India’s first national elections were held in 1952 and sixty-six years later, the country’s hulking democracy is badly constrained by both the political process and governance.
- People not for the government but the other way around.
- A wave against the criminalization of politics.
- The concept of Party-less government as proposed by Jayaprakash Narayan.
- Introduction of industry professionals in politics.
At a time when national politics is so broken, we are in desperate need of a new generation of leaders who cut their teeth on public service. Recruiting these leaders and giving them the resources to run for public office may be our best hope of breaking out of today’s mess.
— David Gergen, advisor to four U.S. presidents
Given the proximity of Lok Sabha elections, it’s obvious that election speculation news, in-depth coverage, analysis and opinion scattered across the media ecosystem will intensify the political debate. As political rhetoric and heated election campaigns garnished with calamitous language reach cacophonic climax a few questions remain unanswered. Which major political party demonstrated a commitment to end the criminalization of politics? Which political party has majority leaders with the best of intentions? Which political party is sincere to end dark money in political funding?
Which political party truly focused on the elimination of poverty, hunger, and illiteracy? The answer is a resounding ‘NO’.
Now, let’s consider the facts:
India is 2nd in population, 168th among 234 countries in literacy rate, 145th in education index, 130th in human development, 103rd in global hunger index, 78th in global corruption index, 154th in healthcare index, 133rd in happiness and 42nd in global democracy index. India is also according to the latest Thomson Reuters Foundation survey, the most dangerous country in the world for women.
In the world’s largest democracy, if the political parties had really cared for people’s wellbeing, they would have got much clearer view of what people actually wanted and created much less distrust between the masses and the political class. They would have sincerely tried to address the country’s complex challenges by actionable measures that valued people’s wishes instead of counting their votes. Also in doing so, the political parties would have set a new benchmark for democracy; rather than serving as its gravedigger. Questioning government efficacy thus becomes legitimate if we look at our society with critical lenses.
Let’s remember country’s first president Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s address to the Constituent Assembly in November 1949, where he had said, “If the people who are elected are capable and men of character and integrity, they would be able to make the best even of a defective Constitution. If they are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country…….. India needs today nothing more than a set of honest men who will have the interest of the country before them….. We can only hope that the country will throw up such men in abundance.”
But alas, men of that ilk have been few and far between.
No matter who wins the 2019 election battle, apparently, issues like poor politics, corruption, growing income disparity, and communal churning will be extremely difficult to halt, much less reverse. No wall will be high enough to shield India from these events. Thus, whether Modi or Rahul, Mayawati or Mamata or any other hardcore politician, also whether any alliance or Gathbandhan or Mahagathbandhan, regardless of how 2019 election unfolds, the story unlikely to have a happy ending. The question before almost 900 million voters, then, is which political party should get electoral support to ensure the progression of our country.
So far, we have had politics fixated on short-term gains, not addressing long-term challenges. However, with a set of capable and sincere people at the helm of affairs of the nation, we can expect deeper changes in the country’s socio-political narrative to ensure democratic renewal and substantial policy reform.
Thus, upcoming Lok Sabha elections open up a tremendous virtual opportunity for an efficient and decisive government – “dream government” so to speak.
Given that there is no easy solution or remedy, also in the absence of any political will, let’s consider a National Government consisting of selected individuals drawn from various political parties as also non-political spheres. Matter-of-factly, Jayaprakash Narayan also favored a party less government.
Wishful thinking in Indian political realm, many would argue is a recipe for sheer absurdity. I am not sure that’s always true because wishful thinking also acts as a powerful catalyst for change. But, we need to be thoughtful of what we wish for. We need to dream, but with our eyes wide open. After all, a realistically argued assumption is an important part of strategic political thinking. Because, in a deeper sense, it’s no longer about the country’s politicians or its politics alone; it’s about 130 crore people.
Let’s not forget the quest for Lokpal Act, Right to Information Act, The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act and The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 (Nirbhaya Act) were all once distant dreams. Lokpal for instance passed in 2014 was first proposed in 1968. The struggle was for 45 years.
Shaping wishful thinking
Let “good sense” prevails on all the political parties – it’s about time to shelve political ideology for some time and hold on to national ideology – “Country First” at every opportunity. And, the only way to restore the country’s pride is to have those people in the government who have the credibility and the capability to evolve on issues as the political and societal landscape shifted.
It is true successive governments both at the center and states have had a few competent people. Therefore, the problem is not always the people; the problem is the poor political system. Competent people working in an unaccountable system that weighs political costs and benefits, rather than worrying about people’s wellbeing, will be limited in their ability to think bigger and serve better.
The factors influencing the selection of ministers should be primarily qualification, integrity, passion, thoughtfulness, toughness – a list by no means exhaustive and only projected to illustrate some of the capable leaders’ qualities. Similarly, for reasons obvious, proposed ministers’ list is also not exhaustive since there is no dearth of talented and committed people in India.
Let the National Government be headed by Nandan Nilekani. And, the government may comprise politicians like Amit Mitra, Baijayant Jay Panda, Haseeb Drabu, Jairam Ramesh, Jotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora, Nitin Gadkari, Nirmala Sitharaman, Pavan Verma Sushma Swaraj, Sachin Pilot, Dr TM Thomas Isaac, Varun Gandhi, Yogendra Yadav, bureaucrats like Ashwani Lohani, Armstrong Pame, Rashmi V Mahesh, Srivatsa Krishna, Smita Sabharwal, Tukaram Mundhe, U. Sagayam and academic like Jean Drèze and experts like Prashant Bhushan and Sunita Narain.
National Government Priorities
The priorities include The overhauling of the public education and health systems, 100% literacy, strengthening the economy, national service for youth, judicial reform, electoral reforms, critical assessment of entire spectrum of reservation and quota policies as also ending well-entrenched VVIP culture.
Well, the idea of National Government may look pragmatically misplaced and difficult, but without a big effort or unconventional approach to set right the political process and governance, we will let pass the opportunity to enjoy a potentially great economy with sustainable, inclusive, rising prosperity.
Finally, if the idea of National Government still appears to be pretty irrational, consider how rational the reality is we have now.