The Hindu-Editorial: Security and governance – II

The fact that a crisis of governance exists in India and that the state has withered away in parts of its territory is too obvious to be an arguable proposition. Instances of the lack of governance and misgovernance are too many to mention. They are manifested by pervasive nepotism and corruption, misappropriation of state funds, absence of transparency and accountability in public administration, lack of respect for the rule of law or ethical behaviour in public life, and the reluctance to delegate administrative or financial powers to grassroots organisations. The continuing feudal nature of Indian society lies at the heart of this phenomenon; only the trappings of modernisation and progress have occurred, but core values and attitudes remain firmly embedded in past traditions. The result is a propensity of the state to rule, but not to govern, which signifies inhumane governance. This situation will deteriorate when burgeoning globalisation ensures that market geopolitics penetrates the country in collaboration with its rentier classes; the worship of profit can only worsen human security and humane governance.

There are two ways in which this deepening crisis of governance in India would exacerbate its security problematique. First, by accentuating the immobility of the state in tackling its increasingly difficult challenges to national security, especially human security, in a region which is getting slowly but steadily nuclearised. Instead, an easy propensity obtains in the Indian state to strengthen the forces of repression -police, paramilitary and armed forces, intelligence services – rather than wrestle with the basic questions involved in providing human security and humane governance that require improving the quality and responsiveness of the administration.

Second, criminalisation of politics and politicisation of crime have become synonymous in India. The entry of criminal elements into the legislative chambers and Central and State cabinets should be a cause for deep concern. It would explain the continuing deterioration of law and order in the country – a basic function of the state – and the inability of the state to arrest and prosecute criminals with political connections or politicians with criminal antecedents. The state is part of the problem, not the solution any more, to ensure human security.

The Vohra Committee Report had collated the views of several officials in the Ministries concerned and intelligence agencies on these issues. It cites them to inform that “there has been a rapid spread and growth of criminal gangs, armed ‘senas’ (armies), drug mafias, smuggling gangs, drug peddlers and economic lobbies in the country which have, over the years, developed an extensive network of contacts with the bureaucrats/ Government functionaries at the local levels, politicians, media persons and strategically located individuals in the non-state sector. DIB (Director, Intelligence Bureau) has stated that the network of the Mafia is virtually running a parallel government, pushing the state apparatus into irrelevance”. The Report concludes that, “The various crime syndicates/Mafia organisations have developed significant muscle and money power and established linkages with governmental functionaries, political leaders and others to be able to operate with impunity”.

It is thus clear that the institutions concerned with the inner processes of governance have been infiltrated, which must affect national security. The likelihood of foreign nationals influencing the governance processes from without cannot be ignored since transnational crime is growing rapidly. The question now becomes germane: what can be done to ensure that security and governance are synchronised to ensure the common weal. A counsel of despair suggests that in a democracy the people ensure that they get the Government they want; if they elect criminals to the legislatures this means they find such persons congenial.

Quite recently, the newly-appointed Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh was asked how he could possibly improve the law and order situation in the state with 22 Ministers in his Cabinet possessing criminal antecedents. His nonchalant reply was, “I don’t bother about the Ministers’ past. After joining the Government, they are not indulging in crimes and are ready to help suppress criminal activities”. He added in reply to another question, “The MLAs who are described as criminals have been elected by the people.

They are no longer criminals”. A few days later a MLA belonging to the ruling party was killed. The situation in Bihar is no better. What happens in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has immense consequences for India, both due to their weight in the national polity and their influence over national politics; this has not decreased significantly after the excision of Uttarakhand and Jharkhand. But, it can no longer be argued that what happens in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is unique. According to statistics collected by the Election Commission at least 40 MPs and 700 MLAs faced criminal charges that included murder, dacoity, rape, theft and extortion. And the weight of India in the regional polity ensures that such occurrences spread into its neighbours and an action- reaction modality ensues; indeed the situation in some parts of South Asia closely resembles what obtains in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

A ray of hope has emerged from a recent judgment of the Delhi High Court directing the Election Commission to inform voters about the criminal record of candidates seeking election to Parliament or State legislatures, and specifically whether they stand accused of any offence punishable with imprisonment. The Court also desired that any fact “giving insight into a candidate’s competence, capacity and suitability for acting as parliamentarian or legislator”, besides their educational qualifications, should be made available. These are desperate measures to deal with the increasing criminalisation of politics. Underlying the Court’s judgment is the hope that voters should be enabled to make a more informed choice. Thus judicial activism seeks to fill the void created by the political executive abdicating its responsibilities to effect electoral reforms, curb money and muscle, and stop criminals from entering the governance processes.

Will providing information to the voters regarding the doubtful antecedents of candidates curb the criminalisation of politics? This presumes that the voters are unaware of the candidates’ dubious reputation; this is difficult to believe, since the local population cannot be deemed to be collectively gullible and ignorant about a candidate’s lack of qualifications and character. Obviously there are other compulsions underlying their choice of candidates with criminal proclivities. This might include intimidation, lack of suitable candidates, divisive class, caste and communal loyalties and so on; these make the criminal record of the candidate irrelevant. Or is the growing Indian middle class not averse to electing criminals if they can become their patrons and ‘deliver the goods’?

This much is clear. The decay of political parties and the withering away of their grassroots relations with the people leads to the politics of manipulation replacing the politics of mass appeal. The limited purpose of the new class of politicians is to derive legitimacy through the ballot box; once elected, their exercise of power is designed to seek personal and group advantage by cornering the resources of the state. The need to garner illicitly-acquired funds and the ‘influence’ of criminal elements to procure power illumines the problem of criminalisation of politics; this problem worsens when the criminal elements demand, in return, immunity from legal processes and their ‘rightful’ share of the state’s resources from their clients in the political, bureaucratic and police administration.

In essence, the nexus between corrupt individuals and political parties to appropriate the state defines the crisis of governance in India and underlies the resulting enfeeblement of state and human security. Political will is needed, which is missing, to reverse this situation. A conspiracy of silence by the people will only accentuate the drift into political and administrative anarchy. More voices must be raised consequently to recognise and understand this bonding of insecurity and misgovernance, and to search for ways to reverse this situation.