Constituting India into a Gandhian Republic
Swachid K. Rangan
On 26 January 1950, we, the people of India, resolved to constitute India into a 'sovereign, democratic Republic'. In 1975, by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment, the resolve was expanded to read ‘sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic Republic.
Six decades after it was adopted the goal remains elusive. Party politics and bad governance have taken the country farther and farther away from the objective.
Sovereignty is sullied by reality where one-third of Kashmir along with a vast Himalayan territory, over which we claim sovereignty, is still irretrievably under alien occupation. If the Government is reconciled to ground reality the areas should be conceded to the occupants and redraw the frontier lines to establish meaningful sovereignty over the rest of the country. And settle for durable peace with the neighbours.
Again, popular sovereignty means the will of the people should prevail. The reality is that the election procedure enables the will of only a few self-serving individuals who control political parties, prevail.
Democracy as is being practiced by the political parties in India is in tatters.
There are over 600 political groups registered with the Election Commission. Two dozen are active and most of them are regional parties. Even the National parties have limited influence in different States. They have to depend on the support of the regional parties to form governments at the Centre and the States resulting in coalition governments that have inbuilt instability. Regional pressures and narrow chauvinistic approach to national problems not only impede progress but also defeat the very objective stated in the Preamble.
Elections are held regularly and managed by the Election Commission rather efficiently, but increasingly the process of holding elections has become costlier and marred by violence and malpractices. Only the political parties who are in command of money and muscle power could field enough number of candidates and hope to win and capture power. The candidates are chosen not for their integrity or dedication to democracy but for their personal loyalty to the leadership and ability to create vote banks and bring in money to their party by any means. As a result criminals are dominating the major political groups and some of them even become ministers.
Voter-bank politics has divided people not only by caste, religion, language and ethnicity, but also by trade, profession and by student and labour unions. In every election political parties freely indulge in bribing voters, bogus voting and violence. The Election Commission is aware of these malpractices and has recommended a list of electoral reforms to the Central Government. Without these reforms our democracy will turn into mobocracy especially when no progress is made towards securing the citizens social justice and equality.
Socialism is a dud slogan. With the capitalist globalization policy adopted by the governments, the divide between the super rich and the extremely poor, between city residents and village dwellers-- measured by their social, economic, educational and cultural status--is growing.
Secularism as seen by the major political groups in India is biased against Hindu or Muslim community. Religious or casteist fanaticism is further vitiating the political atmosphere. Gandhian secularism will promote mutual trust and understanding of each others faith. This element is lacking in the secularism pursued by the State and the political parties today.
To keep the focus on the objective the Preamble should be amended to read ‘We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Gandhian Republic’ and to secure to all its citizens …..etc.’
A Gandhian Republic would automatically bring the needs of the poorest of the poor into the focus of decision makers, discourage acquisitions beyond need and eliminate forces that disrupt democracy, justice, peace and stability. India’s 640,000 villages will be empowered to govern themselves and be self-reliant in every respect. A democracy based on Gram Swaraj will be vibrant and enduring. Elections will be inexpensive, violence free and localized.
The Gandhian Republic of India may be structured as follows:
1. In Gandhian democratic process, all the eligible voters will constitute the Gram Sabha that will elect a ten-member Panchyat. Nagar sabhas will correspond to town or city wards and each will also elect its own Nagar Panchayat.
2. Panchyat members will elect a President who will also be a member of the District Panchayat. The District Panchayats, comprising about 500 members each, in turn will elect seven members from among themselves to the State Assembly and one member to the Parliament. There will be no intermediary Panchayts. With no direct elections to State Assembly or Parliament political parties will be kept out and the election procedure would be simple, clean and inexpensive.
3. Administrative powers will be decentralized and each district will have full autonomy. The Chair-person of the District Panchayat will function in tandem with the District Collector in the administration of the District.
4. The conduct of elections at every stage will be the sole responsibility of the Election Commission. The Vigilance Commission will be the watch dog of all political, administrative and judicial activity. Both the Commissions will have full autonomy and the necessary authority, manpower and equipment in the execution of their functions without any political interference. The investigating agencies both at the state and centre will come under the jurisdiction of the Vigilance Commission.
5. In Gandhian Republic the economic policy will be holistic development of villages and equal distribution of wealth on the basis of ‘lakhiers all, no crorepathis’ Excess income and acquisition of wealth beyond the upper limit will be heavily taxed and scrutinized for legitimate source. Illegal acquisitions will be confiscated and the persons penalized.
Reconstituting India into a Gandhian Republic does not require any drastic change or revision in the present Constitution. Some amendments are needed to reword the Preamble, provide constitutional protection to the heads of governments from the pulls pressures of coalition party politics and to redefine sharing of powers among the Centre, the States, the District and Village Panchayats.
The exercise to constitute India into a Gandhian Republic will clean up the system by eliminating political parties in the democratic process and the administration.
Then, what will be the role of political parties? After achieving the goal of independence Mahatma Gandhi advised the Congress party to dissolve and convert itself as a social service organization and work for the upliftment of villages. He even drafted a constitution for the Lok Sevak Sangh. His power-hungry followers ignored his advice.
In the Gandhian Republic all the political parties will have to convert themselves as social service organizations serving the community. As individuals the members can contest the elections but not as groups. No political warlord, no vote-banks, no rallies, no violence, no corruption—the objective stated in the Preamble would then be fully realized.
Swachid Kasturi Rangan, 99 Journalists Colony, Chennai 600 0041 India. Phone 044 24511846 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The author, Swachid Kasturi Rangan is a resident of Chennai. India. Born 1933, a journalist by profession he has been the New Delhi correspondent of The New York Times for over 20 years since 1961. He retired as Editor, Dinamani, a leading Tamil language newspaper in Tamil Nadu State He was the founder-editor of Kanaiyazhi, a renowned Tamil monthly devoted to social reform and literature. A follower of Mahatma Gandhi, he founded the Swachid (Soldiers of War Against Corruption, Hunger, Ignorance and Disease) Movement and has been the founder-secretary of Gandhi Mission. For more of his work you may visit http://www.swachid.com/