Chicken soup for the Indian polity

Published: Fri, 10/05/2012 - 10:58 Updated: Fri, 10/05/2012 - 11:02

Book: Revitalising Indian Democracy
Author: Major General Vinod Saighal
Publisher: Gyan Publishing House
Pages: 256
Price: Rs. 590
Year: 2012

There is no doubt that the political class is acting with absolute impunity, cocooned from any fear of castigation
Hardnews Bureau Delhi

There is palpable anger against the political class which is manifesting itself in varied forms. We have lately seen a spurt in agitation and protest. The chorus for complete restructuring of the polity is also growing, at least in urban and semi-urban areas. Campaigns like the recent movement against corruption, which have directly targetted the political party in power, the Congress, have caught the imagination of the people, even though their demands sometimes appear out of sync with the political system which hangs on fine checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution.

The book is a fine document on the crisis facing Indian democracy. An extension of the larger campaign called the Model of Restoration of Good Governance, it advises ways to overcome the governance deficit by simple measures though some suggestions would be tough to implement. 

The author proffers solid suggestions on how political interference should not come in the way of bureaucratic decision-making processes and how accountability can be ensured at all levels. He cites the French and Italian models for prosecution of government ministers. 

There is no doubt that the political class is acting with absolute impunity, cocooned from any fear of castigation, as the author says. However, the manner in which the book targets the “extra-constitutional authority” which, it says, is “remote controlling the government” and should be investigated by the Supreme Court, appears somewhat exaggerated and in contrast with the author’s reiterations of upholding the values enshrined in the Constitution. In a subsequent chapter on the Indian presidential election, the author comments on the undemocratic decision-making power centres in various political parties,
evading the larger question of their political agenda.

Very well-meaning, it is in line with a slew of other mainstream campaigns which aim at changing the course of Indian democracy. However, it could have dealt more seriously with rampant communalism or caste-based discrimination. It is also critical of government policies of affirmative action and deals with them from the standpoint of “meritocracy”, calling for de-reservation — something which won’t go down well with some of the most backward social groups of the Indian polity who have won reservation after a sustained fight. The author
could have included a historical perspective, enabling one to perceive the roots of it all.

The drift is also apparent when the author deals with the question of terrorism and calls for more draconian laws. The book goes on to assume that the judiciary and the political class have been lax when it comes to terror — an assumption that is disproved by a look at TADA and POTA, and the rate of acquittal.

Finally, the book includes worthy suggestions on corruption, electoral reforms, climate change and the country’s resources which deserve to be taken seriously by policymakers. 

Excerpts from an interview with Major General Vinod Saighal: 

What made you write this book?

The idea was there all along in my mind. But my priority was a book on China. I would have come out with this book next year. But, when I went around the world on a lecture tour, the topic of the talk most of the time was revitalising Indian democracy. I saw that students, especially, were very enthusiastic. They would ask, What option are you giving us? We see that there is a mafia-like stronghold by dynasties and exceptions are rare. So this is my attempt to answer their anxieties. It is lily white, in a sense. And there is no bibliography or a footnote. It is suggesting pathways.

What has been the reaction to the book?

It is being well-received all over, even in places like the Northeast and Goa. We have had many releases. The book is also being translated into Arabic. People feel the message in it is universal and applicable in most places. 

What is your take on the anti-corruption campaigns?

Anna Hazare started well and succeeded, if the motive was only to create awareness. However, some of their demands are outlandish. The demand for an all-embracing Lokpal nullified all the small efforts that were being pursued for better governance through various fronts and campaigns. 

There is no doubt that the political class is acting with absolute impunity, cocooned from any fear of castigation
Hardnews Bureau Delhi

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