“However good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. However, bad a Constitution may be, if those implementing it are good, it will prove to be good.” – B.R. Ambedkar
One of my pet peeves in social and political discussion is when someone tells me that democracies are inherently good. I have many questions to raise. But, for now, let’s focus one primary criticism. As you may have guessed from the quote above, what makes a democracy or any form of government good depends on the leaders, their intentions, and how they go about things. The parliament is a vital place where this manifests.
Indian democracy is said to be on a declining slope. It’s not that the constitution is being rapidly amended to the point where it is becoming an autocracy, even though that may be a long-term fear amidst rising calls for things such as removing the word secular and socialist from the constitution’s preamble. Rather, the constitution is being largely ignored and the leaders are distancing from democratic values. As a result, lawmaking becomes highly questionable.
Why else do you think the Indian people have been more agitated than before with laws under the current central government? This isn’t just a trend within India, but several democracies around the world are deteriorating and year by year. Subsequently, the public’s protests are rising. The increasing protest’s in the nation is not because of propaganda or other excuses that pro-government people often make, but it is a reflection of failed lawmaking and governance. The ability to raise questions against these failures need to be guarded to preserve democracy.
Ultimately, we ask the questions, is Indian democracy representative of the people anymore, as democracies are meant to be? Have our elected and state officials been truly democratic in their work? The short answer, to a good extent, is no. In this post, I elucidate upon this by shedding light on important actions that should be reaffirmed to build back the strength of Indian democracy.
Consulting the Public and Stakeholders
When you make a lot of effort into drafting bills, give hours of speeches and post endless amounts of tweets via every official and celebrity willing to support you, but the outcome is large crowds of people marching against it, as a responsible elected official, crying about the effort and your so-called intentions does not cut it. Rather, we need to take accountability and look back at why that happened. In any case, it is the job of a government to make sure things are flowing well. We can attribute many responsibilities to the citizens as well, but even then, whose job is it to influence the citizens to follow them?
My prime reference here is to the farmer’s bills. The farmer’s fiasco in India in the last year has been among the biggest showdowns we have seen. I covered the basics of the issue in my post on the Farmer’s Protest last year, but I could not update it with new events that transpired such as an official’s son running farmer’s over with a car and walking away freely, among other things. Anyways, this post is not about whether the farmer’s bills were good or bad (you can read more about that debate here), but the constitutional and democratic concerns that government lawmaking is putting forward.
The Government Needs to Consult Stakeholders
The primary concern was an immense lack of consultation with key stakeholders. The average farmer in India has a landholding does not allow him to reap the wonders neoliberal economic facades present. Yet, the government thought the bills would be a splendid idea for the agricultural community. While I cannot deny that many changes were needed, the changes in question and the way they were put forward were disastrous. Had the government consulted farmer communities, and conducted and referred to sound academic research, their laws would have been different, and the nation could have taken a different trajectory.
“Consultations could have saved Modi government from embarrassment.” – Jagdeep S. Chhokar, co-founder of the Association for Democratic Rights
Government apologists constantly find reasons to defend the government and claim that it was democratic, that it consulted some states, some people. But even if those actions were with good-will, they do not pass the test of democratic standards under the required pre-legislative consultation process. Plus, the government kept refusing the farmers’ demands during their meets and disabled Twitter accounts among other things and then blamed the people for “not being ready.”
Parliamentary Discussions and Processes
The Parliament Needs to Engage in Discussions
Apart from the lack of consultation before making the laws, it is important to note that the government had hastily passed these laws in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. This violates another step of the democratic process. The parliament was in an unruly order and the chair did not extend debate. Furthermore, the chair resorted to a voice vote, which led to more chaos and dubbing of the entire process as more unconstitutional and/or undemocratic.
The parliament did not hold any discussions during the repeal of the farm bills either, making the same mistake they were being criticized for since the beginning. One might think that since the repeal was a primary demand, discussion would not help as the outcome would not change. However, it would have been important and beneficial to establish the grounds of the repeal as record for the future.
The Issue of Bypassing Consultation and Discussion Process Repeatedly
The government bypassed the consultation and discussion process with other bills, too, such as the cryptocurrency regulation bill, and over 15 others in 2021 alone.
Apart from the lack of consultation and parliamentary discussions, the BJP government has also displayed a trend of referring significantly lesser number of bills to parliamentary committees (special committees created to discuss bills in great detail with representation of each party) compared to previous governments. Even when it comes to this, pro-government nationalists have a lot to explain regarding how that is the fault of other parties.
Discussing that requires substantial conceptual clarity that cannot be covered in this article. So, even if we pretend that this point is void, the bypassing of other processes still deems the bill passing processes as undemocratic.
Lack of Policy Background and Research
In most cases, bills are meant to solve issues. Good solutions need to properly understand all facets of an issue. However, the government has also failed in showing that they have adequate knowledge of the issue at hand. In some cases, the government’s incoherence has even manifested in extreme forms such as elected officials describing the purpose and working of a passed bill in different and contradictory ways (Amit Shah and Modi on the Citizenship Amendment Act).
Apart from consultations, lawmakers also need to identify and study an issue in detail to make sensible laws around them. This becomes even more important for sensitive cases such as in the national security domain. A troublesome act where this issue is seen is the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. These rules lacked background research, and hence were easily dubbed anti-democratic for their non-consultative nature and also containing clauses that infringed upon people’s privacy, ignored fundamental rights, and even aggravated several issues. Furthermore, it also failed to address important issues in the cybersecurity domain such as increasing misinformation created by political parties, data protection, data breeches (the rules make data breeches easier), and others.
For a bill of that nature, these issues not only raise concerns about the process in which laws are passed but also about the intentions with which they were created. While it is important that we work on addressing the issues and vote for parties that won’t lead the country into stagnation, it is also important that we don’t vote for parties that compromise democratic principles in the name of “action.” No action is better than such action; the democratic sanctity of the constitution must be protected.
The public is ready for laws and demands change. But if the govt. implements change improperly and undemocratically, it falls on them to fix those issues, too, instead of blaming the public for apparent “hypocrisy,” “bias,” or “unreadiness.” This Republic Day, don’t forget to speak louder when demanding politicians to follow democratic processes more strictly. Aspiring for power through undemocratic routes may work in some way in the short run, but evil is bound to collapse. Speak up, be vocal, call for accountability and make India as democratic as the constitution claims it is!