Ensuring democracy
H.K. DUA, Editor-in-Chief
Reform of Parliament
Subhash C. Kashyap
Parties in disarray
Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Judicial independence
Fali S. Nariman
Responsive governance
N. N. Vohra

Fighting corruption
N. Vittal

Criminalisation of politics
B.G. Verghese
Strategic vision
K. Subrahmanyam
India’s global role
M.K. Rasgotra
Neighbours and friends
S.D. Muni
Economic roadmap
Pranjoy Guha Thakurta
Energy for progress
S. K. Sharma
New agriculture
S. S. Johl
Save the cities
Water use and waste
Ramaswamy R. Iyer
Science in the 21st century
R. A. Mashelkar
Lessons in education
K. N. Pathak
Empowering women
Mrinal Pande
Problem of numbers
Ashish Bose
How to protect environment
Darryl D’Monte
Health of the nation
Usha Rai

Ensuring quality of democracy
H.K. Dua

Fairly at the beginning of the 21st century, India is trying to emerge as a major player on the world scene. If all goes well, it may succeed in its effort in a couple of decades. What gives it confidence are the aims the country set before itself during the freedom struggle and soon after Independence and its experiments with nation-building during the last 58 years.

Perhaps, India could have moved at a faster pace; maybe, it could have achieved more if occasional hurdles along the way had not slowed down the process. Yet, whatever it has achieved so far has surprised even those in the world who enjoyed harbouring doubts about its survival as one nation beyond a few years after Independence. The "Dangerous Decades" are far behind us as the world’s largest democracy is poised to take major strides during the next few years.

After years of sluggishness, the nation’s economy is growing at a rate which is making the world repose confidence in India’s ability to achieve more in not too distant a time. Militarily, India can deter a nuclear or a conventional adventurist aiming a potshot at its territorial integrity or its national interests. The country is self-sufficient in meeting many of its needs. More people are having a better standard of living than ever before. There is a general hope in the air about its future.

However, to believe that all is well with the land will be a folly. India is reluctant to shed a lot of baggage of the past; population is still rising at an alarming rate; the gains of growth of the economy are not reaching all the people; not all children are going to school; and not everyone has access to healthcare. There are a large number of people who cannot afford to have the daily nutrition. In hundreds and thousands of villages even clean drinking water is not available. Housing is meant for a lucky few. In most villages and towns the jobless – in numbers – are adding to the despair which, if not tackled, can undo the hopes of even a ‘Shining India’. Sena wars in Bihar, and the growth of naxalism and violence in many parts of the country are only a few of the portents the country has to contend with.

What is worrying is the health of the institutions that are supposed to guide the affairs of the nation and take India forward towards a better future. These institutions were created by the Founding Fathers of the Republic with the fond hope that they will serve the people for a long time, change their lives in a big way and help build India into a major nation-state in the not too distant future.

Unfortunately, the performance of these institutions during the past five decades is not what it ought to have been. Parliament, after a great initial start, is becoming less vigilant and effective in defending the rights of the people or giving them a constructive lead; the administration by habit remains distant and callous towards most people whom it should serve; and the judiciary — the kachehri, which is the last hope of the people — is not able to dispense justice to all, despite an awakened Supreme Court that knows the problem but is unable to provide the cure.

Most political parties have been found wanting. The Congress is yet to recover its lost bases in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and several other parts of the country — a major weakness for a pan-India political party. The BJP’s lack of basic respect for minorities’ sensibilities and the norms that should guide a plural polity and society will always stem the party’s growth. The regional parties by their very nature and reach do not have the vision to lead an India of the 21st century.

How do you run a nation of over a billion people and help it build a new future with blunted instruments is a major question which the people and leaders of India must address without wasting more time.

Worse things are happening and affecting the functioning of these institutions as well as the entire body politic. Despite the high aims enshrined in the Constitution, casteism is still afflicting India, may be more seriously; corruption is eating into the vitals of the nation; and now the entry of criminals into politics, Parliament and State Assemblies has vitiated much of the political system.

Untackled, these are leading to erosion of the people’s confidence in the political system. At teashops and dhabas across the country — and even in the drawing rooms of Shining India — the people with varying degree of cynicism are beginning to question many an assumption underlying the prevailing political system.

Despite its inability to resolve the problems of the peripheral India — the North-East and Kashmir, for instance — most people are not worried about India remaining one country, however. Many concerned and thinking people are increasingly getting worried about the quality of democracy and governance they are supposed to live with.

Ensuring the quality of democracy may, in fact, turn out to be a major task for the country during the next few years. On accomplishing it will depend what kind of India will emerge from the current mix of hope and despair.