Excerpts from Chanakya’s New Manifesto: To resolve the crisis within India – Pavan K. Varma

Chanakya

Pravan K. Varma & Pranab MukherjeeIndia’s crisis of governance is not new. It has plagued the Republic since Independence. Governments have got more things wrong than right. The crisis has only become more acute over the last 18 months as the thin veil which obstructed a clear view of the deep rot within the system was pulled away. That was when public anger spilled out onto the streets. The response of the political establishment has been slow and unconvincing. The people of India are looking for concrete action. Several mass protests have identified the problems but nobody has seemed to have a concrete set of solutions.

In his new book, author and former diplomat Pavan K. Varma takes inspiration from the wisdom of Ancient India’s greatest thinker on statecraft, Chanakya, to provide specific solutions “To Resolve the Crisis within India”. Chanakya famously strategised to overthrow the corrupt Dhana Nanda, ruler of Pataliputra, and replace him with Chandragupta who eliminated misgovernance and ruled what was the first pan-Indian empire. Unlike Chanakya, Varma does not suggest an overthrow of the system. Varma’s New Manifesto (even if he modestly calls it Chanakya’s) is full of ideas within the constitutional framework of India. The following extracts capture some of those ideas in the five different spheres of government he identifies for overhaul: Governance, Democracy, Corruption, Security and Inclusive Society. – India Today

Constitutional panel to appraise governance

All political parties that propose to be part of a coalition grouping or front must declare their intention to do so prior to elections taking place. Coalition groupings, such as the UPA, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and a putative Third Front already exist so this would only require their constituents, and any other party that wishes to be part of them, to make a choice, not after, but before votes are cast.

Along with unattached political parties, each coalition must publicly announce a common Governance Agenda, with indicative timeframes for specific deliverables. This must be worked out prior to the elections so that voters know what rival political groupings are offering. Such a carefully worked out document is an important part of coalition arrangements in many other parts of the world.

Following elections, pre-identified coalition partners would be compulsorily committed to the declared Governance Agenda for a lock-in period of at least three years. Further, during the minimum lock-in period of three years, no coalition partner will be allowed to withdraw support to, or defect from, the coalition partnership.

Far from being an infringement of democratic rights, this would considerably enrich the democratic process. First, voters would know of coalition groupings in advance of the elections, rather than finding out subsequent to the elections that parties they did not support, or were openly opposed to, have become partners solely for the pursuit of political power at any cost.

A five-member Governance Appraisal Panel (GAP) should be set up as an independent evaluation body. It will be provided a compact secretariat, will have constitutional status, and report to the president of India.

The president’s role in preserving the authority and autonomy of bodies with constitutional status needs to be strengthened. In this context, consideration should be given to modifying the 42nd amendment to the Constitution introduced by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. This amendment bound the president of India to act in all matters only on the advice of the Cabinet, and even after it was diluted subsequently, still seriously curtails the legitimate constitutional powers vested in an elected head of state. For independent constitutional bodies which are directly under the president and report only to that office, it is essential that the president exercises powers to protect the jurisdiction and authority of such bodies from interference, subversion or infringement by the government of the day.

The GAP will consist of a leading economist (or a senior representative from the corporate sector), a distinguished member of the media, a respected former administrator, an academic of eminence in the area of public affairs and governance, and a retired chief justice of India or a retired Supreme Court judge.

Its members will be selected by a three-member committee consisting of the PM, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and the chief justice of India. The committee will select the members of gap by consensus.

The GAP will have a five-year term and will submit its report annually to the president of India. The report will make an independent assessment of the governance performance of the government on the basis of the objectives it had promised in its Governance Agenda. It will also devise its own criteria for the measurement of the ruling government’s performance and will be guided in its endeavours by the measurement indices of World Government Indicators or WGI, which has been working in this field for more than two decades. A report on the WGI rightly states that all modern democratic societies require independent evaluation, which is possible with a good set of indicators, and public debate on the quality and improvement of governance. 

Disqualify legislators if they flout norms

The current practice which allows parties not to identify donors contributing less than Rs. 20,000 must be scrapped. This is the principal (but not only) channel for parties to collect vast amounts of undeclared funds. Every paisa given as a donation to political parties must be accounted for and transacted through auditable and transparent bank transactions.

Conversely, all payments made by political parties, exceeding Rs. 20,000 must be made by crossed account payee cheques. This has also been recommended by the Core Committee on Electoral Reforms sponsored by the Election Commission (EC) and the ministry of law and justice.

All political parties must compulsorily make public their audited accounts every year. Currently candidates are required to disclose their assets and liabilities but not political parties. As far back as 2004 the ec recommended that ‘political parties should be required to publish their accounts (or at least an abridged version) annually for information and scrutiny of the general public and all concerned’, for which purpose the maintenance of such accounts and their auditing to ensure their accuracy is a pre-requisite. The auditing may be done by any firm of auditors approved by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).The audited accounts must be made public.

The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and the CAG must be given powers to scrutinize and monitor all party funds. Currently political parties merely obtain a certificate from the ec that they have submitted their annual audited statement of accounts. This is completely inadequate.

Whatever the reasons, the time has come to take some clear and resolute decisions with regard to the proper functioning of our Parliament and state assemblies.

To begin with, any member who flouts the rules or breaks the decorum of the house should, after being warned, be named by the presiding officer and asked to withdraw from the house.

If a member who has been suspended, again infringes the rules of established decorum of the house in a manner sufficient to attract the notice of the presiding officer, he should be disqualified from membership of the house for the balance period of the life of the house, or three years, whichever is more.

No member shall ever enter the well of the house. This has become routine practice now and is a blatant violation of the rules and decorum of the house. Such behaviour is not about the expression of democratic freedoms but contempt of democratic practices. Any member who violates this absolute injunction should be expelled for the balance period of the life of the house. 

Transparency between public and government

It is imperative that, through the enabling legislation of the union government, all states mandatorily adopt a Right to Public Services (RTES) Act immediately. This act, even allowing for variations in each state, must have the following compulsory elements: Clearly identified services encompassing as many areas as feasible where the ordinary citizen needs to interact with the government; multiple modalities, including online access, to apply for or to avail of these services; a clear-cut time frame for the services to be rendered by a clearly designated authority; not more than one appellate authority for the final disposal of the service requested and a specified time frame for disposal by the appellate authority; a computerized tracking method to monitor the status of each application; in case of failure to deliver, exemplary deterrent punishment for the official responsible for providing the service; annual evaluation by a third party of the working of the act.

Break nexus between China and Pakistan

The bedrock of India’s foreign policy must be the understanding that until they prove, without a shadow of doubt, their good intentions towards India, Pakistan and China must be classified as hostile or potentially hostile states. This does not mean that attempts to improve bilateral relations with them should be jettisoned; nor does it preclude negotiations and dialogue where required, or the furtherance of people to people contacts where desirable; clarity of vision enables the use of a variety of approaches without losing sight of the truth. Any nation that enhances our security must be cultivated; any nation that is allied or close to nations that threaten us, must be contained, by co-option, seduction, engagement or other means.

A real threat to our security is the collusion between China and Pakistan. We must, therefore, be prepared for a war against both, in a worst-case situation. A principal tenet of our foreign policy must be to break, weaken or dilute the nexus between the two countries. If this requires us to sow discord or to create mistrust or encourage suspicion between them, we must do so. If we can weaken the nexus by providing to any one of the two greater dividends through engagement with India, this too should be pursued, but as conscious policy, not through policy drift.

To take care of internal security effectively, a separate ministry of internal security headed by a cabinet minister should be hived off from the ministry of home affairs. A minister with this portfolio has been a feature of some previous cabinets but without specific focus or clout and always subordinate to the minister of home affairs.

The new ministry will have two primary wings: One, an antiterrorism unit which will unite under one umbrella to direct the nation’s war against this threat; and two, an anti-insurgency department, which will single-mindedly tackle the threat of left wing extremism and other insurgencies. With the creation of these two wings, the need for the Intelligence Bureau (IB), as it currently exists, must be seriously reviewed.

Partner with NGOs in rural areas

If the economy grows rapidly, it helps the underprivileged. However, governments should especially focus on increasing growth in those sectors of the economy that impact the poorest the most.

With this in view, the government must adopt a new National Mission on Agriculture with the aim of tripling national agricultural growth rates in the next five years. The vast sums of money that are being mismanaged in populist schemes would be redeployed for attacking the root of the problem, viz, low productivity, except in drought affected areas where special state interventions are required. A quantum jump in agricultural productivity will make an unprecedented dent in the numbers of those below the poverty line, apart from providing spin off benefits to all other sectors of the economy.

The government has almost never tried to partner with nongovernmental agencies to implement its welfare programmes. But the few attempts that have been made have succeeded beyond all expectations. K. Anji Reddy, the founder chairman of the Naandi Foundation and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd, moots the idea of what he calls ‘post-reform development services enterprises’. ‘These will be run by passionate, young professionals who will use the best of management principles with a focus on efficiency and outcomes. They will partner with the government for one-time subsidies for capital investment or for tapping budgetary allocations’ in order to reach deliverables to the poor. He cites several examples where this is working very well. Partnering with the government, and with the support of corporate donations, these entrepreneurs are efficiently running kitchens in urban areas and remote drought-hit regions which have brought the mid-day meal to 5 million children. The Haryana and Punjab governments have also taken the initiative to float tenders to provide safe drinking water to villages at a fixed price. ‘These post-reform development entrepreneurs,’ says Reddy, ‘got a one-time subsidy from the state governments for the capital cost, and run their enterprise with the efficiencies reaped in management and service delivery mechanisms.’ When the Andhra Pradesh government outsourced water treatment plants to tackle the rampant problem of fluorosis, a thousand micro-entrepreneurs responded, leading to a near-complete eradication of the disease. – India Today, 11 January 2013

» Pavan K. Varma took voluntary retirement from the Indian Foreign Service in 2012 to enter public life and is presently the Cultural Adviser to Nitish Kumar the Chief Minister of Bihar.

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