Democracy & Public Institutions

Rationalism and Public institution in India

Radhakanta Barik

Rationalism as a dominant form of consciousness has shaped the public institutions. Rationalism reflects in measuring the merit of students by a certain standard which is being regulated by a public institution like the UGC. Merit is no more abstract word it can be quantifiable. Max Weber discusses this in his thesis about Germany society which is being dominated by rationalism. (Bottomore, 1975) It reflects in accountancy by showing the calculation of the income or expenditure. Accountancy helps in keeping the records clearer of the expenditures of an individual, company and state. This reflects in building the institution of CAG which follows the procedures of expenditures incurred by the state. Rationalism crystalized in the institution of bureaucracy. All traditional institutions such as religious institutions temples or Maths need bureaucracy to manage in a neutral and in a competent way. Political Party needs to be organized in a bureaucratic manner as their memberships need to be managed in a competent manner through proper communication and feedback from the members help in the policy making process by the leadership. Modern industrial organization needs bureaucracy to manage its affairs as it is an organization based on rationality.

Rationalism helped in disintegration of medieval or traditional society based on the principle of hierarchy. Human being cannot be discriminated as he or she embodies the idea of rationalism. It created equality among people which threaten hierarchy.

In the medieval period there were institutions such as the monarchy and durbar and Ministers could not be sustained as lacked modern rationalism. This brings out some form of political representation which represented through direct democracy of Greek cities but could not be sustained without rationalism embedded in a society. It remained with the city-based democracy and could not expand. Political representation came up at the time of French Revolution. When slogan came up 'No taxation without political representation'. European society realized this French slogan through making various reforms introduced in the political system. In the case of India, we went for parliamentary democracy by accepting the principle of universal adult franchise. In a caste-based society where all castes were allowed to participate in process of political representation. Every person gets a voting right cutting across the caste and communities and gender this brings political equality at one level which got framed by Ambedkar and questioned by him also. He could perceive the nature of political democracy going to take a shape in future. That a country where everybody has got voting right but no economic and social right. This contradiction needs to be explained in future.

Indian political democracy accepts the representative system of democracy where various public institutions evolved historically under the British rule. That there would be political executive whose political and economic decisions could be challenged in legislature. If there would be confrontation between the executive and legislature then it would be arbitrated by the Judiciary which is an independent body. All these public institutions play an important role in sustaining political democracy in India.

Trajectory of history tells us that we have rationalism in some pockets in ancient and medieval times. Ashoka being a Buddhist turned the state into a neutral institution as he pleaded for "SatyaMebJayate". This is an emblem accepted by the present independent India. In Medieval period that Akabar developed neutral state to all religions. British rule developed the concept of the Rule of law to prove a point to the public that state is neutral in some cases of crimes committed by the powerful such as king or feudal lords or business man. They had a tremendous power but once the King of Puri committed murder he was sent to Kalapani as a form of punishment. The rule of law is taken as an important parameter of modern state and democracy in India. Enforcement of the rule of law by independently recruited civil servants with the help of UPSC a neutral public institution.

Despite having an independent recruitment system, we accepted reservation on the basis of social discrimination as a part of constitutional principle to provide justice to all. Indian constitution provided a legal and moral framework for regulating activities of these important public institutions for which constitutional provisions were provided for various laws to protect the independence of these institutions. The most of important institution is the Election Commission to manage our elections for selecting members to the legislature. The way election commission has managed the general election when the technology was not developed is a praise worthy point. Prof Sen says that the Americans should learn some lessons regarding the managing the election. (Guha, Sen) Today questions are being raised by many and doubting the way it conducted last general election. Moreover, the use of EVM is being questioned by many.

The Judges of the Supreme Court have protested against the behaviour of former Chief Justice Deepak Mishra the way he allocated the cases to those who have a certain political leaning rather than senior judges. The way case of death of Judge Loya got handled created doubts in minds of many legal experts. The way chief Justice Mishra pronounced the judgment on the issue of respecting the national flag in the cinema hall as if nationalism has got reduced to some symbols rather than responsibility of citizenry towards their country. Four senior judges raised the question in a press conference regarding the functioning of the Judiciary.

The way bureaucracy is getting politicized as being raised by nobody but by a group of sixty retired civil servants telling that the bureaucrats are doing work under the pressures from the government. Recently they raised regarding the functioning of the public institution CAG as a constitutional body by not doing auditing work regarding the Rafael issue. The debate is not whether Rafael a deal is an election issue or not. The debate is whether a person who was projected as an incorruptible soul to become the Prime Minister of the country is corrupt or not. Why did he overrule everyone else in Rafael deal? The process is as important as the result. This is the underlying philosophy of public administration. Reaching at the deal it has to go through various formal and technical bodies. The best example is the Defence Acquisition Council of consisting of the Defence Minister, three chiefs have to give a final decision regarding the price of Rafael deal. The credibility of all institutions of accountability from the CVC to CBI to police is in worse shape today. Once the CBI has been used for partisan purposes as the appointment of Ashtana shows that there were allegations of corruption against him. As he was close to the present PM all these allegations have been ignored by the CVC. The CVC chief's appointment is itself controversial. The worst fight has erupted in CBI known as CBI vs CBI regarding the inquiry into murky affairs of the Rafael issue. In a midnight operation the both Chief and Deputy have been removed. The appointing of the chief has been done by a constitutional body where the Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Prime Minister and Leader of the opposition. The process of removal raised a question in the minds of public. The case is being investigated by the highest judiciary. The CBI was established to investigate into corruption charges against the powerful and mighty people. Today its credibility of this institution has got eroded. This has created problems for various opposition ruled governments to declare war against the CBI. It is an alarming situation created by the present government. It would prove as WB Yeats says, 'centre cannot hold any more.'

The way cabinet form of government in India is functioning creates doubts in the minds of the public as the Prime Minister took a decision such as Demonetisation without consulting his council of ministers. The responsibility of the council of Ministers is override by the decision taken by the PM. The same thing happened in the announcement of the Rafael deal in meeting with the President of France without going through various intuitions associated with the conducting of the arms procurement system.

In contemporary world the quality of political leaders has declined. It is not only the image of Modi being questioned by Indian public. The same situation is prevailing in USA after coming of Trump. His actions are very whimsical in nature. This brings the question that their public institutions are able to mediate between citizenry on side and the actions of American Presidency. Here Modi's actions have not been questioned by the Public institutions with the same intensity and sincerity.

Media has evolved as the fourth pillar of Indian democracy over time. The media played a critical role during national movement. Most of the leaders were part time journalists. But the media is unable to take political pressures from the present regime. The electronic media has turned into 'Godi Media' which report favourable to the present ruling elite. To some extent the print media is under tremendous pressures to bend before the ruling elite. As independent media and its inability to function in the present system to show its weaknesses where American press like New York Times is able to report actions by the President Trump. This requires strengthening an institutional framework to protect the independence of media.

In India there are many areas of darkness where rationalism has not touched the borderline of those areas. The caste system and religion can create a mode of consciousness based on irrationalism. The best example is the judgment of Supreme Court on Sabarmala temple where public is being manipulated in terms of faith against rationalism expressed in the judgement. Then these forces can support these political groups who have a little regard for constitution. As Huntington says that institutional development helps in channelling the energies of people in a constitutional manner. This is being supported by a leading political scientist Rajni Kothari regarding Indian democracy where these public institutions play a decisive role in sustaining constitutional democracy. As institutions get eroded then constitutional democracy can be threatened. India is in a difficult time that irrationalism is growing at one end and at another end the ruling party does not obey the basic rules of the game. This will result in a political impasse in India.

T B, Bottomore, 1975 Theories of Modern Capitalism (Routledge)
Samuel Huntington 2012 "Political Development and Political Decay" in World Politics (Vol. 1, No. 1—Vol. 64, No. 4)
Amartya Sen 2006, The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity (Oxford)
Ramachandra Guha, 2017, India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy (Paperback)
Prof Radhakanta Barik, retired as Professor, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi


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Vol. 52, No. 3, Jul 21 - 27, 2019