Friday, June 17, 2011

UPA’s NAC Rule Dictatorship In Disguise?

Democracy is a funny thing. When you don’t have it, you yearn for it. When you have it, you are not happy with it. True. India fought for nearly a century to attain independence from the British. Yet, ask anyone who was born at about the time of independence and they would remember their elders yearning for the “good old” British days when things were better! 

In 1975 when Indira Gandhi imposed an “internal emergency”, for reasons that have nothing to do with any internal disturbance, there were sections of the society—not affected by midnight knocks and summary arrests—who welcomed it, at least in its initial stages. Their reasoning was, there was discipline in government offices and “trains were running on time”. It could not be dismissed out of hand as silly, for trains used to run so late that if a train ran two to three hours behind schedule, it raised no eyebrows. In coastal Andhra Pradesh there used to be a joke about the Bokaro Express running between Bokaro in Jharkhand and Chennai (then Madras). If it was on time, so went the joke that people said “it was probably the previous day’s train!” There was an instance, when a gentleman was asked if his train was on time, he replied “Yes it was on time; just thirty minutes late.” Funnily enough, “trains running on time”, was also one of the reasons officially adduced to justify the internal emergency. 

During the nineteen-month internal emergency, Indira’s government used to issue large advertisements in newspapers, with the caption, “Let us consolidate the gains of emergency”, whatever it meant. 

Coming back to democracy, in essence, it is rule by consensus. In India’s case the consensus was codified into a “Constitution”, to draft which, many wise men expended hundreds of hours; each clause of which was then debated and finally adopted. The process took nearly three years, and produced the longest written constitution in the world, which was expected to accommodate the divergence and plurality of the constituents of the nation. However, codifying principles of governance is one thing and following it in letter and spirit is another.

Leaders, however democratically minded they are, do not like to be tied down to a code of conduct, however sacrosanct it may be, not necessarily because they are selfish or venal but because they have such immense confidence in their wisdom and their ability to determine what is good for the general public. Therefore, no sooner than the ink on the draft was dry India’s nascent “Constitution”, than its “altruistic” leaders began amending it. The “Constitution” was adopted on January 26, 1949 and the first amendment was carried out on June 18, 1951 barely fifteen months later. It was, incidentally, moved in the parliament by Jawaharlal Nehru, “the epitome of democratic values” and was intended to, among other things, “place reasonable restrictions on the citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression”! 

From then on, whenever the rulers found it difficult to adhere to the code of conduct prescribed by the “Constitution”, they have been amending it with gay abandon. The amendments include the thirty-ninth, passed on August 10, 1975 which retro-actively placed the election of the “empress of emergency” above judicial scrutiny.  Of course, an amendment, in constitutional parlance means that “the said clause shall be deemed always to have been enacted” – in the amended form.    

In addition to amending the “Constitution” whenever required to suit the express purposes of the executive, it has been resorting to other means, which, in so far as they were not mentioned in the “Constitution” may be termed extra-constitutional. Jawaharlal Nehru’s government resorted to this course of action in right earnest in by establishing the “Planning Commission” in March 1950. The “Planning Commission” website tells you its history, but does not tell you whether it was constituted under an act of parliament, if any.  It lists its members but does not tell you how they were selected. So how do they get into it in the first place, in a system in which there is a due selection process even for recruiting the lowest cadres of employees? Based on the whims and fancies of the government in power? The “Planning Commission” we are told, functions under the overall guidance of the “National Development Council”. Now, what the hell is, “National Development Council”? However, we are told that the lofty objective of the “Planning Commission”, functioning under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister, was to “promote a rapid rise of the standard of living of the people by efficient exploitation of the resources of the country”. How well did it do so in the next fifty years needs no elaboration! Is it not possible for the Finance Ministry to perform the functions of the “Planning Commission” and any residual functions relating to other ministries transferred to them? 

Fast forward to 2004 and we come to ‘Chapter II’ of governance by executive fiat. This time around, the institution of the “Chairperson of the UPA” is created. Though not stated, its intent was to bypass national resentment and objections to a foreigner becoming the Prime Minister of India. The new institution of “Chairperson of the UPA” wields untrammelled power—without responsibility—and, in fact functions as the Super Prime Minister. The Prime Minister was nominated by her and is all but a figurehead. The “Chairperson of the UPA” is neither responsible nor answerable to the parliament, the supreme political body of directly and indirectly elected representatives in the country. 

In 2009, the “National Advisory Council” (NAC) was established as an—hold your breath—"interface with civil society”. This time around we moved a step ahead because unlike the “Planning Commission”, and the invisible “National Development Council”, the duties of which were merely confined to executive inputs to the government, the NAC would provide “policy and legislative inputs”.  We are told that the NAC “comprises distinguished professionals drawn from diverse fields of developmental activity”. We are, as before, not told whether there was any due process by which these “distinguished professionals” were selected but that through them, the government will have “access not only to their expertise and experience but also to a larger network of Research Organisations, NGOs and Social Action and Advocacy Groups”. 

NAC, the Super Prime Minister's kitchen cabinet, which in fact is its latent function, comprises of a motley crowd of left-illiberal intellectuals and sundry individuals who represented non-Hindu religious interests. It derives its power (again without responsibility or answer-ability to the parliament) from the Super Prime Minister but unlike the “Planning Commission”, whose sole function is allocation of resources, it drafts legislation. In view of its status in the scheme of things, its arbitrary nature of functioning is not questioned nor can be questioned by the sycophantic ruling party or its coalition partners. However, the silence of the opposition in not questioning it or demanding its abrogation is strange. 

Ever since its institution, the NAC got down to business without losing time and what gems did it draft? The first one was to institute the ‘Mahama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme’ (MNREGS). There is some criticism that the MNREGS or MNREGA as it is generally known, has been generally doling out wages for unproductive work and spawning governmental corruption. In rural areas farmers complain of shortage of labour because of it. Therefore, agriculture which forms the mainstay of our economy is suffering. So is the burgeoning construction industry. 

As is clear from its many reviews, the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill (PCTVB), drafted by the NAC is totally one-sided and dangerous in the extreme if ever it becomes an act. Under one of its far-reaching clauses, for example, if a Hindu male sexually assaults a woman of the minority community it is “rape”. But if a male member of a minority community sexually assaults a woman of the Hindu community is not “rape”! A small—even informal—formation of Hindus is an “association” whereas a “group” could only be of members of a minority community. These definitions assume importance because under the proposed act members of an “association” can only be assaulters and members of a “group” are always victims. There is no bail available for offences cognizable under the act and the onus of proof is on the accused, not on the prosecution. A government official can be punished for “dereliction of duty” by imprisonment of up to two years if he/she does not act on a complaint. You can imagine the consequences of such a provision.  By the way, under the act, the executive has judicial powers too.

Another instance of over-reach by the NAC is the recent drafting and promulgation of internet regulation rules in April 2011.[1] The entire exercise seems to have been done keeping in view only one small community, viz. the pejoratively called “Internet Hindus”. It is only because of its intolerance of criticism that the ruling cabal has gone to great lengths to control internet content. It flies in the face of the vaunted “freedom of expression”. If this isn't an undemocratic act, one doesn't know what else is! To give two instances of how the rules can be misused: Seema Mustafa could call a duly elected Chief Minister, the “ugly Indian” in print, but to describe her as a “Pakistani Agent” on the internet would be an offence. She can complain and the service provider should have to remove the offensive content. Similarly, Vir Sanghvi could describe the duly elected Chief Minister, a “mass murderer” in print, but to call him a “political prostitute” on the internet is an offence.

Yes, political parties do have ideological coteries but these do not have a direct hand in governance. Only in communist regimes do they overrun parliaments. For example, in the erstwhile USSR, the CPSU, the Politburo and the Central Party Presidium were more powerful than the “Duma”, which was a rubber-stamp parliament.  The creation of the two institutions discussed above appears to be a throwback to the USSR type of governance. The USSR has abrogated such institutions as anachronistic. But we seem to have put the clock back.

In western democracies there are such bodies but they function in an open and transparent manner and are answerable not only to the executive, but even the parliament. For example, the appointment of members to the “Council of Economic Advisors (CEA)” by the US President, need ratification by the Senate.  The role of the CEA is limited to provide advice to the executive. It does not draft legislation. 

Is the UPA’s NAC rule, dictatorship in disguise?

[1]The Supreme Court mercifully struct down the relevant Sec. 66A of the IT act in March 2015. See “SC strikes down Section 66A of IT Act, says it violates freedom of speech”, “India Today”, March 24, 2015.


  1. A very interesting read. There are many valid and burning questions raised in this post. However, I didn't understand one thing and would like you to elaborate more on this statement:
    "spawning a breed of lazy layabouts. In rural areas farmers complain of shortage of labour because of this perverted scheme. Therefore, agriculture which forms the mainstay of our economy is suffering. So is the burgeoning construction industry."

  2. I wouldn't say there is anything wrong with the intentions of MGNREGS per se.

    Firstly, a lot of money allotted to the scheme seeps through cracks in the system and ends up in the pockets of politicians. We have been hearing of misuse of NREGS funds in many states.

    Secondly, although it is an 'employment guarantee scheme', the way it is operated, it appears to be on the lines of dole, as it is called in the US (the British call it allowance). This is because wages are paid for inconsequential work. Can any state government claim that it has completed 'X' or 'Y' project utilizing the scheme for gainful employment? No. It is more in the nature of political patronage with persons recommended by local party apparatchiks only being the beneficiaries.

    A direct corollary of the scheme is shortage of labour for the agriculture sector in rural areas and the construction industry in urban areas.

    Finally, as the saying goes, if you give someone a fish, you'll provide him food for a day. If you teach him how to fish, you'll provide him food for life.

  3. Sir, as usual of you, a very comprehensive blog that has covered precisely the sorry state of affairs our nation is being led to by a pansy Government led by the Congress with of course, not much of inputs coming from its allies who are firmly put away in handicapped delusion.

    The dynastic empowerment that the people of India foolishly granted the so called 'first family' is resonating with its routine persecution. When the 'emergency' was an enigma, the post 2009 period is a parable of deliberate follies. To prioritize one over the other would be too judgmental because they all are at contest between themselves as to its superiority. To augment the embarrassment further, CON has unanimously superimposed a 'white' as the transcendental almighty over 1.2 billion people. In no less despotic terms, she has usurped into her command control all those vital arteries that run the nation. The entire Congress conglomerate has been made to shut up and be forced to remain happy with the bones thrown at them by the 'white' lady residing and governing from 10JP and, being a group having petty minuscule capabilities, they remain quite happy with the bones proferred.

    That everything about the CON led government is at fault is needless to say. But what is overwhelmingly worrisome is the lack of a formidable political opposition. Unless and until a Opposition worthy of reckoning is made available, there will not be a recourse to the current trend of anarchy prevalent. Let us hope that the BJP finds itself self-realized and arise to this occasion proffered to them in a platter by CON and make best use of it to their and the Nation's benefit, rather to our benefit.

    Thanks for the wonderful blog, Sir!

  4. As a footnote to my earlier general comments, I would hasten to add that the CVB, in text and essence is a anti-Hindu bill. The sole intention of CVB as it were appears nothing less than but shackle the Hindus at large and corner Narendra Modi in particular. The draft bill is full of contradictions. While the NAC members vocally emphasize that the only intention of the bill is to take appropriate action on the authorities who has shown dereliction of duty in a period of communal crisis. The entire draft does not anywhere stipulate this clause in writing. On the contrary it emphasizes that the 'perpetrators' will be severely punished and not the authorities - refer article 32 and 74 specifically. This is a big conspiracy with draconian consequences to the Hindu Community. There are 7 states where Hindus are in minority. But yet, by virtue of being a national majority, they are susceptible to punishment under this law regardless of being the victims. Though they debate that there is no significant relevant to the word 'majority group' in the bill, that is actually the crux of the bill. The majority group is not defined anywhere in the context of a religion or sect. Therefore, the terminology 'majority group' by default falls on the Majority; the Hindus!

    This bill is a carefully connived and dexterously planned blueprint of the intentions the Christian, Muslim and Atheist/Maoist committee called NAC is designing to implement.

    This should not be permitted at any cost. Period.