matters stand a man is innocent until he is proven guilty. Should the selection of candidates – or rather their suitability – be left to the Election Commissioner? The growing Middle Classes should perhaps have the last word. It is this new class that must take over society not only to clean up politics but to energise politics and keep local satraps under control. It can be done and in his own way Gurcharan shows how. If the people could free themselves of the License Raj, surely they can handle corruption as well? The key word is, yes, dharma, high moral sadharana dharma to which Gurcharan often refers and which can yet prove to be India’s saviour. To read Gurcharan is to feel enlightened.
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