Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions
India celebrated its 68th republic day in 2017. Since the adoption of constitution on 26th January 1950, India has crossed various milestones but there have been challenges ahead too.
President of India said in his speech that a population of 36 million in 1951 grew to 1.3 billion strong nation and yet the per capita income has shown a 10 fold increase, poverty ratio has declined by two thirds, average life expectancy has more than doubled and literacy rate has shown a fourfold increase. Thus, India is today the fastest growing amongst the major economies of world. Concurrently, the President also highlighted the challenges before India and the need to acknowledge that the system is not perfect which is why imperfections need to be recognised and rectified.
Journey of India as a nation and as a republic
Food management- Though the population has increased many fold, there is no real shortage of food as India has become self-sufficient in food. In recent years, India has exported food which is 360 degree change from times when India had to import foodgrains from USA and Australia. There used to be severe shortage of milk earlier and today because of white revolution, India is one of the largest producers of milk in world. Thus, India has managed to grow itself in terms of self sustenance in food despite booming population.
Democracy lives- When India became independent, many scholars were sceptical about democracy in India but India has proved all the sceptics wrong and made democracy a success story in India despite the fact that most of the third world countries did not have successful democracy post their independence after WWII. The democracy and freedom in India has continued because of constitution in the times when almost all countries in neighbourhood of India got their constitutions changed, substituted by new ones or abrogated and dictatorship/military rule. Even though there have been amendments, India’s constitution has survived the changing times. So, democracy has been India’s greatest achievement.
Political parties’ dominance– Despite the constituent assembly knowing that entire system will be run by political parties, there is no mention of political parties in original constitution. First time it was mentioned in 1985 through 52nd amendment. The omission of mention of political parties in original constitution was a deliberate move. They expected the polity to largely run on ideals and policies and not on politics of power. Many people like Gandhiji, JP Narayan thought of partyless democracy, so it was possible to have partyless democracy under the constitution. There are laws for companies and registered societies but not political parties. Thus there is a need of reforms in functioning of political parties by means such as monitoring and control of their finances, strict registration and recognition to get exemption from taxes, sources and disbursement of their funds, internal audit and availability of audit accounts for public scrutiny etc.
It is often said that democracy functions through institutions which exercise checks and balances against each other. In India, legislature, executive and judiciary and beyond the constitution, the civil society and media, are the institutions which have kept an eye on each other.
Generally it can be said that these institutions have fared well as the powers, jurisdictions, areas of each of these institutions, particularly the three main organs of state, have been clearly defined and delimited by constitution. If each one works within its own sphere, things are supposed to work smoothly. But in actual practice, in recent decades it is observed that they have not performed well as it was expected to perform in their own spheres. Each institution has tried to step into sphere of other.
Judicial independence and press freedoms are great achievements but judiciary steps into field of legislature and executive becomes the law maker and legislators try to exercise executive powers. This has created problems, clashes and inefficient performance of each state.
Legislative challenges– In recent years, legislatures have faced lot of pandemonium, disturbance and dysfunctionality. It is seen that the legislature meets only for few days and even in those few days, there are more adjournments. This is not a healthy sign of democracy.
Sometimes, the standing committees come as saviours as when the house does not function, some work is done in committees. Earlier, the reports used to be normally unanimous and sometimes in the committees, the members of ruling party were more critical of government. But there are challenges now in it too. In earlier decades, the committees worked on strictly non-partisan basis which is no more same as today, party basis has come to play important role.
Judicial challenges– During the emergency, the role of judiciary was not very laudable as it was the time when judiciary was most needed to exercise restraint on arbitrary actions of the government. But otherwise as a whole since 1950, it has performed well. It has remained independent and become the last anchor of democracy. But that also leads to the question of judicial overreach where they are entering into field which are not for them. If the executive and legislature doesn’t perform, then it has to step in.
Executive challenges– India has largest number of poor, illiterates, there still exists drinking water shortage in many villages in literal numbers even today. After independence, India has continued with the colonial model for administration which is evident from the fact that still some 19th century laws are in force. The same style of functioning of bureaucracy continues and hence it is a task for political class to reorient the bureaucracy.
The time is right for electoral reforms as well as simultaneous conduct of general and assembly elections. The highest priority has to be given to electoral reforms and political party reforms because without reforming them, all other reforms are not significant enough. Also, along with it, the constitutional state organs as well as non-constitutional organs should work for the empowerment of people by providing basic facilities necessary for their sustenance and long term path for successful democracy. Lastly, participation of people in the process of governance is now the soul of democracy which needs to be continuously motivated to achieve desired goals and vision.
Connecting the dots:
Identify the achievements and challenges in the life of Indian history post independence. What are the future steps to be taken to improve the quality of democracy in India?