Civil Society and Accountability

The one staggering aspect of a democracy that I cannot reconcile with is how popularity becomes the only criteria for eligibility to govern. That too from an Electoral College ranging from the sublime to the pathetic.  All that is needed to be an elected representative as per the main provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, is that, one needs to be an Indian citizen resident in India, of a certain age and not holding another post of profit. That’s it. Be popular enough and you or I could be deciding the fate of our 1.3 billion strong nation.

If we downscale this democratic model and apply it to, say, a hospital could we end up with a hospital director who is the endearing ward boy loved by all, or an RBI Governor who is a well-liked canteen waiter?  Why is it that we set standards for our institutions but none for governance?  Even a convict with a history of a conviction whose duration was less than 2 years can contest in an election (This may not be a bad thing considering the propensity for vendetta arrests and convictions!). There is no minimum educational requirement, no requirement of any previous experience, no burden of proof of prowess – all that’s required is the winning of an election. There’s no doubt that this is one of the things that makes democracy vibrant – that the laws of the land guarantee any citizen potentially to ascend to the legislature. The great leveler, so to speak where circumstances of birth, religion, money or power do not matter (at least on paper).

Any position of power needs systems of checks and balances to ensure that abuse does not happen. More so when the seat is acquired without a specific set of qualifying assessments. Yet, these monitoring systems have their limitations – especially with regards to aspects of moral conduct. Ethical considerations are often outside the purview of the law and left to the virtue of the individual or party. This is probably a vestige of the Colonial systems of administration where ‘gentlemanly’ behaviour was expected and never needed to be defined. Earlier statesmen and politicians belonged more to this breed and there was a certain ‘maryada’ about the Office. In terms of pure political survival, this decorum would not necessarily be the best of ideas and that’s why we find an almost total lack of it in recent years. Nowhere is it worst manifest as the Trump administration where decorum and dignity of office are considered traits of sissies. Our politicians aren’t immune too. Modi is perfecting it into a fine art and yet I would not blame him because with a few exceptions the entire political community is in overdrive trying to outshout the other.

As elected representatives, our political leaders have a responsibility to the electorate. They have been entrusted by the people to govern the country with accountability and transparency. Therefore, there is a pressing need for those who govern to communicate with the people. Not through jingoistic, rabble rousing speeches which seek to grandstand and gain popularity but to communicate facts and information about every aspect of governance. Yet, what we find is that communication is limited to electioneering, where issues are swept aside and dismissed, where passions are drummed up and histrionics upstage facts. Take for instance, the entire exercise of demonetisation.  Depending on your political leanings, it could be the biggest economic fiasco the country ever faced or a triumph of financial reform. Obviously something is very wrong here! There is objective data at hand here and economic parameters which can be used to analyse it. There is no reason why there should be contradictory results on this unless the analysis itself is wrong. How can an objective result be dependent on point-of-view? This is where the afore mentioned independent regulatory bodies need to step in. I, as a citizen of India, have a right to know and in simple language that I can understand. The facts may be there for my perusal especially with wonderful acts like the RTI act but I am not an economist or a financial whiz to make sense of the data. I need an independent body to make the analysis and clarify for me what it means. But then, there isn’t any such body which can analyse and make such clarifications. Regulatory authorities like the CAG which audits all receipts and expenditure of the Government of India and the state governments cannot comment on financial policy. They probably can question the expenditure of the nearly 8000 crores rupees needed to print new notes (this is just the cost of printing and does not take into account other expenses like modifying ATMs, the logistical expensaccountabilityes etc.) and whether it was justified.

Whichever the body, we as citizens have a right to know unequivocally with supporting facts what is true. Information about governance should not be dependent on trolls and tweets by vested interests.

A leader is not above question and query but on the contrary should be prepared to answer every single query raised by any citizen. That is a citizen’s right as inalienable as his right to vote. If I have the right to vote, I have the right to question my elected representative too. Disturbingly, this is something which our current PM consistently avoids. His only methods of communication are dramatic speeches, glib tweets or scripted interviews. In fact scripting seems to be a vital ingredient of all political parties along with the support of their channel/print mouthpieces.

So how do we make sense of what’s happening? What is the truth in this post-truth world? When ‘reality’ can be customised by creative spin doctors how do we take decisions?

It’s time for regulatory bodies to step in and be pro-active about preserving our democracy. The judiciary fortunately seems to be energetic and vigilant. But it is not just the regulatory bodies which have this responsibility, there is a critical role of the individual also in this. It is time for each one of us to recognise the plurality of the reality that is India.

To acknowledge that no single attribute defines a person but a conglomeration of thousands of facets.

To accept that change and reform start within each one of us first.

To be pillars of integrity, no matter what.

To recognise that we need to extend helping hands to people in need and not enquire about their dietary preferences, their birth co-ordinates, their chosen divinity, the colour of their skin…

To think and analyse instead of being mouthpieces of those who inflame.

And ultimately accept that we are all mortals living a fleeting life.

 

 

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~ by inmyneed on September 1, 2018.

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