Sunday, April 10, 2011

India Against Corruption or India Against Democracy?

Dr. Hari Bapuji

The last few days have seen an unprecedented action in India. Anna Hazare spearheaded a people’s movement seeking tougher legislation against corruption. Anna Hazare has been hailed as Gandhi 2.0, while the movement was dubbed as India’s second freedom struggle. No doubt, corruption in India is rampant. Definitely, Indians can do better without the all pervasive corruption. No doubt again, that tougher legislation is needed against corruption. The process through which this is sought to be achieved, however, can potentially undermine the very institutions of democracy.

Anna Hazare’s fast certainly galvanized many people in India, particularly given a number of recent scams. It received widespread support, with thousands of people rallying in several cities. Not surprisingly, the Government of India was ready to accept all the demands put forward by Anna Hazare, including formation of a 10-member committee (five nominees of Anna Hazare and five nominees of the government) that will draft a legislation. However, the government was not ready to provide legal status to that committee and also to not allow a non-elected representative to be the chairman of the committee. Bowing to the pressure, the government finally agreed to both these demands as well. These steps strike at the very roots of the democracy.

In a democracy, legislation is the responsibility of the legislature. Those who are not elected representatives of the people can provide input to legislation, prepare draft laws, pressure the elected representatives to create laws or change them in a certain way. However, those who are not elected representatives are not given the authority to make laws. In other words, the legislation is the prerogative of the elected representatives and the laws made by no other person (no matter what the person’s integrity and expertise is) can be made applicable to the larger population. The authority granted to the new committee essentially allows this.

Another way to look at this development is to see it as the elected representatives working with civil society in the true spirit of democracy. This is how the media and most of the movement’s supporters seem to view it as. If that be the case, then the makeup of the committee should have been more representative of the civil society, and not restricted to the five nominees of Anna Hazare. There is no doubt that the followers of Anna Hazare number in thousands, while those who silently support his cause might stretch into millions. Even then, they are not representatives of the 1.2 Billion Indians. They might very well represent the will of people, but we do not know that and in a democratic set up the only way to know that is through elections.

Essentially, this development has indicated that a sufficiently large group of people that cannot be ignored by the government can get an equal status as an elected government in making a legislation. This in a way compromises and delegitimizes the very institution of democracy. The danger of delegitimizing institutions will not be apparent in this case (at least not yet), but it has the potential to be used in the future by other groups seeking legislations in their favour. So, this development is a moment for celebration but is also a moment for reflection on what it means for Indian democracy. Also, it is a moment for those who brought this change and supported it by rising against the politicians to think about the role of non-politicians in the corruption.

Dr. Hari Bapuji is Associate Professor of Strategic Management and International Business, Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba

No comments:

Post a Comment