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Dr Zakir Husain Memorial Lecture On The Problems and Prospects of Indian Democracy : An Evaluation of its working for Designing the Processes of Change for Peaceful Transformation
delivered by Hon'ble Mr Justice A.M. Ahmadi

Cite as : (1996) 2 SCC (Jour) 1

I am profoundly grateful to the organizers of this function, The Dr Zakir Husain Educational and Cultural Foundation, its President His Excellency Mr P. Shivshanker and its Vice-President His Excellency Dr Khurshed Alam Khan, for doing me the honour of inviting me to deliver the Dr Zakir Husain Memorial Lecture for the year 1996. I must confess that the galaxy of names in the margin of the Foundation's letter-head, coupled with the presence of so many intellectuals at this gathering and, knowing my limitations, I experience an overpowering sense of diffidence in venturing to speak to you this evening. I am deeply grateful to the members and office-bearers of the Foundation for this privilege and for the kind words with which you have welcomed me.

Dr Zakir Husain has made substantial contributions in various fields. All of us are aware of his multifaceted life as a freedom fighter, nationalist and an outstanding statesman. A reputed scholar in his own right, his contribution to the development of democracy in India during its infancy and his emphasis on education stand out as shining examples of the clarity of his mind and his devotion to the cause of the nation. He was one national leader who insisted - even before the struggle for independence had reached its peak - that primary education to all citizens must be given national priority. This was born out of his realisation that national centres of learning would be essential in independent India having regard to its large pockets of illiterate citizens. He believed that the educational policy should result in inculcation of proper values in students. His commitment to democratic traditions based on the ethos and culture of the country is well-known. He was a true secularist and this is manifest from a dialogue he had with a journalist, when the latter congratulated him on his assuming the high office of the President of India. The journalist after congratulating him said:

"This is a victory for secularism."

Dr Husain asked:

"How is my becoming the President of India, a victory for secularism?"

The journalist replied:

"Sir, when a Muslim becomes the President of India for the first time, it is a victory for secularism."

Dr Husain reacted by saying:

"I think your concept of secularism must change drastically."

The journalist though taken aback, ventured to ask:

"Why is that, Sir?"

To which Dr Saheb replied:

"Secularism is achieved only when you do not know my religion."

Dr Zakir Husain firmly believed that religion ought not to be mixed with politics. This is a message which is of greater significance today than it was in the past. I feel privileged to be invited to deliver this lecture in memory of such a great soul.

We live in momentous times. In this, the twilight era of the 20th Century, as we approach the 50th year of our independence, our nation prepares to experience the most fundamental and essential function of the democratic process - the 11th General Elections which are to be held this year. Indian Democracy will enter a new phase, the importance of which is enhanced by the tumultuous political, economic and social changes that threaten to overrun our nation. It is for this reason that I feel that the topic chosen for today's talk: "Problems and Prospects of Indian Democracy: An Evaluation of its working for designing processes of change" is most opportune.

As we all know, Dr Zakir Husain was a true statesman whose democratic credentials were beyond reproach. The simple theory that he advanced, which in our times is almost an axiom, was that a true democracy is one where each and every citizen is involved in the democratic process and this end cannot be achieved unless we remove the prevailing large-scale illiteracy in our country. According to him, unless universal education is achieved, which allows every citizen to participate actively in the processes of democracy, we can never claim to be a true democracy. Dr Zakir Husain sought to ensure that the seeds of knowledge were germinated in the minds of as many citizens as possible, with a view to enabling them to perform their assigned roles on the stage of democracy.

As we seek to analyse the working of democracy in India, we must pause to ask, as Dr Zakir Husain would urge us to, whether in the form of Government that we have today, the needs and wants of the ordinary citizen find expression and whether attempts are made to involve such citizens in the processes of democracy. In a future era, historians will analyse the last decade of the 20th Century with particular interest as a period of epoch-making changes, and those focussing on India will note that Indian democracy was at a critical stage during this period.

Democracy in India has, since its inception, undergone so many upheavals that to describe its present state as a crisis would not serve to propel its intellectuals into action, inured as they are to the many crises that have afflicted our nation. It is indeed a wonder that democracy in India has thrived for so long and in the face of such severe constraints. The Pundits of democracy would have us believe that low levels of income and literacy, a hierarchical social structure and multiple ethnic cleavages are factors that inhibit and curtail democratic processes; in India, democracy has survived for nearly five decades in the face of these and other factors that together go to make overwhelming odds indeed. While that by itself ought to be the cause for self-congratulation, the present state of our democratic institutions is such that intellectuals in India feel we have very little to cheer about. Complacency we cannot afford.

After the conclusion of the Second World War, we witnessed the gradual shrinkage of the British colonies and the emergence of new, independent countries, many of whom adopted the democratic form of government. India too was one of them. When India constituted itself into a Democratic Republic, the world for the first time saw a heterogeneous democracy, multi-ethnic and multi-religious in character, linguistically divided and to top it all, with more than 80% of the vast population economically poor. On the social front, it was plagued by graded inequality; on the economic front the majority lived in abject poverty and on the political front there was uncertainty. To an outsider, the scenario was dreary and a challenge to the very survival of freedom. The odds were so heavily loaded that not many gave the infant democracy a long lease. The world community wondered whether there was any chance for democracy to survive in such a vast country with such a huge population, low literacy and immense diversity. The scenario appeared to be frightening and seemed almost chaotic and, therefore, it is not surprising that those not familiar with the ethos of the Indian people felt convinced that it would collapse sooner than one could imagine. India was, undoubtedly, perched dangerously and many predicted its fall within a short time. But despite the odds, while many of the new democracies proved short-lived, democracy in India could weather the storms and survive them all. We have thus far had a reasonably stable democracy, but the nation has in recent years suffered convulsions which pose a serious threat to the Indian polity and democracy. But, it is a fact that in the past, the Indian polity and the democratic set-up had successfully braved onslaughts from ethnic and religious groups, which gives us hope for its survival.

At this stage, a brief analysis of the history of the democratic processes in our country may not be out of place. Through our Constitution, we adopted a democratic form of government because of our belief in the universal applicability of the principles of Parliamentary democracy and the ability of our people to adjust to the demands of a democracy. Voicing the concerns expressed by some scholars in this regard, Jawaharlal Nehru had said:

"In other countries, real full-blooded democracy came after a good deal of education had spread, because of the economic revolution and all that which had prepared the ground for it, which had added to the resources of the country and thereby made it easier to fulfil the demands made by the people in those countries. In most Asian countries, on the other hand, particularly in India, we have taken a huge jump to hundred per cent political democracy, without the wherewithal to supply the demand which a politically conscious electorate makes.... There is a hiatus now between desires and their non-fulfilment and all our political life is really concerned with how rapidly to bridge this gulf, this hiatus."

However, in the first two decades of our independence, these fears were, to a large extent, put to rest because of the high quality of political leadership that exerted its presence at the national level. During this period, "the world's largest democracy" functioned in near exemplary fashion insofar as adherence to democratic norms was concerned. A strong Central Government under our first premier, Jawaharlal Nehru, sought to implement the "will of the people" by introducing a legislative and economic programme devoted to securing socialism. Parliament was often at loggerheads with the Supreme Court; the latter was often perceived as acting in a manner which was directed towards preserving the status quo and supporting the cause of the propertied minority. However, Prime Minister Nehru resisted the urge to attack the Judiciary or use coercion against opponents of his policies in Parliament. The fact that, if he had chosen to do so, he would have the backing of large sections of the Indian polity, makes this exercise of self-restraint all the more commendable. Nehru's Government complied with constitutional norms and procedures to overcome obstacles in the enforcement of the people's mandate and this attitude laid the foundation for the growth of a healthy democracy.

This was the golden era of Indian democracy and of India's Parliament. The Government at the Centre was anxious to enforce its mandate and fulfil the promises made to the electorate. To this end, it put forth a series of policies that were formulated after a great deal of deliberation and were introduced only after a threadbare discussion in Parliament. We were fortunate to have political stalwarts in the opposition who, through their scholarly interjections, helped in plugging the loopholes in policy, and through this intelligent contribution made in Parliament, ensured that the policy was faithfully translated in the text of the laws finally approved. The Lok Sabha Debates of this era give an indication of the high quality of intellectual discussion that the legislations of the time were subjected to. Prime Minister Nehru's Government was repeatedly returned to power as the people endorsed its policies and indicated their appreciation of the measures evolved to involve them in the democratic process. The demise of Nehru gave rise to fears that Indian democracy would slip into an abyss of chaos but, once again, these fears were proven to be unfounded and, after the General Elections of 1967 and 1971, it seemed that all was well with Parliamentary democracy in India.

However, events thereafter took a turn for the worse; democratic institutions suffered repeated blows leading to the imposition of a National Emergency in 1975 which it seemed, had rung the death knell for democracy. Happily though, there followed a revival of democratic forces, though the glory of the first two decades was never regained. Decisions were based, not on principles, but on short-term populist considerations. While they appeared to provide cosmetic relief, the disease grew and began to eat into the vitals. In the mid-Eighties, a strong body of intellectuals began to question whether the system of Parliamentary democracy adopted by the Constitution was at all appropriate for our nation; several alternatives, of which the Presidential System approach seemed to have the most popular backing, were suggested. There was an equally strong opposition to the suggestions made. The very fact that alternatives were being discussed so earnestly showed that Parliamentary democracy in India was afflicted by a deep-rooted malaise. The faith that the founding fathers had placed in the Westminster form of Parliamentary democracy was shaken by the manner in which it functioned in the post-Nehru era. Slowly and gradually, Parliament ceased to be a place for orderly exchange of viewpoints and many important legislations and decisions were made without any meaningful discussion or debate. There was more noise in Parliament; it became a place for testing one's vocal chords rather than a House where serious, intelligent debate took place. The situation has gone from bad to worse and we recently saw an entire session of Parliament being wasted. The failure on the part of our legislative bodies to discuss threadbare important matters of policy and public interest, as well as explaining the philosophy for introducing new legislations or amending existing ones, has resulted in the people being denied the vital information needed to appreciate the policies and programmes of the government. Debates in Parliament disseminate information to the people through radio, television and other forms of the media, thereby giving the people the opportunity to understand and appreciate why a certain decision was taken. The absence of any serious intelligent discussion leaves the people uninformed and in doubt, making them suspicious of the decisions taken. Thus, the peoples' right to information remains unfulfilled and makes them curious about certain policy decisions taken at higher levels. They, therefore, seek other methods of satisfying their curiosity - one such method being a knock at the Court's door. It is for this reason that, of late, most of these policies have run into rough waters - many of these have been brought under the scrutiny of the Judiciary in courts across the country. Attempts are made, and at times successfully, to depict these changes as being against the interests of the majority of the people. The Indian citizen of today has been so alienated from the process of policy-making that his frustration is beginning to find expression in a manner that many may consider to be not entirely to the nation's advantage.

Before I proceed to analyse the working of the Indian Parliament, I believe it would be profitable to briefly notice the historical development of the Legislature as a law-making body.

In their classic work, "Government and Politics - An introduction to Political Science", Professors John C. Wahlke and Alex N. Dragnich state that although administrative, judicial and executive institutions and processes have been in existence since the time of primitive man, legislative institutions and processes are of relatively recent origin.

The popular assemblies of Greece were forerunners of modern legislatures as they embodied the idea that the people had a voice in the business of government. While the Greeks did not develop concepts of legislation, the Romans had definite organs that determined what the authoritative laws would be.

During the Middle Ages, however, the prevalence of the idea that laws were to be discovered, being derived from some divine authority, caused a setback to the notions of law-making. The development of the English Parliament is instrumental in the acceptance of the idea of a law-making body. The English Parliament was originally a Court - its development into a legislative body is owed to the Kings' practice of hearing petitions for redressal of wrongs in councils where they were joined by leading nobles and clerics. Over time, these nobles began to exert their rights, leading to the drafting of the historic Magna Carta in 1215 and later to processes similar to the modern day concept of law-making. However, this was a gradual process; even in the 17th Century, the eminent jurist, Sir Edward Coke was of the view that common law was a higher law than statutory law. Soon thereafter, the concept of a legislature as a law-making body became crystallised. During the 18th Century, the French observer Montesquieu, after analysing the working of the English Government, was of the view that its success in preserving liberty and maintaining stability was due to the separation of powers between its legislative, executive and judicial wings. The concept of separation of powers was institutionalised in the American Government with a clear delegation of legislative powers to Congress.

By the 19th Century, legislatures were established in all democracies and became the chief criterion of democratic governments. The 19th Century became the era of legislative supremacy as legislatures took over the details of budget-making also. In the 20th Century, on account of a large number of factors such as technological advances, increased scope of government's authority, growth of bureaucracy, etc., the importance of a strong and informed executive with expertise in different fields has increased.

As we all know, during the pre-independence era, our leaders had rightly asserted that good government was no substitute for self-government just as a benevolent dictatorship is not a good substitute for even a weak democratic set-up. It is this insistence which had made the colonial rulers concede limited self-rule under the Government of India Act, 1935. Despite daunting odds: a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual societal set-up with an ever-growing population, cursed with illiteracy and poverty: our Constitution-makers took a long leap of faith by deciding on representative form of government with adult suffrage and an independent judiciary, thereby showing faith in democracy as a system of governance. It is in this background that our Constitution adopted the Westminster model and, since independence, we have had a form of government where Parliament was expected to occupy a pre-eminent position. As I have already stated, this conception held good for the most part of the first two decades. At a very early stage of our Constitutional history, some of the issues relating to the nature and extent of Parliamentary power that I have adverted to here, were considered by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in a case that has come to be known as Delhi Laws Act, 1912, In re, case1.

The principal ground of the decision was expressed as follows:

"The essential legislative function of determining legislative policy and its formulation as a binding rule of conduct cannot be delegated."

The proposition that it is the sole prerogative of Parliament to formulate policy and make it a binding rule of conduct has remained unchanged over the decades. Parliament, being the supreme forum for deliberating over national issues and matters of public importance, is expected to set the tone and provide patterns of discussion. The innovation of the zero hour is peculiar to our legislature which permits raising of urgent matters and thereby keeping the people informed of developments taking place in the country.

The rules for Parliamentary procedure and practice in India compare favourably with those of the best legislatures in the world insofar as ensuring thoroughness and encouraging a full-fledged discussion of the issues involved is concerned. A Bill passes through several stages before it becomes a law and in theory, the various stages provide for the direct involvement of the people to some extent, and allow for extensive discussions on the issue at various specialised fora.

In what I have referred to as the golden era of Parliament, the system worked to perfection and the laws that were enacted could not be faulted for technical brilliance though their ideological premises were questioned. Apart from legislations, important policy issues were discussed at length on the floors of the two Houses of Parliament. These included the Five Year Plans and Economic Surveys, the official declarations on Industrial Policy, the Agricultural Policy, the Policy for Science and Technology, the Environmental Policy, the Transport Policy, the National Cultural Policy, etc. Jawaharlal Nehru was a model of what a leader of the House should be. He made it a point to attend the House during every question hour, listened attentively to the proceedings and did not hesitate to help out another Minister who was having difficulties in replying to questions.

These characteristic features of the era have unfortunately not been echoed in recent years. During the seventies, the focus of power at the National level shifted from Parliament to the Executive and the level of interaction in Parliament began to suffer. This downward trend has sadly, not been halted. This is true of State Legislatures as well.

While addressing a gathering of electors of Bristol in 1774, Burke had stated:

"[G]overnment and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?"

Sadly, these words are applicable to the present state of affairs in Parliament. There has been a perceptible decline in the performance of Parliament. One particularly disturbing phenomenon which has become quite a regular feature, is the holding up and paralysing of the entire proceedings of the Houses of Parliament by groups of Members who walk into the well of the House and disrupt normal activity; this inevitably leads to walk-outs and sometimes, many days pass without any business being transacted. Another worrying feature is the decline in the level of debate within the Houses in terms of both quality and content. India has had a history of producing great Parliamentarians who were known for their industry and research on issues brought before Parliament. In recent years, the number of Parliamentarians who conduct exhaustive research on the items on the agenda of Parliament with a view to contributing to an effective debate, has gone down to a handful. Consequently, the primary function of the Parliament, which is of enacting laws, has suffered. In any new legislation, each provision has the potential of having a vital effect on different aspects of social life and must, therefore, be analysed with circumspection. The tragic reality is that in most cases, when a legislation is being discussed, the bare minimum number of members required for the quorum of the House are present and Bills are pushed through, sometimes without being discussed at all. The total time devoted for discussing various legislative proposals by the country's principal law-making body is just a tiny fraction, the rest of the time being taken away by mundane matters. The Lok Sabha Debates of recent times, as documented in the official records, are but a pale shadow of the glorious levels of intellectually stimulating discussions that were a characteristic feature during the golden era of Parliament. This decline is reflected in State Legislatures also.

For the successful functioning of any democracy and representative self-rule, it is essential that the elected representatives of the people behave like true democrats. In recent times, we have noticed instances of one wing of the government avoiding to take a decision on a politically sensitive issue by passing it on to another wing, the latter not being expected to make that decision. This tendency has manifested itself at the Central as well as at the State levels. In cases where the sensitive issue is not pushed into the lap of another institution, we have noticed that it remains unattended and unresolved, making the people restive and forcing them to take it to the courts. We have also witnessed other manifestations of this lack of faith in democracy by the elected representatives themselves, when they stall or prevent effective discussion in Parliament. This behavioural aspect is a cause for concern as it is totally undemocratic. It has the effect of eroding people's faith in democracy and of weakening a strong democratic institution. This calls for soul-searching and correctional action without further loss of time.

Inevitably, the process of degeneration of Parliament's conduct has had its effect on the functioning of other democratic institutions. In the last decade, the Supreme Court of India has had to tackle, deliberate upon and pronounce judgments on some of the gravest politico-legal and socio-economic issues - the Mandal agitation and the Ayodhya crisis stand out prominently. The expanded role of the Court has not gone unnoticed and several journalists, legal experts, and academicians have filled several reams of newsprint in their attempt to analyse what has been called the "resurgence of judicial activism". There are those who allege that Parliament has abdicated its primary responsibility while others accuse the Supreme Court of transgressing into the spheres reserved for Parliament and the Executive. In fact, in several such cases brought to courts it is noticed that information is fed from within to secure orders through courts on matters which should have been decided by the Executive.

Many experts have expressed fears on whether the delicate balance of power envisaged by our Constitution is being upset by the shift in primacy of democratic institutions.

My view of the matter is at considerable variance with those expressed before. I believe - and in stating this view I do not mean to offend those who have exercised their minds considerably over this vital issue - that these opinions do not go to the heart of the matter, but stop at scratching the surface of the real issues. If one were to delve deeper into the core of these developments, one would realise that the events occurring on the national scene owe their origin to the humble citizen. The present situation is not really a case of one democratic institution trying to exert itself over another; rather, it is a case of citizens finding new ways of expressing their concern for events occurring at the national level, and exerting their involvement in the democratic process.

The Indian citizen is probably the most underrated entity in the world of Indian politics. Time and again, he has shaken off the label of the illiterate, naive simpleton that is sought to be tagged onto him, by making intelligent choices at the hustings. Many politicians, and a few governments too, have paid the price for believing in this notion by having to surrender power for this colossal folly. During the initial years, every citizen was quite satisfied with the policies of the government, for the successive governments did make honest attempts to address issues which touched his life. But, in recent years, as the incumbents of Parliament have become less representative of the will of the people, there has been a growing sense of frustration with the democratic process. The ordinary citizen has reached in either of two ways. One group - whose members constitute a large majority of our population - has chosen to look upon developments as an unavoidable feature of their lives and has adapted itself to these uncertainties while continuing to bemoan its destiny. The other group - which constitutes a very small minority - has chosen a more positive, innovative approach and has sought to achieve its objectives through the judiciary. This it does by approaching public-spirited organisations and bodies, who in turn, file public interest cases before the courts. This would have been wholly unnecessary if the issues were fully discussed in Parliament and people were kept informed of developments.

When such citizens raise grave constitutional issues and exercise their fundamental rights in invoking its jurisdiction, the Supreme Court is left with little choice but to act in deference to its constitutionally prescribed obligations. This is the reason why the Court has had to expand its jurisdiction by, at times, issuing novel directions to the Executive; something it would never have resorted to had the other two democratic institutions functioned in an effective manner.

However, by virtue of the fact that the present situation is a corrective measure, the phenomenon of judicial activism in its aggressive role will have to be a temporary one. Fears of judicial tyranny are really quite unfounded because Judges themselves are aware of the fact that the non-elected judiciary is neither meant nor equipped to act as a policy-making body. Judges, by virtue of their office, are supposed to live lives that do not allow them to continuously maintain links with the ground realities in society. That is why I have always advocated restraint and circumspection.

It is the province of the elected representatives of the people to communicate directly with the masses and orient policies to suitably address their immediate problems. Illiteracy, when compounded by lack of transparency resulting in lack of information to the people is bound to manifest itself in some other form. If our democratic institutions of the day do not perform their constitutionally assigned functions, the vigilant citizen cannot be expected to wait for the system to correct itself; he will and can be expected to take upon himself the task of enforcing the rights granted to him by the Constitution.

We must recognise this spirit and I do hope that this spirit of democracy, which has been imbibed by the Indian citizen, will see us through our present crisis. The constitutional functionaries have been forewarned that any default in the performance of their duties is unacceptable - one can only hope that these warnings will be heeded and effective steps will be taken to put Indian democracy back on the rails.

There are certain other factors which have also been responsible for weakening our democratic polity. The President of India, while addressing the Nation on this Republic Day (1996), felt constrained to refer to them and identified corruption, criminalisation, communalism and casteism as the primary evils that have afflicted our Nation. The need to examine and study the relation between politics and these evils has assumed urgency because of certain disturbing developments that have taken place in recent years.

In the last two decades or so, several scandals have surfaced on the political stage of our country, which have shaken the confidence of our people in our democratic set-up. The scandals revealing large-scale corruption have surfaced with such frequency that even the most apolitical citizen has been provoked to express outrage and disgust for the present-day politicians. One of the main causes for this malady is the generation of black money and the second is attributed to defective election rules. The fact of money changing hands on a large scale, without being accounted for, has also introduced the menace of criminalisation in politics. With money and muscle power, and lack of protection to the vulnerable voter, malpractices such as booth capturing and purchasing of votes have become an accepted and integral part of political life. The redeeming feature is that this has generated a heated debate among the intelligentsia of the country and many of them have seen the need to bring about reforms in our electoral system. One suggestion made is "State funding" of candidate's election costs, but one wonders how that will prevent extra spending towards wooing voters. So long as the menace of black money continues and consequently there is unaccounted cash-flow available, it may be difficult to eliminate the menace of corruption in politics. There is no easy solution and the task is a formidable one. I am, however, happy that certain disclosures have made it possible to provoke and stimulate a national debate on how to eliminate corruption and criminalisation. Not that such a debate did not take place in the past, but the backdrop for the debate was never so intense. Today we are witnessing the ugliest face of the Indian polity, and public opinion is so strong that it may be difficult to sweep the issue under the carpet as is usually done in such matters. Undoubtedly, the cynic would point out that the issue of electoral reforms has a history of resurfacing at intervals, particularly in election years, and thereafter, fading away into oblivion. This time, there is cause to believe that some step in the direction of curbing such a harmful practice, which has the potency to destroy democracy, will be taken without loss of time. If this opportunity to strengthen our democratic values is lost, posterity will not pardon us.

The image of the Indian politician today has nose-dived on account of allegations of involvement in financial scandals as also on account of alleged links with the underworld. There is an increasing perception amongst large sections of the people that the nexus between criminals and politicians has strengthened in recent times. Many of our leading political parties have members with tainted criminal records in their ranks; in some parts of the country, these are shamelessly flaunted with a degree of pride. Inevitably this raises doubts about the fairness of elections for, if people anticipate violent malpractices such as booth capturing and rigging during the time of the elections, they prefer to abstain from voting and opt for the security of their homes on the polling day. Such political apathy, caused on account of fear rather than indifference, has been a marked feature of electioneering in certain parts of our country. Any serious attempt at electoral reform must address itself to this distressing phenomenon which has the effect of undermining democracy.

All this has led to the perception that a vicious cycle has developed involving the politician, the bureaucrat and the police which needs to be broken. In the first two decades after independence, the bureaucracy functioned with considerable independence and could withstand political pressures. However, after the State delved into commercial fields and set up huge public sector undertakings flushed with money, plum posts increased in these corporations which attracted the attention of senior bureaucrats. The importance of certain positions in the administration also increased over a period of time. The politician sensed the opportunity of using these openings to influence the bureaucracy. Unfortunately, the bureaucrats could not resist these temptations. This was the beginning of a relationship which flourished with the passage of time. Since the funds at the disposal of the managers of the public sector undertakings were large, the already weakened bureaucrat caved in and that was how the bureaucracy lost its independence and began to weaken. This is not to say that there were no upright officers - there are any number of them, but their number has been shrinking. The police force could not remain far behind. By now the nexus between the politician and white collar criminals had started to grow, and with the police chipping in, the vicious circle was complete. All the three working in unison felt secure and had nothing to fear so long as the partnership flourished. The police, with the available machinery, could build up dossiers on the bureaucrats as well as the politicians to keep them in check. It is this vicious circle and those who operate within it, that has made a mockery of our democratic institutions. We will not be able to strengthen our democratic polity unless this vicious circle is broken and healthy conditions are restored. Who will take the initiative - the politician, the bureaucracy or the police or will it be someone else? I leave the guess to you.

The issues of communalism and regionalism have, on account of recent developments in the country, acquired renewed importance for the danger they pose to our national integrity and unity. While the world is becoming more integrated on the economic and technological levels, it is a pity that certain divisive forces are raising their ugly heads in our country and threatening peace. I do not think I would be exaggerating if I were to say that our attitude towards these divisive forces will decide whether or not we will be able to achieve the constitutional objective of maintaining the unity and integrity of our great nation. The Nineties have seen the emergence of a new economic policy which promises to bring in economic prosperity; it is ironic that the same period has seen the emergence of forces which pose a serious threat to the unity and integrity of our country. Only a few years ago, one felt that the spread of education and technology would inculcate in our citizenry a scientific temper which would help eliminate narrow and intolerant attitudes between peoples belonging to one denomination vis-...-vis those belonging to another denomination and wipe out superstitious beliefs which truncate development of an egalitarian culture. When one talks of a scientific temper, it means "total elimination of discrimination" in all its forms and in particular on grounds of caste, creed and communities. The framers of the Constitution were not unmindful of the fact that religion has and will undoubtedly continue to have considerable influence on a vast majority of our people, and we cannot wish it away. That is why the basic framework of our Constitution specifies and restricts the domain of religion in our democratic process, and while permitting freedom in the choice of religion, it forbids its misuse in politics.

Indian society has always been associated with the co-existence of different religions. India is one of the few countries in the world where people belonging to different faiths have co-existed. This is speaking evidence of the catholicity of the Indian mind. Plurality is a fact of life; it is a permanent feature which cannot be wished away, and so also it would be foolish to think that the liberal outlook that our people have, can be trifled with. Secular outlook has always been our culture; it has been engrafted into our Constitution and it is the constitutional duty of every Indian to protect that culture, whenever there is an attempt to trifle with it. The Apex Court of the country has ruled in Bommai case2 that secularism is the basic feature of our Constitution which cannot be permitted to be destroyed for narrow, power-grabbing purposes. Every such effort must be thwarted if we are keen to protect our democratic institutions and the unity and integrity of this great Nation.

India is a land where several major religions have taken birth and have enriched the cultural heritage of the country. It is a country which has received other faiths and has allowed peoples of different faiths to settle in whichever part of the country they may have chosen. India has been a country where saints and sufis have lived and explained the profundity of spiritual life without allowing it to interfere with politics. It is a nation where peoples of all faiths have lived together in harmony unless their unity has been disturbed by elements seeking narrow political gains. Let us join in a concerted effort to strengthen our national unity by positive and decisive action and defeat those forces which are out to bake their bread on the fire of disunity.

May I once again thank the organizers for giving me this opportunity to express some of my thoughts on the subject chosen for discussion. I thank you all for permitting me to encroach on your valuable time.

† Organized by Dr Zakir Husain Educational and Cultural Foundation on Thursday, February 15, 1996 at Speaker's Hall, Constitution Club, Rafi Marg, New Delhi Return to Text

  1. 1951 SCR 747 : AIR 1951 SC 332 Return to Text
  2. S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, (1994) 3 SCC 1 Return to Text
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