Time to end the politics of “High Command”

The word “High Command” is so out of place and sticks out like a sore thumb in this day and age. It is the first thing that needs to be curtailed from its overarching control of Indian politics before India can embark on a path of genuine reform. Firstly, the term “High Command” has strange connotations almost of a higher, supernatural power which commands and controls our destinies. This is is ludicrous, to say the least, in a democratic country.


Secondly, the concept of a high command that simply issues orders that the other elected representatives are forced to follow goes against the basic premise that elected representatives are first and foremost accountable to the voters of their constituency. While it is true that people elect their representatives once every five years, it is also true that in our democracy, these representatives can virtually ignore their voters till the next election.

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Justice Katju is right about media needing regulation

“Anna demands Bharat Ratna for Sachin,” screamed the headlines. According to the same news report, Anna’s exact words were as follows: “Sachin Tendulkar is an icon for Indian youth. He has made India proud with his exploits in cricket. I feel he deserves the Bharat Ratna,” This is a sentiment expressed by many, especially Sachin fans. There is nothing wrong with what Anna has said in this case, and surely there is nothing controversial either. But is that what the headline implies?

The use of the word “demands” in the title fits well with the uncompromising image of Anna that has been portrayed in the media. So although it might be believable, it is clearly false if you read the rest of the report! Sometime down the road, vested interests would easily use this against Anna and his team by saying, “How can Anna demand Bharat Ratna for Sachin?” Once the genie is out, good luck putting it back.


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A High-Stakes Winter Session

As the year draws to a close, one can’t help but wonder what a phenomenal year this has been for democracy. Starting with Tunisia, the clarion call for the right to self-determination and democracy has spread across the Middle East and north Africa and continues to transform the region for good. Syria is fast headed to the brink, while Saudi Arabia and the rest are probably terrified as to when these mass movements are going confront them as well.

While these fledgling new democracies overcome their initial euphoria and settle down to take on the hard challenges of self-rule, India has had the good fortune of having had a stable parliamentary democracy for the last 60+ years. While we could easily give these newbies oodles of lessons on democracy, there is plenty that we are faced with ourselves at the moment.

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Questions galore as Congress flexes its muscles

The last couple of weeks have witnessed a pitched battle between seasoned, time-tested, political operatives in the ruling party and the relative novices of Team Anna. It was like Dhoni’s boys belting the English on slow turning Indian wickets. The harder Team Anna tried to defend itself, the stronger the Congress party came at them.

The attack has been relentless, Kiran Bedi’s travel-gate, Kejriwal’s employer dues, a cameo by a previously embarrassed Swami who switched sides (or did he need to?) and spewed venom on his former colleagues, among other divide and conquer strategies that all played out perfectly to plan. The melodrama of August that captured the imagination of the country seemed like a distant dream. Team Anna appeared like Englishmen longing for the seaming conditions back home. The media has all but forgotten the specifics of the Lokpal bill and is in a “tizzy” over breakups in Team Anna.

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Lower bureaucracy must be covered under Lokpal

There has been some discussion lately about excluding the lower bureaucracy from the Lokpal. One of the main reasons being bandied about is that the Lokpal will be overloaded should it include the lower bureaucracy, and it will fail as a result of this overload. There are two sides to this issue — the politics and the feasibility.

Let us first look at the politics behind this move. The government, or for that matter, most political parties, are keen on excluding the lower bureaucracy because corruption at this level feeds the rank and file of the political parties. For example, more than 80% of Rs 40,000 crore of the PDS subsidy is siphoned off, all of it through ration shops and food officers. The Rs 35,000 crore food grain scam in UP over many years, which is currently being probed by the CBI, took place at the lowest rung of the bureaucracy involving several hundred employees. This is a phenomenon that cuts across party lines and sadly comes at the expense of the poorest of our poor people. Including the lower bureaucracy under the Lokpal could potentially cut off the life-supply of our country’s political establishment. Not surprisingly, a consensus around excluding the lower bureaucracy is bound to emerge among our political parties.

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Team Anna’s Hisar campaign was a brilliant move

A number of people have expressed their discomfort with Team Anna’s involvement in the Hisar by-election. Some have suggested that the team should continue to remain apolitical. It is widely believed that being apolitical and non-partisan is what earned Team Anna its lion share of support and goodwill among the people. So it is natural to infer that should Team Anna get involved in elections, it might lose some of the mass appeal that it has garnered over the last year. But once again, despite the reservations of many well-wishers, Anna Hazare demonstrated his keen political sensibilities by deciding to campaign against the Congress party in Hisar.

The Congress party today has a sufficient enough majority in Parliament to pass any law. Unlike in its earlier UPA-I avatar where the stability of the government was always in question and the party was at the mercy of its allies, the UPA-II is relatively safe. For example, should the DMK drop out of the coalition, the AIADMK is waiting in the wings. There is no shortage of other such regional “plug and play” options, should the need arise. In other words, the Congress party has a comfortable mandate to take tough, decisive action, should it have the resolve and the political will to do so. It simply has no excuses to shy away from taking the lead on such important legislation.

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Media’s opportunity to help make history

I had the privilege of recently participating in a discussion co-organized by the American Leadership Forum (ALF) and the Indians for Collective Action (ICA). The topic of the discussion was “Celebrating Democracy and People Power” with special reference to the rise of the anti-corruption movement in India and the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in the US. One of the aspects that was discussed was the role of the media in the success of the movement in India.

There is little doubt that the anti-corruption movement was largely fueled by the media. Every leading newspaper in the country had a separate section dedicated to the Lokpal debate. The TV channels constantly fed the flames of the news cycle with “breaking news” of all kinds. Over time, everyone from the oft-maligned middle-class to the “aam” junta on the street had heard of Lokpal. The specifics can be left to the experts, but the media had more than done its job of bringing awareness about Lokpal to the mainstream. Law-making in India has changed forever,and for this, we have the media to thank. In the days and years ahead, we are bound to see a lot more civic engagement from the public when it comes to law-making.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times