Subverting Democracy
by P M Ravindran on 28 Jun 2019 8 Comments

Our parliamentary form of democracy is copied from the British parliamentary system which is also known as the Mother of Parliaments. The only visible difference is that a monarch is the Head the State and Government there, whereas we have an indirectly elected President. I said the only visible difference. But the devil, as they say, is in the detail. And here are some of those details.


Periodicity of Election: UK: once in 5 years. India: once in 5 years.


Number of times anybody can contest: UK: 2. India: no limit.


Antecedents of candidates: UK: no pending criminal cases. India: No problem with trials and conviction below 2 years.


Place of residence: UK: resident of the constituency where contesting. India: not necessarily resident of the constituency; even multiple constituencies allowed.


Attendance: UK: 90 per cent attendance in Parliament which convenes 230 days in a year. India: no limits prescribed. Some celebrity film stars and cricketers have not attended even 10 per cent of the Parliament sessions.


Attending to public grievances: UK: within 30 days through token system. India: forget it.


Expenses: UK: details published weekly. India: forget it. Even projects like bus shelters, completed under the MPLADS, display only the name of the MP prominently. The cost is missing in all cases.


Income tax: UK: liable to pay. India: exempted.


You can see how our law makers have helped themselves not only irrationally but lavishly (all the while crying hoarse about India being a poor country).


One can understand ministers being considered permanent employees and paid salaries. But why should MPs be paid salaries (Rs one lakh/month) instead of only allowances to cover the cost of attending parliament sessions plus some honorarium? And they are also paid Rs 2000/- per day for attending Parliament when in session. Incidentally, what are the MPs doing with their constituency allowance Rs 70,000/-? This is in addition to Office Expenses Allowance of Rs 20,000/- for stationary and Rs 40,000/- for personal staff, as amended in 2018.


How many times has any MP convened meetings in his constituency and discussed legislative matters with the electorate, which one should consider as the most important function of an MP, even more than attending parliament sessions? MPs are entitled to lifelong pension of Rs 25,000/- even if they just serve for one day plus an additional Rs 2000/- for every additional year or part thereof after the first 5 years. And free rail travel too. As per information obtained under the RTI Act an amount of Rs 2645 crore was paid by the Lok Sabha Secretariat to clear the bills of ex-MPs for the quarter Jan-Mar 2013. There were 3857 pensioner/family pensioners up to the month of Jan 2013.


In my previous article, Understanding Democracy, June 6, 2019, I mentioned how India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had reduced the office of the President, the constitutional Head of the State and Executive, to a mere rubber stamp. His tiff with Dr Rajendra Prasad had started even before India had become a Constitutional Republic. It began with Rajen Babu, then President of the Constituent Assembly, espousing a Uniform Civil Code against Nehru’s Hindu Code Bill.


Adding fuel to the fire, Nehru also insisted that minorities should be given additional safeguards against the Hindu majority. Sardar Patel doused the fires then. But after the first general elections when Nehru received a considerable mandate from the electorate, he managed to push through the Bill in bits and pieces: the Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act, Hindu Minority Act and Guardianship Act, and Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act.


Seven decades later, can any sane individual doubt whether what was given to the minorities were just safe guards or unreasonable privileges?

[See ‘The blunder of the Pandit’, Claude Arpi, June 16, 2004]


In its minimal sense, Government means the Executive. Whether headed de jure by the President or de facto by the Prime Minister, the delivery of government services is through the bureaucracy. Unfortunately in India, the ground situation is: think government services, think red tape, think corruption. Even Google’s Bad Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan of Kerala, has been reported repeatedly reminding his bureaucrats that each file handled by them affects the life of at least one citizen. But has it helped? NO.


We are all witnesses to politicians and bureaucrats blaming each other for the failure of government administration. And factually both are true.


Writing in The Illustrated Weekly of India (‘Fragile Chimera’, 6-12/9/1987), K.R. Narayanan, later President of India, wrote: Few men are so disinterested as to prefer to live in discomfort under a government which they hold to be right rather than in comfort under one which they hold to be wrong. In politics and administration it is not enough to be right. It is imperative that the goods are delivered to the people, there is law and order and a general sense of comfort and above all a common sense of unity in the country and society.


In 1993, N.N. Vohra, Union Home Secretary, chaired a committee ‘to take stock of all available information about the activities of crime Syndicates/Mafia organisations which had developed links with and were being protected by Government functionaries and political personalities.’ A few excerpts from the report would be of interest.


“CBI has reported that all over India crime syndicates have become a law unto themselves. The nexus between the criminal gangs, police, bureaucracy and politicians has come out clearly in various parts of the country. The existing criminal justice system, which was essentially designed to deal with the individual offences/crimes, is unable to deal with the activities of the Mafia; the provisions of law in regard economic offences are weak; there are insurmountable legal difficulties in attaching/confiscation of the property acquired through Mafia activities”.


The Director, Intelligence Bureau, has reported that “sinister linkage between the underworld, politicians and the bureaucracy, have been evident with disturbing regularity”. The Secretary (Revenue) stated, “The field officers of the various agencies of the Revenue Department are often pressurized by senior government functionaries/political leaders, apparently at the behest of crime Syndicates/Mafia elements”.


He further highlighted: “The utter inadequacy of the criminal justice system; cases are not heard timely; functioning of the Government lawyers is grossly inadequate; all this results in a low percentage of convictions and mild punishments. Unless the criminal justice system is geared up, the work of the enforcement agencies cannot be effective”.


Recently, 12 senior officers were compulsorily retired by Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman, shortly after taking office. The allegations against them are very serious but none of them have been punished. What has been undertaken is only an administrative action in the manner of removing dead wood. Yet the provisions for such actions have existed in the statute books for ages. Sections 217, 218 and 219 of the Indian Penal Code also provide for punishing public servants who prepare wrong/corrupt reports, with imprisonment up to 7 years and fine. If only Sec 219 IPC was invoked, almost all Information Commissioners would spend the rest of their lives behind bars.


Sec 219: Public servant in judicial proceeding corruptly making report, etc contrary to law: whoever being a public servant, corruptly or maliciously makes or pronounces in any stage of a judicial proceeding, any report, or order verdict, or decision which he knows to be contrary to law shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extent to seven years or with fine or with both.


In the army, before troops are sent to battle, they are trained in ambushes and skirmishes to build up their killer instincts and boost their morale. Compulsorily retiring a few bureaucrats of the IRS is just one ambush. The battle will unfold when those from the IAS and IPS are subjected to such treatment.


The master subversion of democracy has been inflicted by the Constitution itself, especially Articles 129 and 215 which provide for the apex court and high courts to punish for contempt. One can understand a contempt of court charge in cases where a verdict of a court is not complied with by the concerned parties. Interestingly, this is only civil contempt. Criminal contempt is as obtuse as ‘the publication (whether by word, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which- i) Scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or…’. Worse, in contempt of court cases, the prosecution, jury, judge and executioner are all rolled into one person: the judge himself.


Some years ago, the editor of a regional daily, Mathrubhumi, went to attend a hearing in the High Court of Kerala from his hospital bed, in an ambulance. He was promptly hauled up for contempt of court. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer then wrote to the judge to convey his unease. He, too, was promptly hauled up for contempt. He extricated himself by tendering an apology.


At the same time, a serving Chief Justice of India said that 20 per cent judges were corrupt. Though it was never disclosed how he came to that figure or what he had done to curb corruption in the judiciary, what is relevant is that no contempt proceedings were initiated against him.


Does anybody remember Karnan? A high court judge who started off as a whistle blower, reporting corruption in his high court to his superiors? On not finding any action being taken, he went public with his allegations. By this time it also included charges under the Prevention of Atrocities (SC-ST) Act where he claimed to be a victim. The ‘conflict’ blew up to the level of a street brawl and he was imprisoned for six months for contempt of court.


Even before Karnan was out from jail, we saw a few of those who were on the Bench that convicted him, collectively questioning the integrity of the then Chief Justice of India in such routine matters as allotting cases to various Benches, by imputing motives to him. No case of contempt again. What was especially disturbing was the fact that the four judges, led by Jasti Chelameswar, next in seniority to the CJI, wanted people to believe them without any proof being offered.


Then came the Sabarimala verdict by the bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra, a few hours before he demitted office. It is a blatant subversion of Article 26 of the Constitution.

[See: A question of judicial equality at       

Courting Controversies at      

Our constitutional fault lines at]


To conclude, I borrow from Constantin Demiris in Sydney Sheldon’s The other side of Midnight and state that a thousand times more crimes have been committed in the name of Justice than in the name of hate or anything else.

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