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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 14, March 21, 2009

New Focus—Dynamic Paradigm—and New Accountability for Parliamentary Polls

Saturday 21 March 2009, by V R Krishna Iyer

Elections are for Parliament not for constituencies or parties. We need Members of Parliament, not of constituencies but to represent the nation, not to indulge in vocal magnum battles to earn more emoluments and power but fighters for the common good of the country.

Parliamentary elections are coming close upon the nation. In these elections once, periodically, the little Indian matters. Winston Churchill wrote:

At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man walking into the little booth with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper. No amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point.

Abraham Lincoln spoke for humanity’s democracy which applies not merely for the United States but for every nation in the democratic cosmos. India is a democracy which is at once socialist and secular and therefore humanist. We are no longer free, 60 years after independence because today elections are fought with huge Goebellsian propaganda, Himalayan publicity, purchasing constituencies with money power. The little man, and worse, the little woman, matters little for Members of Parliament even if they vote after receiving money.

The court has held—strange justice—MPs receiving money is gross corruption, immoral and an outrage but the judiciary holds that it does not disqualify or render culpable corruption of Members inside the House which is immune to judicial scrutiny. This means that the rich man, the creamy layer, can win any policy or confidence of a Prime Minister by cash because the MPs are free despite found guilty of criminal conduct. Naturally, candidates are set up with huge investments. Colossal publicity after receiving criminal cash and cast vote in Parliament through political parties can be controlled by the proprietariat. Parties therefore receive huge money for power and lucre and those who are hungry and have-nots the dignified right to life can be ignored because the majority votes goes to him who buys at fancy price. The time has come for the scramble proceeds by micro parties financed by rich vested interest thus defeating the conscience of the nation. The principle of democracy in a country like India where the majority are poor but a few are fabulously affluent and ultimately govern Parliament, the latter belongs to the extravagant wealthy mafia. This is slavery, not free govern-ment by principle of freedom nor by powerful debate. The finest hour of debated decision in the House is defeated by reason being buried and cash counts. This shall not be. We must restore the confidence of the vast poor people in Parliament by a revolution of politics by militant consciousness of the masses to establish what Burke had declared long ago:

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.

Indeed debate has become alien and sound and fury and even violent gestures dominate decisions which our Speaker Somnath Chatterjee denounced as an unhappy deterioration. What Winston Churchill spoke of the British Commons does not hold good in our two Houses. After great debate on a motion of no confidence at a critical hour in the battle for Briton against Hitler’s barbarian hordes he replied in the House with passion. Let me quote him:

Everything that could be thought of or raked up has been used to weaken confidence in the Government, has been used to prove that Ministers are incompetent and to weaken their confidence in themselves, to make the Army distrust the backing it is getting from the civil power, to make the workmen lose confidence in the weapons they are striving so hard to make, to present the Government as a set of nonentities over whom the Prime Minister towers, and then to undermine him in his own heart, and, if possible, before the eyes of the nation. All this poured out by cable and radio to all parts of the world, to the distress of all our friends and to the delight of all our foes. I am in favour of this freedom, which no other country would use, or care to use in times of mortal peril such as those which we are passing.

Every candidate and party is bound by provisions of the Constitution in our long paramount law. There are clear provisions which answer all the requirements of a manifesto. No candidate can ask for a vote if his manifesto departs from the Constitution‘s provision. The Election Commission should insist on demanding from every party and from every Independent candidate to produce his manifesto. If this contradicts any of the Articles of the Constitution, the candidates or the party should be disqualified from contesting the elections. The Election Commission is not a ritualistic agency but has a dynamic, dialectical duty as an instrumentality promotive of the reality of the Constitution. The Preamble is an integral part of the Constitution and declares a pledge that our Republic is socialist, secular and democratic and egalitarian. With social and economic justice as a structural basic Nehru emphasised the importance of the public sector. Indira Gandhi made mandatory provisions for nationalisation and abolition of princely privy purses. Any privatisation measure or boosting of capitalist investments, exotic or native, whatever the pretext, is contrary to socialism and egalite. Unfortunately we have molar political parties unblushingly communal and controlled by the creamy layer of the upper classes. The Election Commission has the invigilation and investigative duty to scrutinise these matters. Alcoholism has to be moderate and compassion for all living creatures as environmental concern is a constitutional duty. Industrialists who pollute the earth, air and water and even the ultrasound layers, should be forbidden from funding or participation in the polls. Regrettably, many parties flourish on some donation from polluting investments and technologies and in the absence of an undertaking to the contrary they should be parties and their candidates should be debarred. The Constitution is paramount and the Election Commission is a coil under it.

In short, the scrutiny of candidatures and the duty of the objectors at the Returning Officer’s examination is not a mere mechanical role but a high-risk operation and intelligent informed Opposition to make the elections a frugal affair and consistent with our socialist secular character and exhaustive constitutional provisions. The Left parties have a special duty to exercise from this angle and their performance is not merely a platitude or struggle to get seats but an elaborate exercise to make our public life conform to the details of the manifesto implicit in the Constitution. This is not done now. A strenuous conscientisation of the community as a whole has to be undertaken so that the polling process may have a cleaning dimension to make the Judiciary, the Executive and the Legislature ensure the reality of the value of the Constitution.


Before I conclude on the mandatory dimensions expected in the manifesto of every party and candidate and the functions of the Returning Officer, it is the need for imperative specification of religious comity in our plurality of faith. Today, in this country, religion and institutions advocating devotion have become Big Business. This has to stop. Similarly educational and health institutions are huge communal operations rooted in profit-making and privatised Big Business having become commercialised, so too are hospitals where health is Big Business. All these are contrary to the essentials of our Socialist Secular Democratic Republic. But today our governments are hell-bent on privatisation of public functions. Industrialisation, however, has become a craze even if it is violative of the Directive Principles of Part IV really lending allegiance to the fundamentals of the Constitution. Women power, child rights, oldage rights through geriatrics, pediatrics and healthy biosphere demand the active support of the poll process. Elections are not a mere matter of ballots but a comprehensive operation whereby the life of the nation commands a true transformation fine-tuned to the values of the Constitution. This is the high responsibility of all political parties together; it is mandatory but missed all together. To fail here is to betray the national obligations to swear by the Constitution. Even the judiciary is no exemption to democracy. If ‘We the People of India’ are the masters of governance, the Constitution cannot be a futility but must govern every aspect of public life, private life and the Directive Principles of State Policy. Such is the basic nature of a truly a parliamentary election when the nation fulfills its fundamental subjection to the suprema lex. Remember, we are expounding a Constitution, not clauses in an insurance contract or a trade deal. The full semantics of the large and creative functions of the general elections needs a new interpretation, national debate and inquest. Are we proud or patriotic about our Constitution? These elections have larger, deeper inquisitorial operations.

Is swaraj, the militant struggle for freedom of the billion Indians, still relevant? Is Gandhi and his policies of truth and non-violence obliterated from State policies? Does Nehru matter at all to Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram? Is Indira Gandhi with her nationalisation perspective and land reform policy governing the present Government at the Centre or even the Marxist party in power? Does Bush, whose jurisprudence and international relations run contrary to Nehru’s peace policy, still find a follower in the Central Cabinet of Manmohan Singh? Do all Indians love or embrace Bush, the American belligerent? The general elections to Parliament must answer these questions.

After all, Parliament of the Westminster pattern is the grand inquest of the nation which has power to debate on all matters under the Constitution. How can we allow illiterates, incompetent goondas and extremists to perform this function of inquest? Failing this are our elections an expensive waste, political battles a failure?

Today viewing Parliament’s performance after several elections we have reached downhill and proved Bernard Shaw’s cynicism “he knows nothing, he thinks he knows everything” that clearly points to a political carrier. This statement approximately describes the Members on either side of the House. “Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.” (Bernard Shaw)

My purpose in this essay is to present a new focus, a new paradigm, a new accountability, a new challenge and a new vision so that new criteria may be applied by the responsible parties in choosing candidates to make our Parliament a relevant national institution, truly a grand inquest of the nation in 2009. Our Houses are not a bedlam and our deputies are not permitted to run berserk nor Hon’ble Speakers’ valuable time and energy to be devoted entirely to correct and discipline delinquent unruly elements as a nation with Gandhian austerity and Nehruvian elegance and Indira’s sense of power and restraint. As the proceedings are broadcast to the world presenting a picture of an assembly of extremist hoodlums, not enlightened lawmakers. Our Parliament should not be mistaken for a dysfunctional anarchy of chaos in the cosmos but a powerful orderly House where the business of the nation is transacted with the traditions of 5000 years of culture.

The author, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, was the Law Minister in the first Communist Government in Kerala (1957-59).

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