Sunday, August 30, 2009

Needed : A space for Independents

Jaswant Singh is not contemplating retirement from active politics and the RSS or anyone else isn’t working out a rehabilitation package for him, presumably he is doing some thinking and chintan of his own. And wondering what the options before him might be – he hasn’t had much experience in party hopping; having served the BJP for the last thirty years. The publicly extended invitation to him join the Samajwadi Party is one option of course , but one can’t really stomach the thought of the urbane and very proper Jaswant Singh to share television space with the likes of Amar Singh and his party. Just as an aide memoire, one of the Samajwadi Party’s objectives as outlined in its last election manifesto was to minimize the use of English(since an outright ban is not viable any more) and to bring back more babus who would then replace computers and other more efficient technology; ostensibly to create more jobs.

And that might be Jaswant’s biggest problem ; the educated and articulate don’t have much in the way of choices; given the fact that they have an image of integrity , consistency and honesty which they would not only like to protect but also live by. Typically, for instance , a man of Jaswant’s liberal and broad minded views would be best comfortable in the Congress. But for reasons best known to him, he c hose to join the BJP and stay on there for all these decades till his recent expulsion. We would expect a typical opportunist to cozy up to any party willing to now welcome him – as say as his erstwhile colleague Kalyan Singh has done by joining Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party. But while, one may have such expectations from Kalyan , most of Jaswant’s supporters, and needless to say the man himself in all probability would be mortified at the thought of kow towing to Mulayam or the Congress. And so Jaswant Singh finds himself an unattached independent member of parliament; which is not such a bad thing in itself, but for the fact that in our political landscape, there is little space for independent members.

One of the difficulties in our system is that there is little space available to the independent member who usually is forced to fade away into oblivion. Members of parliament , who are unattached to a political party have very little scope to play any meaningful role in shaping or influencing public policy or even speaking in parliament debates, no matter how outstanding a parliamentarian one might be. Witness the fate of Private Members Bills in parliament. Although in theory , parliament can take up for consideration and even enact legislation by discussing and then passing them, the fact is that Parliament passes very few private bills. According to constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap, only 14 private members’ bills have been passed in India so far.

The fact that the culture of independent politicians cannot often make any visible impact in the running and governance of the state usually keeps many meritorious people out of politics and parliament as several such people would not like to subvert their thinking and beliefs to the ideology of any particular party. Over the years, the country has failed to benefit from the experience and wisdom of many people ; because typically to enter parliament, contest elections and make one’s presence felt, one has to be aligned to one or the other political party. Even as look at reforms in several areas of our national life, we need to work at creating a role and promoting a culture where independent parliamentarians are given the opportunity to be part of nation building and law making without depending on the crutches of political parties of one hue or the other.

The right kind of heroes

Many of us might have been following the news pertaining to the members of the judicial community in India trying for a long time; not to make their financial assets public in spite of an increasing demand to do so. That they eventually agreed was not so much a voluntary act in the usually understood sense of the term; rather it was more of a capitulation to a growing chorus of public opinion. Though a large number of the establishment seemed to side with the judges – the government tied to introduce a bill that would make it unnecessary for the judges to disclose their worth.

The wide acclaim with which the Supreme Court’s final decision that the judges would up details about their assets on the Supreme Court website shows one thing very clearly; we love transparency. Whether it is in public life, or insurance forms, or anything else. We like things out in the open and people who live at the tax payers expense to be accountable; especially when the judiciary is no longer pristinely pure and the news of their misdemeanors are frequently reported in the media. In fact, the former Chief Justice of Supreme Court of India S. P. Bharucha had suggested that up to 20 per cent of judges in India were corrupt and that was a while ago. There is no reason to believe that things are necessarily any different.

It is in this context that the act of Justice D V Shlyendra Kumar of the Karnataka High Court and Justice K Kannan of Punjab and Haryana High Court who went ahead and unilaterally declared their assets without any pressure to do so must be lauded. They are truly brave hearts. After all, the Indian establishment has an elephantine memory and long after the public adulation has faded, their act of displeasing the Chief Justice of India, might have cost them their promotions as Chief Justices in the High Courts or elevation to the bench of the Supreme Court.

If we are going to have more such brave hearts in our midst; or even want to have the days and years to come, it seems that we need to learn to honor and cherish them – not in the sense of giving them awards and medals , but by giving them an abiding space in the public memory. That unfortunately rarely happens. Rogues and criminals like Abdul Karim Telgi of the stamp paper scandal or terrorist s like Ajmal Kasab will keep appearing in the papers for months or years, but the faces of true pioneers, trend setters and Heros vanish within days. We have created false celebrities of people we really ought to erase from the public memory nice they are in the custody of the law and recognize our true heroes.

Like everywhere else, the opinion makers and movers and shakers in the country need to take the responsibility to ensure that we eulogize the right people; and the media – be it the traditional media or the emerging media of blogs, citizen journalism etc need to do all that can be done to ensure that we keep preventing the disappearance of good and positive role models from the radar screen of our memories.