The universal reassertion by the all-party meeting, convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the lokpal legislation, upheld our republic’s basic constitutional scheme of things where the Parliament and Parliament alone can make laws of the country.
The government of the day can have the widest possible consultations, but in the final analysis it has to bring before the Parliament a Cabinet-approved draft legislation for its consideration and adoption. Eventually, this is what the all-party meet decided. When the government brings this draft legislation to the Parliament, the political parties will reflect on it and give their opinion on the contentious issues.
One can’t escape from the reality that there is widespread public outrage against the mega corruption scams that are unfolding by the day. This is reflected in the support being received for the articulation of the need to combat corruption at high places by sections of ‘civil society’. While such concern has received support from political parties across the board, the government has to rise to the occasion by urgently undertaking measures to comprehensively combat corruption. This requires not only the creation of the lokpal and the lokayuktas in states but also the constitution of a National Judicial Commission to address the allegations of corruption in the judiciary and serious electoral reforms that are aimed to contain the exponentially rising influence of money power. Unless such a holistic approach is taken, corruption can’t be seriously combated.
In the process, some outrageous comments by some of the “civil society” leaders are being heard in the electronic media, questioning the right of the MLAs and MPs to represent the vast millions of Indians. This is simply unacceptable.
According to our constitutional scheme of things, the sovereignty of the people is exercised through their elected representatives to the legislatures and Parliament. The executive (government) is both answerable and accountable to the legislature and, through them, to the people. Questioning the right of elected representatives to represent the people is tantamount to undermining this very scheme. At the time of Independence, when we adopted our republican Constitution, India took a bold and courageous step in granting universal adult suffrage. Many an advanced democracy had taken decades, if not centuries, to grant this right to its people. The strength of India’s freedom movement ensured such equality through a Constituent Assembly whose members themselves weren’t elected on this principle but had to have certain criteria like property ownership etc. The supremacy of the sovereignty of the people in our republican Constitution was ensured through this principle of one person-one vote-one value.
It will do well to remember that it is these common voters who, through their electoral verdicts, defeated the authoritarian streak in Indian democracy in 1977. It is this very electorate that in 2004 ensured the defeat of the communal forces to uphold the fundamental secular democratic tenets of our republic. In the final analysis it is this very electorate that has created conditions for ‘candle light processions’ and ‘hunger strikes’.
While upholding the need to combat corruption effectively through our constitutional scheme of things, the country needs to heed Dr BR Ambedkar’s warning when he commended the draft Constitution for adoption: “On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics, we will be recognising the principle of one man-one vote and one vote-one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man-one value.
“How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has laboriously built up.”
This inequality that Dr Ambedkar has warned about has, in fact, sharply widened rather than narrow, during these decades of neo-liberal economic reforms. On the one hand, 69 billionaires in the country have an asset value that equals a third of our GDP. On the other hand, over 80 crores of our people are barely surviving on less than R20 a day.
The figures of the latest National Sample Survey (66th round) on the employment situation in the country conducted during July 2009 and June 2010 do not paint a rosy picture. Compared to the 2004-05 survey findings, both the labour force participation rate and the voter’s population ratio have shown a decline while the unemployment rate has shown a marginal decline as well. This, clearly, is due to the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme that was put in place due to the Left parties’ insistence.
However, among all the workers in the country, 51% are characterised as self-employed while 33.5% are casual labour. This means, 84.5% of our workforce continue to remain victims of economic insecurity.
The fight against corruption must be seen in the context of this larger picture. If the huge amounts being looted were instead deployed to create greater job opportunities and provide health and education for our youth, maybe we could have begun addressing the ‘life of contradictions’ that Dr Ambedkar has warned us about. The political parties and ‘civil society’ must, together, mount popular pressure on the government to adopt policies aimed at removing these growing inequalities rather than widening them.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal