The past four years have witnessed major controversies around the pillars of democracy- legislative, executive, and judiciary. The developments like fake police encounters in Uttar Pradesh, killing of Justice Loya, recent arrests of activists, tampering of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), misuse of power by Chief Justice Of India, among many others have put the status of democracy under the scanner. The apparent cracks in the democracy and the associated concerns were discussed at #DemocracyAdda on the second day of Youth Ki Awaaz Summit on September 2 in New Delhi.
Observer Research Foundation (ORF) president Samir Saran along with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Meenakshi Lekhi, Congress Spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill, and National spokesperson of Samajwadi Party (SP) Ghanshyam Tiwari shared their insights on the current situation of democratic institutions. Unlike the noisy debates of TV news channels, the panellists engaged with the audience to address the concerns of youths.
Seperation Of Power
Samir Saran said, “Fundamentally when constitution was established it was felt that separation of power is important for functioning democracy. But over the years we have witnessed increased tensions among executive, legislative and judiciary. There’s a natural tendency among all the ruling parties to interfere in the functioning of these pillars and exert their control. Every party has tried to weaken one or two pillars of democracy.”
Ghanshyam Tiwari, communication advisor to the former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav and former chief advisor of JD(U)’s Bihar unit, said “ People and their aspirations make the foundations of the three pillars of democracy. The test of these pillars is how they treat the most marginlaised section. However, the stark inequalities indicate that the traditional structures are becoming obsolete. Money, muscle, and power have hijacked the system and only rich are part of political system. Poor people don’t have enough representative. Also, laws aren’t representing the voices and role of judiciary is getting increasingly questionable.”
Jaiveer Shergill, the youngest national media panellist of the Congress, pointed out, “Separation of power is the oil that keeps the machinery of democracy running. Separation of power is where the leader stands with people and not above them. Party have their nuances. They push you, but you have to push them back. Youths have to make these pillars answerable. You have to turn romanticism with youth into political reality. They have to participate beyond social media to make the system and these pillars accountable.”
BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi was of the opinion that systems are well under placed and is running better than the previous government. She asserted that it is good that there’s a constant conflict among the pillars to keep power in check.
“Three pillars, as designed by the constitution, are very much in order. These conflicts among these pillars are meant to be created, and the perpetual state of conflict keeps checks and balances. The democratic process is not what rhetoric we read in newspapers. Democracy in action is fully functional and best protected. There’s nothing like an emergency situation. The conflicts identify gaps and then gives scope to rectify,” she asserted.
Weakening Of Democratic Institutions Since Independence
Centre and state BJP governments, Samajwadi Party rule in Uttar Pradesh, and several decades of governance under Congress have faced allegations of weakening the democratic institutions. Policymakers representing these parties in a non-partisan manner answered Saran’s, and audience’s questions on state control over autonomous democratic bodies.
Samir Saran: “There’s question on the credibility of the judiciary. The executive has a sense of permanency and assurance, so that affects their operations. And, the current government has reduced the number of times parliament sits. So, clearly legislative isn’t functioning sufficiently.”
Ghanshyam Tiwari: “Goalposts of democracy have changed with generations. A form of governance emerged as a challenge to earlier suppressive models. Now, the present model needs to challenged as it has ceased to be relevant.”
Meenakshi Lekhi: “Judiciary is very much independent today. But of course, there have been cases of legislative overreach in previous governments. Because of that SC in Keshawanand Bharti case court ordered that the fundamental structure of constitution cannot be amended. Across the world, governments appoint judges but in India selection process is totally independent and the current government has ensured that. And regarding legislative functioning, I would note that in India legislator doesn’t have to only sit in parliament. They have to go out and engage with people in their constituencies.”
Jaiveer Shergill: “ If 1975-77 was a bad example then, 2014-18 is a bad example now. Politicians are always on trials. However, we must be proud that despite apprehensions, India has sustained as a functional democracy. Systems have evolved. Of course, there were few bad decisions and moves, but we corrected them and were committed towards democracy. In terms functioning of these pillars, I would say we have a severe infrastructure problem. Cases are pending, and we don’t have enough courts and judges; there’s a shortage of staff in several departments. The second problem is perspective. We need to change our outlook. For instance, in rape cases, we shouldn’t focus on punishment, but on prevention. We need to fix infrastructure and perspectives.”