India and the parliamentary democracy

In a parliamentary democracy like India, prime minister is not only the representative of people but also answerable to them directly. He fills the role of prime minister with a mandate from public, first by winning a seat for himself in election to Lok Sabha (People’s or Lower House of Parliament) and then leading the political party with most seats in Lok Sabha and having the support of at least 50% MPs in Lower House of Parliament. This makes the prime minister, the highest ranked politician and leader in a parliamentary democracy, chosen (elected) directly by people rather than hand-picked for the job by a third party or person (elected or unelected); and his leadership is perceived to have the democratic legitimacy and effectiveness and it enhances and strengthens the office of prime minister and the institution of parliamentary democracy.

People ultimately expect the prime minister and his government to solve immediate problems affecting the nation and also have a clear vision for the future of country. This requires the Government (Govt.) to recognize long term issues and to articulate them properly to public while also offering appropriate suggestions to deal with them. Should the prime minister and Govt. fail to do that, public is justified to feel unhappy and dissatisfied with elected representatives (including the prime minister, his party and ministers) and vote them out in next parliamentary elections to Lok Sabha.

India is a large country with a huge population. It has people speaking many different languages and following several kinds of religions. India also faces many complex problems and issues with serious social, economic, political and other types of consequences. A number of very serious issues affecting India today and having long term consequences are given below, (1-4).


(1) Overpopulation:

India is a country of more than 1.2 billion people. It has limited space, energy and natural resources. There is already a serious problem of overpopulation in India which has resulted in a lack of sufficient food, drinking water, clean air and available space for many people. Pollution and degradation of environment (including rivers and lakes) are also on the rise due mainly to overpopulation. A large number of species of plants and animals are endangered and already on the verge of extinction. Agricultural land and forests are facing quick reduction as people move into areas not occupied before. Similarly, the depletion of natural resources, energy and water is taking place more rapidly as the number of people increases. Overpopulation has also led to the proliferation of slums and slum like dwellings all over the country, especially near the cities. The problem of slums is further worsened by the inability of law and order to protect local people and their property from encroachers, from inside and outside the country.

Thus the Govt. needs to take immediate steps to curtail the increase in population by implementing policies and programs for family planning, including putting limits on the number of children a family can have and it should not be more than two. Govt. must also make it clear to people, and later follow through it, that those who do not adhere to Govt. recommendations and edicts on family planning and still continue to have more children will be deprived of government assistance (in education and jobs etc.) no matter what their caste status, religion or economic situation. In addition, there should be stricter laws to safeguard and protect property (publicly or privately owned) from encroachers and a mechanism for the swift and sure eviction of offenders (outsiders taking over and occupying others’ property illegally) must exist. This will make people (including potential encroachers) realize that they cannot look forward to grabbing others’ property to survive and thus need to plan beforehand to have families and number of children which they can easily afford on their own.


(2) Corruption, inefficiency and lack of accountability in Govt. and society:

If there is going to be a change and improvement in country’s economy and infrastructure etc., it will require Govt. to take steps to end bribery, corruption and inefficiency at all levels. In addition, the practices and systems for diverting and siphoning public funds and property by politicians and officials for their own use and benefit must end. Various projects and programs from Govt. should be selected carefully and according to their value and long term benefit to society rather than to serve the interests of just a few, handling and dealing with them directly or using them to squander public funds. Govt. should also set up proper controls on public spending and they must be enforced strictly, without any exception, thus ensuring a complete transparency with respect to flow and spending of public money. In general, there is a need for Govt. and society, public and private sectors, to become more efficient and accountable and end corruption.


(3) Lack of a non-religious uniform legal code (e.g. UCC):

Currently there are several legal codes in use in India which are based on different religions. These religion based legal codes are not only outdated, but their choice and use by people according to their religions has also led to legal inequality on the basis of gender and religion. In addition to being socially divisive and discriminatory, these multiple religious laws seem to create confusion, inefficiency and unnecessary complexities and delays in legal matters.

Furthermore, the practice of outdated customs and lifestyles (not conforming to latest in education, science and technology etc.) among some people and at the same time their adhering to outdated religious laws has denied them the progress and prosperity. Their ability to keep pace with others, in India and internationally, is curtailed. If this trend continues in future the gap and disconnect between them and others will increase, endangering social harmony and secularism in the country. Moreover, it will lead to a greater socio-economic disparity among people which even the Govt. might have a hard time undoing afterwards, no matter what the type of assistance and consideration from Govt. later.

Thus the Govt. should take immediate steps to replace religious laws and codes currently in use in India with a non-religious and uniform legal code (e.g. UCC), and encourage people to follow customs and practices which are best able meet their needs during present times and will help them keep pace with the humanity at large. This will result in equality in law for everyone (irrespective of gender, religion or caste), lead to greater social harmony and ensure economic prosperity for all.


(4) Caste based reservations and quotas in education and jobs:

The present system of using caste or class, e.g. OBC (Other Backward Classes / castes) or SC/ST (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes), to determine the eligibility and suitability for government grants in education and jobs is ill-conceived, unnecessary, never-ending and worthless. It leads to helping many undeserving people in education and jobs while unfairly leaving out other poor and deserving candidates.

People receiving caste based privileges in education and jobs also get the message that they will be better off economically (due to quotas in education and jobs) if they adhere to and keep on using caste or class labels (“low” , “lower” etc.). Thus it seems to their advantage, for the sake of quotas, to claim, even if unjustifiably, that they are the victims of continuing caste / class injustice and discrimination. This type of attitude and claim by some people is detrimental to achieving a casteless and classless society and it helps to prolong casteism in society and use of caste labels by people. Sadly, this continuation of caste divisions in society appears to result mainly due to the attitude and actions of those people who claim to be the biggest victims of casteism and caste system. For its part, the Govt. is equally to blame for this confusion and sad situation because of its continuing policy of granting quotas and reservation in education and jobs on the basis of caste (OBC and SC/ST etc.). In any case it seems while some people resent being labeled as “low” caste socially, they are quite happy with those labels (OBC and SC/ST) for quotas in education and jobs and even hope and try for their continuation indefinitely (as a part of “low” caste) for the sake of quota benefits.

Thus allowing the caste based privileges in education and jobs only to a segment of society, and not everyone, also gives the impression that government practices casteism and caste based discrimination against some people by denying them the quota privileges in jobs etc. As a result, there are people who, even though quite poor and highly deserving of Govt. assistance in jobs etc., are denied education and jobs because of their caste (not being a part of OBC or SC/ST), whereas others (having the status as OBC or SC/ST) qualify for such privileges and quotas from government in spite of being economically rich and well-to-do. The case (A), in References below, sheds light on this irrationality related to caste based quotas and help from Govt. Mr. Mohan Rathod, supposedly a Rajput by caste and therefore not eligible for Govt. assistance under the category OBC or SC/ST, was a poor man and facing serious economic hardships. He and his family (including his wife and teenage children) were barely able to make ends meet from his daily wages as a laborer. In spite of trying his best to fulfill the increasing demands of his family and school age children, he was unsuccessful and regularly fell behind in meeting their needs. Since his wages as a laborer were insufficient, he even had to sell off his possessions to raise extra money for the family. In the end, with everything gone and seeing no hope from anywhere or any source, perhaps not even from Govt. which has a system for helping people if they are OBC or SC/ST but not a poor Rajput like Mohan Rathod, he tried to put an end to all the misery by killing himself and several members of his family. Quite a tragic story!

Note that caste based quotas and reservations in education and jobs also give the impression of continuing political interference and manipulation. It seems the politicians try to use these quotas to establish and promote voting blocs for them. Sometimes there is even the use of unnecessary and random surveys and studies which often lead to erroneous information and misleading conclusions about castes. For example, the results and findings reported in (B) and (C) below indicate a significant variation in the numbers (percentages) of OBCs, which perhaps is a sign of different methodologies and problems associated with these surveys, under consideration here. Similarly, the politicians and officials appear to manipulate and spike these numbers and results to their own benefit. Note, the number of OBCs (52%) used by Mandal Commission in its recommendation on quotas and reservations is considerably higher, perhaps even politically motivated, than the actual number for OBCs (between 30% and 40%) reported in (B) and (C).

In any case these surveys indicate that the numbers (percentages) for people belonging to quota castes (OBCs etc.) are going up more rapidly than others. This gives the impression that people in quota castes are having more children and might not even be aware of the problem of overpopulation in the country. They might even feel that they are financially quite comfortable and can afford to have more kids and larger family, which could also be due to their culture and traditional thinking.

Incidentally, there is another possibility for increase in numbers of OBCs etc. in these surveys. Perhaps there are people in society who initially did not belong to the category of OBC etc. but now are undertaking the OBC vocations in farming and carpentry etc. Thus when these people declare themselves as being legitimate farmers etc., for obtaining official documentation / papers showing their new status as OBC, it shows up as an increase in the percentage (numbers) of OBCs in society. There is another possibility for encountering higher numbers of OBCs in the latest surveys. Note, there might be some people who, even though did not have the OBC status before and have not yet taken up any OBC vocation, have now been able (even falsely) to acquire official documentation showing them as OBC or SC/ST. Needless to say, all these claims and documentations (whether legitimate or false) indicating them under the category of OBC etc. will not only lead to higher numbers (percentages) for OBC etc. in surveys and society but also make them eligible for caste based quotas in education and jobs under the current system.

In any case, none of the situations described above (having more kids, changing one’s vocation or getting false documentation as OBC etc.) can be used as a justification by Govt. to plan and grant seats or have more quotas in educational institutions and jobs on the basis of caste. Note that many people in the OBC category (farmers and carpenters etc.) and even having the SC/ST status are quite well-to-do and their incomes are considerably higher than that of others (in the non-OBC and non-SC/ST categories) who could really use the Govt. help in education and jobs because of their impoverished condition.

In conclusion, the criterion for getting into the educational institutions, finding jobs and receiving promotions etc. must be merit and not caste or religion of a person. Similarly, any government assistance to people must be based on their economic condition rather than their caste labels or religious affiliations. Furthermore, Govt. privileges should not be the encouragement to people to abandon socially important manual tasks in favor of superfluous and irrelevant jobs, in offices etc.


References:

(A) “Mohan Rathod, belonging to Vankvad village in Rajkot district , who committed suicide with his family on Sunday, was a daily wage labourer in deep financial trouble. Eight months ago, he was forced to sell his land to ease the problem. Later, he realized he had sold his only asset. He lost all hope and took the extreme step. According to police sources who are investigating the family suicide case (4 deaths and one near death)……..”
Ref.: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/city/rajkot/Land-loss-triggered-mass-suicide/articleshow/4960764.cms

(B) “While a national figure of 38.5% falls well short of Mandal Commission estimates of 52%, they tally with an NSSO survey which pegged OBC population at around 35%.”
Ref. : http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/india/OBCs-account-for-385-of-rural-population-Survey/articleshow/5006928.cms

(C) “But a National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) report on employment and unemployment in 2004-2005 puts the OBC population at 41 per cent, up from 32.4 per cent in 1999-2000.”
Ref. : http://www.telegraphindia.com/1070401/asp/7days/story_7589882.asp


- Seva (Subhash C. Sharma)