A quarter century ago, H.N. Mukherjee, one of India's ablest parliamentarians, took umbrage at A.F. Pollard's assessment that "if the Hindu and the Hottentot, the Semitic and the Negroid communities cannot work parliamentary institutions, it is on account of their political incapacity". Mukherjee observed that the way ahead lay, not in the abolition of representative institutions and electoral principles, but in the conversion of these institutions "from talking shops into working bodies".1
Pollard was not alone in making an observation that was so obviously racist. Walter Bagehot, whose century-old treatise on the English Constitution remains a basic text, was unable to curb the temptation. Speaking in another context and arguing rather forcefully for free governments, Bagehot noted that "An imposed government, a government like that of the English in India, may very possibly be better; It may represent the views of a higher race than the governed race; but it is not therefore a free government".2
Pollard and Bagehot belonged to an age when Britannia ruled the waves and the British Empire was at its hegemonistic best. They were speaking for their times and their mores. If one is inclined to put a more charitable construct on such reflections, one could say that these scholars were taken in by the force of events that were contemporaneous to them and by a history that was fashioned, written and commented upon by them.
By the same token, the end of the Raj and the dawn of the post-colonial era has also influenced western scholarship. This scholarship is more self conscious about its epistemological grounds and hence less dramatic in projecting the once colonised world in terms of the single and overriding assumption of the western world about its political, cultural, economic and racial superiority.
The emergence of scores of independent and democratic nations in Asia and Africa during this period and their on going struggles to maintain the democratic character of their polities is material evidence which militates against the blinkered representations of the colonised world. It may also be worthwhile to mention that an uncritical endorsement of Pollard et al is likely to become an impediment to authenticity and soundness.
Many scholars who have studied the Indian Constitution, the Indian State and representative institutions in the post-independence era reflect this new trend. Among them are W.H. Morris-Jones and Granville Austin — both of whom have seen Indian democracy at work in its infancy. Their observations are free of racial prejudice and condescension. What is visible instead is a far more rational tone and a practical approach to the problems of governability in the subcontinent.
The works of Morris-Jones and Granville Austin are based on sound empirical foundations and a wealth of information that even today they remain basic texts and invaluable aids for all those who seek to understand how India's Constitution came to be written and how this Constitution and the Indian Parliament worked in the initial years after independence.3
Viewed from the perspective of the adequacy of alien institutions and political forms, the theory of "political incapacity", however, is certainly worthy of examination.
Two score years and more have passed since the Indian Constitution came into being. But there have been nagging doubts about its durability and of the institutions that have sprung from it. Questions like " Will democracy survive in India ?" or "Will a dictatorship not be better, because it can make things work ?" areoften asked by Indians themselves in moments of frustration and despair. A part of this frustration arises out of India's social and political diversity, and on a more pragmatic level, its runaway population growth and the consequential dissipation of its plan efforts. For a long time after independence therefore, the impulse for self-flagellation has become something of a national psychic reflex.
This rather depressing mood can also be attributed to what Atul Kohli characterises as India's "crisis of governability"4 and to the non-development of institutions. While talking about how Indian leaders, in their anxiety to promote personal power, have weakened Institutions, Kohli concludes that "Powerful leaders in India often have proved to be enemies of institutions such as political parties. Because institutions tend to constrain personal power, those who attain positions of power because of personalistic traits usually show little interest in institutional development or, worse, actively seek to weaken existing institutions."5 It must, however, be noted that dramatic shifts in voters' preferences since 1967 both in elections to Parliament and State Assemblies have subjected political leaders to shock therapy at regular intervals and reminded them of a few democratic home truths. These shifts have also helped in building a corpus of conventions and precedents within legislative chambers that provide a base for the healthy development of these institutions. However, there is little doubt that representative institutions like Parliament need to free themselves both from disinterested leadership and the ruling parties in order to acquire a modicum of independence. Introduction of a new work culture within Parliament may be a way out.
It must be noted that the contribution of indigenous sceptics has been crucial in creating low national morale. From their perspective India after independence adopted a Constitution that was "un-Indian" which "neither incorporated nor represented the genius or the ancient polity of India".6 The adherents of this view have also argued that India ought to be governed by Indian institutions. But they did not indicate what these institutions are and how they
|Are They Qualified?
It is after all, a rare and remarkable thing that a body of miscellaneous amateurs will go on, from session after session, hearing dull men put arguments before them at great length in favour of purposes in which they believe. More, that we should raise to one of the most supreme dignities in the kingdom that Speaker whose business it is to see that the right of these dull men to be heard is protected by perhaps the most elaborate procedure human nature has so far devised.
||— Harold J Laski1
Laski's comment on the composition of the British House of Commons would, in all probability, hold good for any one of the scores of Parliaments that function within the democratic world. India is no exception and its House of the People — the Lok Sabha — has its share of "miscellaneous amateurs" and "dull men". Indeed it can be argued that the Lok Sabha is more of a pot pourri than its British counterpart. This is so because Indian society is far more heterogeneous and underdeveloped. But much to the bafflement of western scholars, democratic roots run deep within its vast semi-arid stretches, notwithstanding its high rate of illiteracy, economic backwardness and an obvious overdose of social tensions.
Elections, therefore, are held periodically and political parties find themselves in and out of peoples' favour.
There is ample evidence to suggest that India's Constitution makers were exercised over the prospect of the Lok Sabha being tenanted by "miscellaneous amateurs" and the impact that this would have on the overall performance of Parliament. The fear that the democratic process would pack Parliament with laymen to the complete exclusion of specialists in various fields was first voiced in the Constituent Assembly.*
K.T. Shah, gave expression to his fears on this score when he moved an amendment to Article 67 which sought to arm Parliament with the power to constitute consultative councils of representatives drawn from agriculture, industry, commerce, mining, forestry, engineering, public utilities, social services and economics.2
These councils were not only to advice Parliament and the Council of Ministers on matters of policy but also prepare or scrutinise proposals for legislation. Shah told the assembly that his amendment was an innovation though something similar was to be found in the defunct Weimar Constitution of Germanv, but even that precedent had been radically modified.
Shah's argument in favour of setting up such councils was that legislation was becoming extremely complex, varied and numerous and an average MP would find it extremely difficult to understand the special provisions couched in technical language. "It would, therefore, not (be) in the interest of proper legislation that we should have a body of laymen ... without any advise or guidance from recognised experts."3
However despite Shah's impassioned plea, his amendment was turned down by the Constituent Assembly. B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of India's Constitution rejected the amendment and said no proposal was brought forth by the Government of India without taking "sufficient steps" to consult organised opinion dealing with that particular matter.
There was another reason for the rejection. Ambedkar told the Assembly that it was proposed to bring in an amendment at a later stage which would permit the President to nominate three persons to either the Council of States or the House of the People on a temporary basis. These nominees would be experts on a particular measure introduced in Parliament and would enjoy membership of the House in question until the legislation on which their counsel was sought, was disposed off.4
The issue figured in the Constituent Assembly again when B.R. Ambedkar, as promised moved for inclusion of a new Article 67A which provided for the appointment of three experts to each of the two Houses of Parliament, whenever the need arose.5
This article was not discussed on the day Ambedkar moved it in the Constituent Assembly because of an objection that the new Article had not been circulated to members in advance. The debate was therefore postponed.
It came up briefly again five days later when Ambedkar sought permission of the Assembly to withdraw the proposed Article on experts.6 The Assembly granted him leave to withdraw the Article but there is nothing in the debates to indicate what transpired behind the scenes. There is, however, some indication that this pro- -posal was dropped after the Assembly decided that the President of the Republic be given the power to nominate 12 persons to the Rajya Sabha. This, it was felt, would adequately meet the demand for "experts" within Parliament. Article 80(3) of the Constitution provides for such nominations.*
Looking back, it is clear that the Constituent Assembly failed in its attempt to provide some expertise and professional back-up to Parliament. This is so because of the following reasons: □ Nominations to the Upper House have become extremely politicised and this facility is being increasingly used by the government of the day to put "committed" experts into Parliament — the "commitment" being not to the discipline to which the member belongs but to the party in power which gifts him with a six-year stint in Parliament. The ruling party draws up the list of sympathisers who should be accommodated in the Rajya Sabha and then rationalises this decision by conferring "expertise" of one kind or the other on the nominees. But of late even this fig leaf is given a go-by because political parties have discovered that the term "social service" in Article 80(3) of the Constitution in indeed a holdall expression.
A good example of the government's cynical contempt for norms is the nomination made to the Rajya Sabha in mid 1993 of Mahendra Prasad alias "King" Mahendra of Bihar. India Today succinctly summed up the disgust that followed the announcement when it described this new addition to the House of Elders as "a feudal overlord, notorious for his private armies and high-handedness" and called this the most glaring blot "in a badly stained record book".7
The only exception in recent years has been the first lot of nominations by the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1986 when an eminent literrateur, R.K. Narayan, the sitar maestro, Ravi Shankar and the well known painter, M.F. Hussain were nominated to the Rajya Sabha.
Even when the best men and women from the fields of literature, science, art and social service are chosen, they are ill equipped to shoulder the responsibilities envisaged for them by Ambedkar and other members of the Constituent Assembly who went on the assumption that they would be qualified to comment on and improve upon legislation that is placed before the House.
This is indeed a poor substitute for a well-oiled committee system in Parliament that draws on the expertise of persons in different fields while deliberating on issues and tendering opinion on proposed legislation in varied and complex fields. Many parliaments have discerned this long ago and have initiated reform of Parliament procedures in order to transform this melange from being a confused mass to a coherent whole.
At the centre of this reform process is the decision to work through committees.
The British Parliament switched over to a system of depart-mentally-related committees over a decade ago. India has followed suit in 1993.
The point to note however is that even before the Constitution came into being the country's political leaders had the foresight to visualise the need for a formal or informal arrangement that would provide legislative bodies the counsel of specialists in different fields.
It must be noted that if such interaction is to be beneficial to the legislative process the legislature must fulfill a basic irunima in regard to the educational and professional background of its members. It is therefore necessary to take a look at the academic and professional attainments of Members of Parliament from the First to the Tenth Lok Sabha.
EDUCATIONAL AND PRQFESSIONAL BACKGROUND OF MPS
The one job for which you need no training or qualification whatsoever is the job of legislating for and governing the largest democracy on earth. You need years of training to attend to a boiler or to mind a machine, to supervise a shop floor or to build a bridge, to argue a case in a law court or to operate upon a human body. But to steer the lives and destinies of millions of your fellowmen, you are not required to have any education or equipment at all !
||— N.A. Palkhivala8
To say that a legislative body directly elected by the people has a "miscellaneous" character is to state the obvious. But if such a body is also obtuse and slow of understanding, as the Laskian definition would imply, the synergic effect could well be disastrous.
Available information on the academic qualifications of mem-ment during their constituency tours, but many others adopted novel methods of communication.
Ram Naik presents a quarterly report to his electors in Bombay and has of late decided to submit a video report as well.12 Bhavna Chikhalia says she circulates a booklet among her voters detailing her work in Parliament.13 V. Shobhanadreeswara Rao published Prajala Edurutennulu, Palakula Teerutennulu — a 350 page anthology of his speeches in Parliament and had it circulated within his constituency before the elections in 1989. But Ratilal Varma has, by far, the most effective arrangement. He brings out Aapnu Gujarat, a weekly newspaper, edited by his wife. He says he prints 3000 copies every week and mails it to his constituents. Among those who are permanently on his mailing list are principals of primary schools and gram pradhans of all the villages in his constituency. He thus ensures that at least two copies of his newspaper arrive in every village and fall into the hands of possibly two of the best communicators in the village. The newspaper carries detailed reports of his work in Parliament, the letters written by him to district, state and central authorities about issues pertaining to his constituency and his state, and information about his public engagements. There are also reports about grants sanctioned by various authorities for public works and government programmes in his constituency.
Varma says only five per cent of his newspaper readers pay subscription and he feels embarrassed to seek advertisements. As a result a large part of the production costs is paid for by Varma himself from out of his funds.14
Judging by the responses of MPs to questions relating to constituency pressures, Indian MPs have to pass the twin tests of visibility and accessibility if they plan to venture into the election arena again. A demand that is constantly made on MPs throughout their sprawling constituencies is that they "show their face". Those who do so can hope to face a more lenient electorate even if they have "failed to bring in the goodies from the Union and state coffers for their constituencies.
Some MPs spoke of this most elementary demand that their electors make on them :
Ratilal Varma: People want me in the constituency all the time. There are 750 villages and every village expects me to "show my face". They expect nothing else. Only the educated sections of the electorate want me to be in Parliament.15
Peter Marbaniang: I have 4600 villages in my constituency. Thus far, I have visited 2300 of them. The other villages
too expect me to "show my face".16
Arjun Sethi: You may not do anything but you must have contact with the people, otherwise they will not forgive you.17
Santosh Kumar Gangwar: They do not ask us what work we have done. They only want us to be accessible and cordial
in our relations.18
A DISCERNIBLE SHIFT TOWARDS CONSTITUENCY WORK
The job could only be done successfully by a peculiarly thick-skinned egomaniac workaholic who had a populist's rapport with people but an intellectual's understanding of problems and issues.
||— Austin Mitchell19
Caught in the trap that his constituents have set for him, an MP does that which suits his political prospects best. He wilfully ignores his parliamentary tasks, conveniently unburdening himself of the responsibilities that go with the role of a law-maker, because this is easily the most difficult of the roles that he is called upon to play.
In course of time an MP begins to feel that there is something to be said for this arrangement as well. Isn't it easier for him to sign a dozen certificates and address a few letters to various authorities in his constituency than burn the midnight oil and pore over tomes to prepare for an intervention on an important piece of legislation.
Pleasing constituents can indeed be backbreaking and there are no limits to what MPs can do to nurse their constituencies. Many MPs set a scorching pace for themselves when in their constituencies and attend twenty or more social functions each day. The business of commiserating with a voter when there is a bereavement in his family, for example, is seen to be absolutely crucial. When an MP is on tour in his constituency, he must find time to attend weddings. Electors do not take kindly to MPs who ignore their invitations despite being present in the constituency. So, MPs generally get onto the "wedding circuit". This not only upsets their itinerary but hurts their purse as well.
Santosh Kumar Gangwar says on an average he attends six weddings a day when on constituency tour. In addition, he says he spends Rs 150/- a week in sending greetings to those whose weddings he was unable to attend and in acknowledging the greetings he receives from his constituents.20
The lengths to which one can go to keep the constituency happy can sometimes be bizarre. Take the case of Girdhari Lai Bhargava, elected to the Lok Sabha from Jaipur constituency in Rajasthan. Bhargava says he offers an extraordinary service to his constituents. He collects the ashes of the dead in his constituency and immerses them in the holy Ganges at Hardwar in Uttar Pradesh. He makes regular visits to Hardwar for the purpose. He has notified two crematoria in the city where the people can leave the ashes of the dead in small clay pots. At regular intervals the MP collects them and sets off on his pilgrimage to the banks of the Ganges. But the service does not end here. Once the job is done, Bhargava returns to Jaipur and informs his constituents through local newspapers that he is back and the bereaved families can see him to collect their portion of the holy water that he has brought back with him.21
Among the many services that MPs offer, this is undoubtedly the most unusual. Bhargava nurses not just the living but the dead as well!
Other stories abound but nothing as extraordinary as this one. Many MPs for example speak of the circumstances that force them to double as family and marriage counsellors. Bandaru Dattatraya, who represents Secunderabad constituency in Andhra Pradesh says he sets apart at least two hours each evening to help his constituents sort out matrimonial and family disputes.22
Though MPs responded with clarity to most of the questions in the schedule, they seemed less sure about themselves when asked to to define the role of an MP. There were however a few responses which were neither vague nor ambiguous.
Hari Kishore Singh: An MP is an opinion builder, a legislator, a lobbyist of some kind — good or bad, paid or honorary, a catalyst
for development, a link between the government and the people and a link between the State Government and the Central Government.23
K.P. Unnikrishnan: Active politicians would like to be MLAs and ministers in their states. They think they will be lost if they come to Parliament. A Member of Parliament is neither fish nor fowl ,24
Bhuwan Chandra Khanduri: For an MP, national interest must come first. This should override all other interests including party interests and constituency interests.25
Nurul Islam: I had an ambition to serve my people but I must confess that I have failed. An MP cannot get anything done. In the State, MPs are nobodys. State governments take care of MLAs. As a result MPs are working for themselves. They sell telephone and gas connections.26
Satyanarayan Jatiya: When it comes to transmission of ideas from Delhi to the villages, there is a voltage drop. As a result, government programmes lose their potency by the time they reach the other end. Therefore an MP has to be the medium between the government and the people.27
Many MPs who are not professional politicians but have abandoned other careers to come into politics tend to define their roles in much broader terms — that which extend beyond the confines of Parliament.
For Rita Verma, who taught history at the Ranchi University..