Showing posts with label Planning Commission. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Planning Commission. Show all posts

Friday, December 14, 2018

Undermining Democratic Institutions: Fact And Fiction

Ever since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, the charge of “undermining institutions” has been a constant refrain in what is popularly but not factually known as the mainstream media. He has been accused of “undermining” every known institution from the Indian Council of Historical Research to the Reserve Bank of India. The raucous babble reached its crescendo after Urjit Patel (a Modi appointee) announced his resignation for personal reasons as the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. The crescendo reached even a higher pitch after Shaktikanta Das a former IAS official was appointed as RBI Governor to replace Patel. Notwithstanding the fact that he served as the Revenue Secretary, the Economic Affairs Secretary and as a member of the Fifteenth Finance Commission, it was his educational qualifications that became the bone of contention.

It must be remembered that when Modi assumed charge as prime minister he left most of the ‘steel frame’ that he inherited in place except for a few minor changes. It is against this backdrop, it may be instructive to look back and review who “undermined institutions” the most. Jawaharlal Nehru ruled for nearly eighteen years since he became the interim prime minster in 1946 till his death in 1964. His daughter Indira ruled the nation for sixteen years, from 1966 to 1977 and from 1980 till her death in 1984. Her son Rajiv ruled the nation between 1984 and 1989. His wife Sonia ruled by proxy between 2004 and 2014. Political chicanery of that magnitude – which amounts to nothing less than undermining the highest political office in the land – would not have been possible in any other democracy in the world.

Deception, Disinformation and Psychological Operations have been originally employed by intelligence agencies but politicians caught on to them fast. The Congress party has for long invested in an ecosystem of academic institutions and the media. They come in handy to discredit and disarm political rivals by deception, disinformation and psychological operations. Coming back to the issue of “undermining institutions”, here is a non-exhaustive list of examples of how institutions were undermined or worse sabotaged to suit political whims and fancies under various Congress leaders.

Jawaharlal Nehru

Let us begin with the reign of Jawaharlal Nehru who has been hailed as an epitome of democratic values.

Curtailing freedom of expression India’s best and brightest minds toiled for about three years to craft the longest written Constitution of the world. It was adopted on January 26, 1950. Even before the ink on the original Constitution dried, Nehru proposed the first amendment. The Americans amended their Constitution about thirty times in two hundred and forty years while we enacted a hundred and one amendments in seventy years. Whereas the American first amendment strengthened freedom of expression, Nehru’s first amendment, enacted on June 18, 1951 curtailed freedom of expression.

Curtailing powers of the judiciary The Indian first amendment did more. It created the Ninth Schedule which barred judicial scrutiny of legislations included in it.

Downgrading the Finance Ministry Enamoured as he was of the Soviet system of governance, he created the Planning Commission an extra-Constitutional body, which in a way reduced the importance of the Finance Ministry.

Dismissing state governments When Nehru used the Art. 356 of the Indian Constitution to dismiss the Kerala state government in 1959, he set a dubious precedent.

Undermining the Cabinet and Parliament Nehru took many decisions which have had long-lasting adverse effects without consulting the parliament or his own cabinet, thus undermining the institutions. The decisions include

Calling a ceasefire in Jammu & Kashmir in October 1947 when the Indian army was winning the war. The effect of this ill-advised decision was to lose a third of the state and altering international borders with India’s neighbours. Had India retained PoK, we would have retained Gilgit-Baltistan too. We would have had a border with Afghanistan. His decision to refer the issue to the UNO was equally inexplicable.

Dilly-dallying on Junagadh and Hyderabad against the wishes of the Cabinet. But for Patel’s timely action, these states would now have been part of Pakistan.

Concealing intelligence reports about the construction of a mountain road network in Aksai Chin by the Chinese.

Withdrawing unilaterally the extra-territorial rights in Tibet which India inherited from the British.

Sacrificing Tibet by accepting the Chinese claim that Tibet was a part of it.

[The last two ill-advised decisions removed a buffer state between India and China.]

Refusing to accept United Nations Security Council seat when it was offered on a platter to India but instead demanding that it be granted to China.

Refusing accession of Kalat and Nepal At the time of partition, a few neighbouring States wished to accede to India. These include Nepal and the Kingdom of Kalat which forms a large part of modern Baluchistan. Nehru rejected them. Oman which owned the port of Gwadar on the southwest coast of Baluchistan offered to sell it to India. Again for reasons best known to him Nehru rejected the offer.

The worst undermining of all was refusing to look after the needs of the Indian armed forces in terms of manpower recruitment and training and equipment.

Inducting dynastic succession. Nehru made his sister Vijayalakshmi ambassador to the United Nations and the USSR. His daughter Indira was unofficially Nehru’s personal assistant through his years as the prime minister. This made her privy to government documents despite the Official Secrets Act. Later he made his daughter the president of AICC.

Awarding himself the Bharat Ratna The award is recommended by the prime minister. But Nehru was the first recipient of the award in the year of its institution. Nehru’s apologists argue that Rajendra Prasad did it off his own bat to signal truce between them but nothing prevented Nehru from refusing to accept it. 

Indira Gandhi

Revocation of Privy Purses to the former Maharajas. It was a sovereign guarantee given to them by the Constituent Assembly. Her action amounted to undermining the authority of the parliament.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s she had had several judicial reverses. They include the Bank Nationalization case, the Privy Purses case and the Fundamental Rights case. Unlike her father who simply amended the Constitution in response to adverse judicial verdicts, she went a step ahead and undermined the judiciary itself. Within hours after the verdict in the Fundamental Rights case was delivered in 1973, she superseded several judges and appointed a pliant judge as the CJI.

Refusing to heed the judicial verdict about her parliament seat.

Declaring the (internal) Emergency which undermined democracy itself. Technically the (external) Emergency declared in 1962 after the Chinese invasion was still in force. Neither her father nor she saw it necessary to repeal it! Fundamental rights including the right to life suspended.

Dismissing state governments and Governors at will.

Her refusal to accept a split in the Congress party and her lust for power led to the 1969 Gujarat riots which lasted – six months – and resulted in the death of about 5000 people. The 1983 Nellie massacre in which 3000 Muslims were killed occurred in Indira’s reign. By the by, more than 90% of communal riots in India occurred during the reigns of Jawaharlal, Indira and Rajiv.

Making her son Snjay a supra-Constitutional authority. Chief Ministers danced to his tunes.

Her propping up Bhindranwale to undermine the Akalis and her war on the Golden temple.

Awarding herself the Bharat Ratna This time the fig leaf of Rajendra Prasad was not there.

An action that has long-lasting adverse effects was handing over the universities and other intellectual institutions to the left-illiberal elite as a quid pro quo for political support.

Rajiv Gandhi

His reign began with the Sikh genocide, in which between 8000 and 10000 Sikhs were killed. The genocide was a blot on democracy, and the biggest undermining of the institution of democracy.

Sacking his Finance Minister to alter the import policy (for importing PTA and other chemicals used in the manufacture of polyester fibre). This was to favour Dhirubhai Ambani. The policy declaration was a replica (or was it a template) of the 2G spectrum auction.

His grandfather sought to control freedom of expression through his first amendment. His mother used carrots and sticks to reign in the media. He sought to control the media through an amendment to the Posts and Telegraphs Act, but had to drop it due to widespread criticism.

He sacked his Foreign Secretary, A. P. Venkateswaran in a press conference

Sonia Maino (the de facto PM)

Creation of the institution of ‘UPA Chairperson’. It was an extra-Constitutional authority.

Creation of the extra-Constitutional NAC which was a supra-Cabinet superintending the work of the prime minister’s Cabinet.

Commissioning social “activists” like Teesta Setalvad to draft legislation (the impugned Communal Violence Bill) and school text books.

Now let us see the other argument about an IAS officer being appointed as the Governor of RBI. The following RBI Governors were from the IAS: B. Rama Rau, K. G Ambegaonkar, H. V. R. Iyengar, L. K. Jha, S. Jagannathan, R. N. Malhotra, S. Venkateswaran and Y. V. Reddy.

Finally, let us look at the argument that only economists should head economic institutions. In the years between 1970–1973; 1976–1983; 1985–1987; 1990–1997; 2000–2013 and 2017–2018 Americans won the Nobel Prize for economics. India’s Amartya Sen won it in 1998 giving us bragging rights! While the Americans won the maximum number of economics Nobel prizes or shared them with others, the American economy has had its ups and downs. The American economy saw recession in the years 1969-70; 1973-75; 1980-82; the early 1990s; the early 2000s and the worst in 2007-8. The 2008 collapse wiped out life’s savings of many Americans including Indian expatriates, making millions paupers overnight. So much for economists!

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.