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A Political Perspective
Dr R.L.M.Patil
(Former Professor and Chairman Dept. of Political Science, Bangalore University and Dr
Zakir Husain Chair, Mysore University, Mysore)

Sixty years ago India was born as an independent, modern and democratic nation.
It is time now for self-introspection. Let it be made clear at the outset that we have to our
credit many achievements. Let us discuss but two of them for want of time. When one
looks at countries comparable to ours == Aristotle told us to compare the comparable ==
we find that India alone has stood the test of time. We have endured as one Constitutional
entity, politically stable, economically progressing, socially cohesive, institutionally
democratic, and upgrading continuously in science and technology and military affairs.
Pakistan is being increasingly depicted as a failed state and sick society; Sri Lanka,
Bangladesh, Nepal and others are facing constitutional and political upheavals;
Afghanistan, Iraq and others are having a torrid time; parts of Europe and the former
U.S.S.R broke down constitutionally and politically; China had to change its constitution
twice; several countries of Africa, Latin America and South-east and Far-east Asia have
witnessed collapse of democracy and economy. Against this backdrop, India has
performed eminently well.

Secondly, in the field of foreign affairs or world affairs, India has acquired a
distinct role. During the cold war and after India has opposed the militarily powerful
blocs. Without having much of military strength of its own to back up, India has shown
the courage of calling a spade a spade; when no one of consequence could tell the U.S
that its invasion of Iraq recently was wrong, India did do so. Refusal to bend has
constituted an important feature of India’s foreign policy. Equally noteworthy is its
readiness to offer its good offices to conduct peaceful and honorable settlement of
international disputes without deriving selfish profits.
The two achievements mentioned are no small ones. Nor are they solitary ones.
There are several others which can be recited at length. But a true self-introspection
demands that we take stock of our deficits, too. Could we not achieve much more on the
domestic front during the last sixty years? Especially when we were endowed with the
benefits of political stability, vast economic and human resources, well-developed
institutions like bureaucracy, judiciary, higher education, etc? We had all along an
enlightened leadership of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Smt Indira Gandhi and Sri Rajiv Gandhi
for a long spell, the near monopoly of power by the Congress party at all levels, and a
free press and mass-media institutions. Yet sixty-long years after freedom we are still
groping in the near-dark be it the provision of elementary requirements of life like
drinking water, roads, primary education, sanitation, basic health facilities or clean and
responsive administration. We are to bow our head in shame over caste-atrocities,
farmer’s suicide, corruption at the highest levels, and the low moral values among the
rulers generally. Was it not possible for us to usher in better results given this long time,
valuable leadership and established institutions? We restrict our enquiry to two main
drawbacks, for want of time.
First, we might have erred in the choice of our vision/concepts/ideas/orientation
right from day one. During the freedom-struggle the people of India were generally
inspired by idealism, self-sacrifice and a commitment to create a new India –an India
which was to be altogether different from the existing setup. Gandhi gave voice to these
feelings. He could attract people of different persuasions to join him in his dream of a
new India. He emphasized the following in particular:
• Moral base to politics (religions to provide moral basis)
• Agriculture to be the mainstay of economy
• Power to the people (not to the leaders or Government)
• More scope for the individual initiative and civil society
• Less scope for the State/Government
• Self-reliance, and simple living
• Basic education (nayee taleem)
• Training for leadership, and Accountability

• Instilling self-confidence generally, but especially among the weaker sections.
After the 1937 elections and after the dawn of freedom in 1947 the
Congress party and its leaders turned out to be hankering after State power and
privilege and distancing themselves from the goals of the freedom-struggle. In a
way it was good that Gandhi died before he was ridiculed and abandoned by his
own erstwhile followers. The revolutionary momentum created by the freedom
campaign under his leadership was lost the moment the opposition party became
the ruling party. The moorings stood altered, orientation shifted and priorities
Instead of utilising religion as a force of civil society to promote moral
behaviour, social harmony, and simple living, one has witnessed over the sixty
years sustained campaign against religion. It seems that the Marxist allergy to the
church in the Europe context has been injected into Indian body-politik without a
thought. Established and long-standing religions like Christianity, Islam and
Hinduism have occupied almost all the space of human activity in society.
Principles, ethics, rituals, doctrines, rulings, practices and punitive declarations all
by themselves command every imaginable activity and thought-process of the
human being. Nothing is free or untouched by the religious compass: birth, death,
marriage (even sex), divorce, property, criminal offences and punishment, food,
clothing (even bathing), shaving, smoking, eating or fasting, calendar,
nomenclature, greetings so on so forth. They are all controlled directly or
indirectly by religion. Pray, how can religion be kept away and secularism
practised? Gandhi would have liked men to be religious and God fearing rather
than be secular.
The direction of economic development, too, took an unexpected turn.
Agriculture and agriculturist have been neglected over the last sixty years though
freedom for India was fought by and for the farmer of India. Now after
unstoppable suicides by farmers and SEZs it looks as though agriculture can
flourish only if it functions like a profitable industry. This, if it happens at all,
would mean a total and fundamental change of our economy, culture and society
itself. What would be even more undesirable is to bring about such a change not

by calculated policy-decisions but by surreptitious manouvres and thoughtless
Secondly, we might have over the past sixty years employed wrong tools
or instruments while executing desirable goals or concepts, and thereby failed to
achieve whatever was intended. To give but two examples one can only look at
the civil services system and political party system that we have in our country for
the sixty years past. The nature of civil service in India had hardly undergone
change for about 150 years before 1947. Even after this date, it continued to enjoy
much of the security, privileges and power that it enjoyed all the while. The labels
of Saheb, the ruling babu, the maa-baap of the people, the semi-god on the earth
etc have continued to stick to the ‘civil servant’. It is another matter that Lord
Curzon described the civil service system in India as the biggest ever machine
invented by man to do nothing! It is regrettable that, with minor exceptions, the
civil service system in independent India has not been able to identify itself with
the people of India who are its true masters. Several commissions have gone into
the question of making reforms in the nature and working of civil service but no
significant changes have occurred. Perhaps the civil service alone is not to be
blamed. The political masters who rule over them find it a useful mechanism to
wield power mostly undesirable through this instrument. Collusion between the
two suits both of them – that is the bane of administration in India over the sixty
years past, notwithstanding the talk of transparency, accountability and
democratic spirit of the overall system.
The security as well as privileges afforded to the civil service in
contemporary India need to be reviewed urgently. There is neither fear of
punishment for wrong-doing nor recognition for doing the right. A number of
white-collar crimes involving high-level officers are reported in the mass-media
but hardly anyone is getting punished. This has led the people to wonder if there
would ever be changes in the administrative machine. Neither democracy nor
development can be served best by an instrument which was designed to serve
colonial and undemocratic regime near two hundred years long.

Finally, it is the political parties. There is often asked a question in the
examinations for political science students-“There are political parties in India but
there is no party-system – explain the statement”. In democracies elsewhere
political parties have a well-developed existence and a meaning. They should
have, according to the textbooks, a well-defined ideology, a structure or body, and
engage themselves in educating the public on important policy-issues. They
should contest elections in order to come to power and implement the popular
policy-choices. In India we have a crowd rather than system of political parties.
They do not resemble their counterparts in the U.K or U.S.A. First of all, they,
that is, our political parties, do not work in a sportive spirit: they believe in
painting one another in the most grotesque colours and treat each other as an
enemy rather than a competitor. Secondly, our political parties do not believe in
ideological differentiation. There are nearly nine hundred political parties in India,
small or big. How could they all posses an ideology of their own? Nor do they
believe in accountability to anyone save the leader of the party, and the leader
accountable to none at all! Our parties are identified much less with principle or
ideology and more with leader. Our voters, too, vote not for the candidates who
are contesting but for the leader with whom a candidate is identified! Most of
these political parties are not registered bodies; they all lead ad hoc existence.
They have neither a verifiable or enforceable constitution, nor regularly elected
office-bearers nor even the list of party-members! There are a number of
important political parties which function like a family-enterprise or like a one-
man corporation. Choudhry Charan Singh, Devi Lal, Subramaniam Swamy,
Chandrashekar, Karunanidhi, Devegowda, Biju Patnaik- are few of the names
which own such political outfits. Some more distinguished names are also often
mentioned. It is high time that an amendment is effected to the Peoples
Representation Act requiring the political parties to register themselves with the
Election Commission before they nominate their candidates. Also, would it be
desirable to mention in the same breath that the aspirants to the membership of the
Parliament or Legislative bodies should posses a minimum qualification in
education (in the elections to the U.P. Assembly held a few weeks ago, nearly

one-third of the candidates were self-reported to be illiterates!), not be a defaulter
in payment of tax or loans from public banks, and not be a police-sheeter. During
the last sixty years if the standard of public morality has gone down it is reflected
amply in the character and competence of our MPs and MLAs. Some stringent
measures should have been taken to check the rot. Instead we are shutting our
eyes to the decimation of the democratic ethos and the leaders of the country are
prone to profit by it! MPs are reported to have smuggled some women as their
wives abroad for a consideration! Ministers are pronounced guilty of murders and
some ex-Chief Ministers are struggling to avoid going to jail on corruption
Fortunately, we have in our system a vibrant public opinion. Somebody
has said that democracy is not a silent business. Ours is very much a shouting
democracy. Only that the well-informed should be shouting! That is not the case
always. We have to ensure that the errors committed over the sixty years past both
in concepts and instruments, should be rectified early. There is a hope that this
can be done. The educated should show courage and the lumpen elements should
be chastened. The freedom of choice is there before us.

Prof. R.L.M.Patil
#1105, 41st Cross,
Poornapragna Layout,
e-mail: r3spatil@vsnl.net
Ph: 080-26421450