Friday, April 26, 2013

Make governance the election issue


Randeep Wadehra

The quality of security provided to vulnerable sections of any society is a reliable yardstick for judging its standard of governance. True, there are several aspects to security, viz., financial, social, political etc. But the single most visible aspect is security against physical exploitation and predatory crime. In India, women and children are increasingly getting caught in the deadly vortex of violent, sexual predation. When the anti-rape law was passed, post the Nirbhaya/Damini outrage, it was assumed that things would improve for women in the country. There were celebratory tones in the verbiage spouted by assorted activists, as if their success in getting the law passed was guarantee enough against crime by sexual predators. How naïve could one be! Nobody had reckoned with the state of governance in the country. Statistics show that in this year’s first three months, the number of reported rapes and child molestation has shot up to 390 in Delhi alone, compared to 152 in the corresponding period in 2012. There must be many more cases that go unreported, or are ignored by concerned police officials, thus bringing the quality of governance under the scanner.

We all know that mere passing of laws means nothing in the absence of political will and administrative ability to implement them. Otherwise, corruption should have been vanished long ago; dowry might well have become an anachronism; female feticide would have turned into a long-forgotten nightmare by now and various crime graphs would have been showing a downward trend. Unfortunately, the contrary is true. Just look at the spreading epidemic of crime against children. As per a report published by the Asian Centre for Human Rights, in one decade the cases of children’s rape multiplied by 336%, from 2,113 cases in 2001 to 7,112 in the year 2011. Children in juvenile homes, orphanages and hostels are the most vulnerable to sexual assaults.

According to the ACHR report, the total reported (emphasis mine) cases of child rapes during the decade were 48,338. Of these, the state of Madhya Pradesh records the highest number at 9,465, followed by Maharashtra with 6,868 cases. Uttar Pradesh is third with 5,949 and Andhra Pradesh fourth at 3,977 cases. Then follow other states like Chhattisgarh etc. And, this does not present the complete picture regarding crime against women and children in our society. Add to these, the unchecked domestic violence, dowry related crimes, widespread sexual harassment in work places, abduction and rape of grown-up women and… the horror becomes unfathomable. Indeed, this is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in the national capital as well as the nation at large.

On the one hand, various state and central governments are more or less abdicating their primary duties towards common citizens, and on the other hand, we have civil society activists of all kinds assuming the role of reformers. In fact, on more than one occasion, they have made it bold to suggest to the Government of India how the country should be governed. There is a dangerous casualness towards governance related issues. Peoples’ elected representatives are just not interested in running the affairs of the state. They lack vision and a sense of propriety vis-à-vis our institutions, icons and traditions. Today’s politician is arrogant but lacks self-esteem. Otherwise how does one explain the new low in his public behavior? This trend manifests itself in a myriad ways every day. It is not just the politician, but also every segment of the polity whose standards are freefalling. Along with the police and bureaucracy, the public image of judiciary too has begun to take a beating. We are told that the rot is only at the level of lower judiciary – as if that is of any consolation to the common man who has to seek justice from that level onwards. And, where do the members of higher judiciary come from? There is any number of judges even today who should not have been anywhere near the hallowed premises of our courts. What happened to all those claims of self-regulation and internal system of weeding out the corrupt and the inefficient? It is sad that the 21st century India is witnessing a trend that has the potential to change the very nature of our polity for the worse.

As for our legislatures and parliament – the less said the better. Substantive issues are hardly debated. Every session sees colossal waste of time and public money through all sorts of unjustified disturbances. Violence is no more limited to the verbal – not that invectives should be a part of the political discourse. Cyril Smith, the British Liberal politician, was quoted by The Times dated 23 September 1977, as observing, “Parliament is the longest running farce in the West End.” Ours is certainly not the longest running farce, but it is getting there, unless some serious introspection is done and corrective actions taken. Another cause for worry and deep thought is the conviction among our politicians that elections are won to establish and promote dynasties. Feudalism is back with a vengeance, courtesy the holiest of liberal-democratic institutions – our parliament; or, rather, elections to the parliament and state legislatures. Thanks to the weakening of our institutions – extra-constitutional elements feel encouraged to take over the decision-making process relating to the country’s governance related issues. The fault lies with the entire political establishment that comprises the ruling coalition and the political parties sitting on the opposition benches. One is apparently reluctant to govern and the other leaves no stone unturned to ensure that all governance comes to a standstill.

Over a period of time, governance seems to have lost steam. The enthusiasm with which institutions were built by the makers of India’s constitution and sought to be strengthened by the Nehru regime is on the wane now. It is time to stem the rot. The government needs to rework the entire superstructure of governance. It has to establish, renew and strengthen various instruments and institutions of governance right from the village level to our megalopolises and, finally, at the national level. There is a need to make accountability an essential part of governance at every level. Reforms in our bureaucracy, judiciary and police are overdue. They should not be delayed any further. As for the people, the forthcoming general elections present the best opportunity for them to ensure that quotidian governance becomes the deciding factor in their voting preferences, and not misleading shibboleths involving ideology, casteism and communalism.

Published in TheFinancial World dated 26 April 2013

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