India Intelligence Report
 

The Sonia Déjà vu

 

After pursuing a path to protect its leader Sonia Gandhi from ouster and disgrace through an ordinance that would probably be struck down in the courts, the Congress Party got a jolt when their leader in a master political move resigned from the Parliament. This is the fifth time she has come under severe attack from the Opposition and the party had clumsily but bravely fought with legal and illegal tools often sacrificing a reluctant party member. But with this move reminiscent of her “abdication” of Prime Ministerial post listening to her “inner voice” and after talking to the President, Sonia Gandhi has essentially disarmed her political enemies.

Going beyond the sensationalized drama, the fundamental Constitutional issues are serious and need corrective action. This issue should be viewed beyond party politics or individual targeting. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cites their agitation and claims victory for her resignation. The Samajwadi Party (SP) gloats over the sweet revenge for the ouster of their Rajya Sabha Jaya Bachan on the same grounds. The Left can smirks at the discomfort of the alleged allies that they allegedly support from the outside. The Congress itself claims victory touting this “sacrifice” of their leader and claims to be reenergized. With all these minor victories, the biggest loser is the Indian democracy.

 

Firstly, the Parliament has been postponed indefinitely without debate, reasoning, or dialogue that would avoid such future situations. Secondly, important business pending before the Parliament is now relegated to the backburner and therefore affecting economic and social development. Thirdly, the episode displays the fractured nature of this coalition Government that has allies who are worse than the enemies that they think they have; a relationship that is making it increasingly ineffective. Fourthly, there has to be a loss of credibility of our democracy in the world that continues to see not such a chaotic surface but a self-inflicted scarred face with a dangerously rotting core and dysfunctional important organ. Fifthly, it reinforces the disenfranchisement and despair of the young and tax-paying population who continue to endure this exasperating political theatre without a real forum where they can be heard.

Right from the last elections 2+ years ago, the country has seen 4 major waves of scandals that have sucked up all positive attention and instead focusing the few strategic thinkers on negatives. Firstly, there was a hung Parliament where the party with the lowest number of seats came to power with the support of fringe parties seeking personal gain. Their selection of Sonia to lead the country has been vastly criticized and opposed by even by their votaries and her “abdication” has increased her prestige. Secondly, when the Volker report implicated the Congress Party and a prominent functionary (Natwar Singh), the party closed ranks to sacrifice an unwilling member to divert attention from the collective dirt of the party. Thirdly, after the Central Bureau of Intelligence essentially closed the Bofors case, the BJP sought to keep her on edge through continued freeze on the account of Italian arms dealer Quattrocchi who is supposed to be a close friend of Gandhi. However, the Government released these funds unilaterally, without consultations, and blamed the decision on Law Minister H.R. Bharadwaj. Interestingly, smarting from previous two scandals, he has been let off with less than a slap on the wrist. Fourthly, an Election Commissioner who is closely associated with Sonia Gandhi has been implicated in a financial scandal and the Government has been dodgy about discussing it or taking action on this individual. The Election Commission itself gained credibility only after the highly-principled, albeit cantankerous, T.N. Seshan. Placing political stooges was considered passé and it was even suggested that the country has graduated to a new level of democracy. L’affaire Navin Chawala has dashed those theories and introduces a bit of bitter reality to our perception of the democracy.

It is important that we learn from this episode and look at the larger Constitutional changes that are required to protect this democracy hailed as the largest and best in the developing world. 

Firstly, the country desperately needs a practical code of conduct for its policy makers; the one in vogue is not worth the paper it is written on. 

Secondly, India needs an autonomous statutory body, such as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Election Commission (EC) that governs the code of conduct of policy makers at the Federal and State level. The argument that the Parliament can manage itself is hogwash and since lawmakers do not want the judiciary to be the ones to judge their conduct, an independent, apolitical, and impartial council can take this democracy to newer heights. If a new commission cannot be formed, at least the EC should be empowered to arbitrate. 

Thirdly, we need a term-limit on policy-makers that will bar dynasties and continued reign of powerful individuals in the same office. This practice has been long adopted in many developed democracies such as the United States and United Kingdom and we need one desperately. Infusion of fresh blood passing strict pre-qualifications such as education levels, individual accomplishments, criminal records, tax-paying records, etc would keep out the bad lot from power.