IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

A case for down-to-earth governance

9th September, 2020 Editorial
  • Context: The Strong local governance remains the unfinished agenda to make India’s democracy strong and deep


  • Nine years ago, Anna Hazare ended his historic fast when the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, informed him that Parliament had expressed support for proposed changes to anti-corruption legislation; “the ‘sense of the House’ was behind Anna Hazare’s key demands”.
  • The historic bending of Parliament to the people’s will was the result of a remarkable movement of citizens — rich, middle class, and poor — coming together to take politics back from politicians and to demand Parliament’s accountability to citizens.
  • Since then the nation’s attention has moved on, from weaknesses in institutions of governance, to threats from China on the nation’s borders and to global problems caused by COVID-19.

Hazare’s point

  • The single point demand of the Anna movement was the institution of the Jan Lokpal to try all government functionaries when accused of corruption; even the Prime Minister.
  • The Lokpals and Lokayuktas alone would not eliminate the root causes of corruption in politics and government. Electoral reforms and decentralization of power are essential.

It is about money

  • Around the world, electoral democracies have become infected by the disease of funding political parties and elections.
  • Money is required to win elections legitimately, even when people are not bribed to vote, which is illegitimate.
  • Communications with citizens, essential for democracy, can be very expensive.
  • Advertisements have to be paid for as well as teams of professionals for managing social media. Thus, the race to raise more money for legitimate electioneering purposes can corrupt the process of funding parties and elections.
  • Solutions are not easy because the right to free speech, and to put one’s money where one’s mouth is, is a fundamental right that cannot be denied as the Supreme Court of the United States ruled.
  • The debate continues about which is a better system. A presidential system, like the U.S. or the French one; or a parliamentary system, like the British one, which India has adopted.
  • Debates within India’s Parliament, in which all members have been elected by the world’s most impressive election machinery, hardly inspire citizens’ confidence in their representatives’ ability to govern the country.

Process and deliberations

  • The problem in electoral democracies is not only with the process by which representatives are elected, but also in the conduct of their deliberations when they come together.
  • This problem is not due to the quality of the individuals — whether they are ‘educated’ or not or even whether they have criminal records or not. It is inherent in the design of the process for electing representatives.

Inner democracy

  • Political parties in electoral democracies provide a solution to the problem of creating an alignment of views among representatives from hundreds of constituencies around the country.
  • A party’s point of view on fundamental matters can unite many. Therefore, all representatives need not be heard from in Parliament.
  • It is easier to form effective governments in electoral democracies when there are fewer parties. When there are too many parties and too many contradictory points of view to be accommodated within a coalition, governance can break down.
  • Therefore, when political parties are not internally democratic, they become reviled as the means for self-aggrandising politicians to amass power and wealth, and democratic nations suffer.
  • It has become very difficult in representative democracies, to arrive at good and fair decisions for the governance of a large state or country.
  • It is tempting to abandon political parties and parliaments and revert to direct forms of democracy where every decision can be put directly to all citizens to vote on.
  • New Internet technologies make this possible. However, if all voters have not understood what is at stake, they cannot decide well.

Complex issues

  • Issues where many interests collide must be resolved by reason, not settled by the numbers. Hence, there is no alternative to good local governance, wherein citizens manage their local affairs democratically.
  • Locals know best how to balance the preservation of their water sources while making it easier for local enterprises to do business, and how to make their local schools and health facilities accessible to all citizens.
  • One-size solutions devised by experts at the centre cannot fit all: therefore, local systems solutions are essential to solve global systemic problems of environmental sustainability and inclusive growth.

Citizens must solve issues

  • Electoral funding must be cleaned up and democracy within political parties improved to make representative democracy work better.
  • This will require big changes to entrenched systems, yet will not be sufficient for good, democratic governance.
  • Citizens must appreciate that they have to be the source of solutions, and not become only the source of problems for governments and experts to solve for them.
  • Citizens must learn to listen to each other’s perspectives in their villages and in their urban neighborhoods.
  • Those with the most needs in the community must be enabled to participate, alongside the most endowed, in finding solutions for all.
  • Since India’s Independence 73 years ago when the power of government was transferred from a centre in London to a centre in Delhi, strong local governance remains the unfinished agenda to make India’s democracy strong and deep.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/a-case-for-down-to-earth-governance/article32555376.ece?homepage=true