Book Review: India’s Politics

Title: India’s Politics — A View From The Backbench
Author: Dr. Bimal Jalan

The author was the former head of Reserve Bank and then went on to become a Rajya Sabha MP.
The underlying theme of the book is that coalition Governments at the center are here to stay. This trend brings with it its own set of issues and if not addressed soon enough could result in further deterioration of the political system as whole and hurt the country and its standing in the world in general. The author is careful not to mention any individuals per se despite discussing specific issues and events. In other words, the book is more about the political system in India rather than about personalities. The book discusses the challenges of India’s current political system and offers a reform agenda.

Here are a few (but by no means all) of the points raised in the book.

Coalition Governments: Given that coalition governments are here to stay, the author calls for coalition partners to agree on a common set of social and economic policies rather than enter into an opportunistic arrangement of convenience. The author argues that these smaller entities must be considered as part of the coalition (UPA, NDA etc.) and not as separate parties for the business of parliament. Any differences must be sorted out within the entity as opposed to in public.

Collective Responsibility: The Indian constitution was based on the principle of collective responsibility of the council of ministers. This principle shields individual ministers from being held accountable for their performance while it has not prevented them from taking decisions without seeking a minimum consensus from coalition partners. The author provides examples to illustrate this phenomenon.

Anti-Defection Law: Coalition governments have resulted in small parties with less than 5% of the national votes wielding unusual power. They even control ministries by virtue of their being part of the ruling coalition, but with little accountability. The author suggests that the anti-defection bill must be amended to disqualify members of a party with less than 10-15% of the seats in the Lok Sabha who opt to join a coalition and then defect.

Business of Parliament: The last few budgets have been passed without discussion! The author says its imperative to bring in a rule that you can’t pass the budget with a voice vote.
Inefficiency: There is too much inefficiency in public services. There are way too many agencies, schemes, departments etc (created by different ministries) often working at cross purposes and politicization of administration in general (“In recent year, the politicization of the bureaucracy has gathered further momentum as a result of governments with shorter tenures pursuing their private or party interests in the guise of promoting the larger public good”). Ultimately, these inefficiencies affect the poorer sections of the society and contribute towards increasing the disparity between the rich and the poor.
Security/Law and Order: The national boundaries and the armed forces are the responsibility of the central government, the responsibility of internal law and order is the responsibility of the state. The states unfortunately are increasingly becoming incapable of addressing law and order issues. (“One-third of all Indian districts are now believed to be under the influence of Naxalite organizations”). Ministers in power in the state tend to control and interfere in the administration of law and order. The authors recommendation is to redefine India’s overall security and law and order management with a greater control and co-ordination from the center especially to respond to terrorist threats orchestrated by external organizations which have a global reach.
A well written book, that is a must read for anyone interested in India’s politics today and into the future. I found that the book tended to get repetitive at times. Perhaps, the author was doing this for emphasis sake. There was no mention of the events at Godhra in 2002 and how events like this can be avoided, which was a disappointment. But overall a very informative book from someone well versed in India’s economics, politics and everyday challenges.

Author: Pran Kurup

Pran Kurup is founder and CEO of Vitalect, Inc.

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