A premise of parliamentary democracy is that an elected and accountable political executive, with the assistance of an elaborate bureaucratic structure, will manage public affairs within the restrictions imposed by the Constitution and laws. It is further assumed that the supremacy, sanctity and majesty of the rule of law will be protected and promoted both by the elected and permanent executives in a professional and impartial manner.
However, the reality of politics in every democracy is complex and many deviations from 'legalities' take place. A few facts stand out in substantiating the argument that Indian democracy is in a great crisis because legal norms are being violated.
It deserves to be stated that the elected political executive cannot bend and break legally well-defined 'procedures of governance' without the full support of the professional public services. It is because of this collusion between politicians and bureaucrats that violations of law and procedures have occurred in governance. The judiciary, lokayuktas of the states, the Central Bureau of Investigation and other inquiry commissions have indicted not only ministers but also civil servants because both have been in a cosy nexus. This became all the more clear when ministers and chief secretaries of the states and secretaries to the Government of India were found guilty of collaboration in abusing powers.
To cite another dimension of the problem, the Justice Srikrishna Commission's inquiry into the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 identified not only activists of Hindu communal organisations, it also clearly mentioned that many high officials of the Mumbai police were actively involved in the anti-Muslim riots. The Supreme Court has many a time intervened in Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's functioning and transferred the hearing of cases filed by riot victims to Maharashtra because of the suspicion that the prerequisites for a fair trial did not exist in Gujarat. It is well-known that some civil servants have developed an elaborate system of 'loyalties' towards politicians on the basis of caste and religion and in such a situation citizens find it difficult to get protection of life and property.
The story goes back many years. Indira Gandhi as PM asked for a 'committed bureaucracy' in the mid-70s. Though that ended in a fiasco, its other face is the current casteisation and communalisation, which the Election Commission of India has brought into focus by guiding and supervising the personnel involved in election duty during the Lok Sabha and assembly elections. The EC has often asked states to remove from election duty senior officials because of their suspected partisanship.
The real explanation for this is that many honest pubic functionaries are always at the receiving end and wilt under political pressure. Honesty and integrity have come to be regarded as deviations from the dominant culture of adjustment with the political masters for self-advancement and rewards. This situation makes it difficult for sincere public servants to survive.
Political democracy is a difficult form of government because powerful interest groups always try to enter the corridors of power and pubic decision-making. Hence, only a strong institutional system based on checks and balances and accountability can insulate to a great extent the political executive and its machinery of permanent functionaries from such elements.
The silver lining is that Indian democracy, like all western democracies, is engaged in a struggle to create a strong structure of rule of law. Many other countries have cleansed their governance systems and India is becoming conscious of the fact that things cannot go on like this.
CP Bhambhri taught politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal