A CASE OF ‘TOO MUCH’ OR TOO LITTLE DEMOCRACY?
now we finally know why the Modi government has messed up the Farm Bills issue
big time: it has advisors like Mr. Kant who no doubt firmly believe that a few
more jackboots on peasant throats would have made them gladly swallow the
legislation without any demur. And, for all we know, he's the one who is also
advising our resident sage: " We kant back down now!"
Amitav Kant is one of the most powerful and influential policy makers in the
present dispensation and his words cannot be wished away like those of Mr.
Giriraj Singh. He has come a long way from his Kerala Tourism days, but
posterity will always wonder what happened to him between the brilliant
"God's own country" and the alarming " India has too much
democracy." He may just be his master's voice sending up a trial balloon
or he may be making a down payment to insure a second extension of service.
In either case he appears to have crossed that gradually fading line between a
civil servant and a politician. The IAS is justly proud of the fact that it is
a jack of all trades, but when one of its tribe elevates this to master of all
he is treading on thin ice. But this is unfortunately what happens when you get
invited to too many Conclaves where fawning comperes treat you like the Delphic
oracle, and one soon starts believing that one is Nostradamus, Solomon and Adam
For, if only Mr. Kant had taken off his saffron-tinted blinkers, he would have
realised that the reverse of what he said is the stark truth: it is not too
much, but too little democracy which is the problem with reform and governance
today. Democracy is not just periodical elections or a brute majority in
Parliament, as he seems to think, but the existence of robust constitutional
values. Its ingredients include a willingness to consult and engage,
federalism, tolerance of dissent, freedom of the press, a tireless quest for
equity, social harmony, respect for autonomy of institutions, transparency, a
pledge to abide by the rule of law. If only Mr. Kant would take the trouble of
stepping out of his bio bubble in NITI AYOG he would notice that most of them
do not exist in his master's New India.
The present regime consults nobody, not even Parliament or reportedly its own
Ministers, even as it forcibly imposes one calamitous policy after another on
the hapless nation: demonetisation, GST, the lockdown, electoral funding,
reading down of Article 370, reduction of status of J+K, CAA, NRC, the
amendments to the UAPA, the three Farm Laws. Internationally recognised domain
experts are ignored with contempt and banished abroad, we are left with the
Surjit Bhallas and Gurcharan Dases. It allows no debate in Parliament: not even
one in five draft bills are referred to Parliamentary committees, where earlier
70% of them went through this process of scrutiny. The inevitable results of
such steam-rolling are widespread agitations like the anti-CAA and the ongoing
Federalism has ceased to exist: states ( especially opposition controlled
states) are not consulted on legislation or policy matters; they are brow
beaten into surrender by fiscal arm twisting or outright denial of legitimate
funds ( such as the GST compensation) or re-engineering the TORs of the Finance
Commission, or denial of Ways and Means limits ; central investigating agencies
are let loose on "uncooperative " states to a point where at least
five states have now barred them from operating without permission; state
police are intimidated by excessive deployment of CAP personnel during
"raids" even though law and order is a state subject ; state
governments are preempted and prevented from investigating cases that may
embarrass the central government by bringing in the CBI, ED or NIA, as in the
Sushant suicide case or the Bhima Koregaon case. In opposition ruled states
Huge resources are deployed in undermining elected state governments and
federalism has now become naked adversarialism: the last vestige of trust has
The space for free speech has been drastically curtailed: dissent has been
rechristened as anti-nationalism and sedition, and dozens of academics, social
workers, students, activists and journalists have been incarcerated for being
critical of the government.
The only free " press" now is on social media and digital platforms,
and the government has now initiated steps to bring them under control too by
bringing them under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Hate speech
laws are being applied selectively, sending a clear signal that remarks against
a particular community will attract no punishment. Our own government will do
nothing to curb the hate speech on TV which only amplifies its own narrative,
even as one of its pet channels has been fined 20000 pounds by the UK watchdog
last week, even after it tendered 280 specious apologies!
Just about every constitutional institution, nurtured over decades, has bitten
the dust, the judiciary and CAG not excluded. What the government wants, the
government gets, with reemployed bureaucrats falling over themselves to carry
out the imperial commands. Parliament, it appears, has become as obsolete as
its building and as redundant as the coccyx on the human anatomy: it's a part
of our evolution but has outlived its purpose. Universities have been
bludgeoned into silence. Such is the decay of these institutions that just last
week the Central Information Commission ruled that the citizens have no right
to know who is donating how much money to a political party! I can only wonder:
was this judgment given with a straight face ? Was the honourable CIC able to
sleep that night? Going by this amazing logic, the next step could be a ruling
that the voter does not have a right to know how many votes were cast for a
political party in an election. The leitmotif is clear- the less the citizen
knows, the stronger Mr. Kant's version of "democracy".
This is further strengthened by a complete lack of transparency in the manner
in which the government functions, whether it is about the Electoral Bonds, the
Rafael pricing or off- set details, the PM CARES Fund, the Chinese intrusion
into Ladakh, the EVM-VVPAT reconciliation, or even Mr. Modi's degree from Delhi
Crucial reports and results of surveys are simply buried if they do not suit
the govt's narratives or claims. No international organisation of any repute
believes our statistics any more and have developed their own markers.The
public's right to know is haughtily dismissed with silence by the executive,
with convenient adjournments by the Supreme Court and a quivering pen by institutions
like the Election Commission, the CAG and Central Information Commission.
Which is why Mr. Kant's obiter dicta is so astounding. Especially when the
consequences of this lack of democracy are becoming more and more visible every
day, in cold facts and figures which can no longer be brushed under a yoga mat
, redacted by a Niti Ayog or sanitised by Arnab Goswami.
It's not just that our economy has shown a negative growth of 23% or that the
unemployment rate has never been higher in independent India or that the GST
has been a failure or that demonetisation has knocked the bottom out of our
small scale sector which accounts for 80% of non-agriculture employment. Other
indicators of democracy or social well being have taken an even bigger hit in
the last six years:
* In the Freedom Index we are now at 111 out of 162 countries, a fall of 17
places since 2014. Incidentally, this is a comprehensive assessment of the
state of Personal, Economic and Human freedoms in a country, aggregated by the
globally respected CATO Institute.
* The Human Development Report of UNDP places us at 131st position among 189
countries, again a fall of 2 places in one year.
* In the Global Hunger Index the country is ranked at 94 out of 107 ( even
though the government claims we have 90 million tonnes of foodgrains in stock!)
* The Internet Freedom Index ranks us at a miserable 52, which is not
surprising considering that Kashmir has had the longest continuous internet
shutdown in the world since last August. This is the third straight year of
* In Environmental Protection our country is at an abysmal 168 out of 173
nations, and we can only go further down under the stewardship of Mr.
* In the Economic Freedom Index we have plummeted- there can be no other word
to describe this- from 79 to 105.
* The World Press Freedom Index places us at an alarming 142nd rank out of 180
countries, and things are only getting worse, what with as many as 50 scribes
being arrested simply for being critical of the various state govts during the
* The most disturbing report about the state of our country, however, comes
from the central govt. itself- the NFHS ( National Family Health Survey)'s
fifth report, which covers 2019-20. It has found that malnutrition, stunting,
wastage and underweightage among children ( between the age of 1 and 5 years)
has GONE UP in 15 states and union territories. It is the first time this
decline has been seen since 1998 and it negates all the progress made since
then. The explanation is simple: it has been caused by a consistent decline in
incomes, rendering households unable to buy protein foods- meat, eggs,
vegetables, pulses, milk. These findings confirm the other economic and health
indicators. This is not something for which the BJP govt. at the centre can
blame the UPA or Nehru or the pandemic( the normal scapegoats), as all these
children were born after 2014. And these figures can only get worse next year,
once the impact of the pandemic has been factored in.
Mr. Kant's Niti Ayog, as the government's primary stink-sorry, think- tank has
to bear responsibility for the mess we are in. None of the big ticket
programmes launched by this govt. has shown any success so far- Digital India,
Skill India, Make in India, Smart Cities, Insolvency Code, RERA, to mention
just a few. Instead, social and economic inequality has only worsened at a
compounded rate, thanks to the consistent pro corporate policies which have
become the unabashed norm.
Just 1% of the country's rich control 45.40% of its wealth, the top 10% control
74.30%. According to the Billionaire's Insight Report 2020 ( brought out by UBS
and PWC every year) the net worth of India's billionaires increased by 35% to
US$ 423 billion- at a time when 120 million people have been pushed below the
poverty line and tens of millions have lost their jobs.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise that, according to the World Economic
Forum's Global Social Mobility Report, it is estimated that it will take seven
generations for a member of a poor Indian family to achieve the average
national income! That's a very long time to wait for Mr. Modi to deliver on his
And the CEO of Niti Ayog would have us believe that all these stupendous
failures are because we have too much democracy ?
Do a retake, Mr. Kant, and remove your blinkers. If the country is regressing
in every field- economic, social, developmental- it is because of the rapid
erosion of democracy in the last few years, not because of too much democracy.
Ambedkar famously described democracy in India as a thin top dressing of the
Indian soil- much of it has been removed since 2014. We need to restore it- and
not deny it with incompetent dilletantism and worse.
Contrary to what he may think, genuine democracy begins AFTER the votes are
counted and the winner declared, and we have had too little of that of late.
Which explains the many protests breaking out ( and suppressed) all over the
country, the farmers' revolt being only the latest but perhaps of greater
consequence. Mr. Kant and his government may consider these are a sign of too
much democracy, but they would be wrong- the protests are indicative of too
little, not too much, democracy.
I would have advised Mr. Kant to go back to the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy
of Administration, Mussoorie, for a refresher course on India's history and
Constitution, but I won't. They have probably already changed the syllabus
there, from " people's democracy" to "corporate democracy"