The steady deterioration of political structures and increasing incapacity of successive governments to sustain legitimacy, promote socio-economic development and maintain order without coercion has been the hallmark of Indian polity for some time.We don’t need to look any further than these reasons for growing crisis of governability is mutli-causal primarily consisting of decisions made by its political leaders and weakening of political institutions. The widening cleavage between institutional capacity and socio-economic problems is due to organizational vacuum created as a result of the lack of democratization of power distribution in the civil society.
Weakening of political institutions in the form of authority deficit visible in quasi-judicial bodies such as election commission of India and Central Information Commission has been a recurring phenomenon and is undoing the positive impact emanating from the body of quality work done over the years. Despite these efforts to dish a step motherly treatment to these institutions, the decisions by CIC to bring political parties into the ambit of Right to Information Act and its views on imposing mandatory disclosure of financial accounts on political parties have infused a newfound enthusiasm among the responsible citizenry of this country.
Status of Social and Political Democracy in India
The deterioration of traditional class and caste structures has been the biggest gains for the social democracy in India, which in turn can be attributed to the equalising nature of pro market reforms as a result of which traditional relationships are replaced by economic ones. Even this may be true to a larger extend in urban areas in the periphery, but in case of rural areas, economic gains have not radically changed the power relationships created by caste. However there has been a rapid increase in the rate of spread of political democracy, especially in the form of alternative political fronts such as Aam Admi Party. The popular belief that it has become increasingly difficult to translate personalistic support into political ability to achieve policy goals was taken apart by overwhelming majority enjoyed by Bharathiya Janata Party lead from the front by Mr. Narenda Modi. Thus an argument of de-institutionalization of national leaders falls flat in the wake of emergence of leaders like Narendra Modi, Anna Hazare and Aravind Krejiwal. This also could lead to weaker political parties and stronger party persons.
The darker side of this social mobilization is visible in the form of caste, occupational and religion based pressure groups which often adopt undemocratic methods for achieving their end, distorting the political process itself. This was quite visible when orthodox hindu fringe groups organized protest and unleashed violence against the publishers of the book ‘Hinduism: An Alternate History’ by Wendy Doniger and also in the case of Amina Wadud, whose lecture was cancelled due to the allegations of her being anti-islam.
Grass Root Level Reforms since 1989
One of the key developments post-1989 was providing constitutional legitimacy to Panchayathi Raj Institutions. It radically changed perceptions of the people towards governance from that is totally alien to them to one that empowers them to decide on their own destiny. Though the empathic transfer of power from the commanding heights of Delhi to mud roads of Vaishali was nothing more of a symbolic one than that of any ground changing consequence for about first two decades. As much as there are doubts persisting about the mechanism and efficacy of devolvement of funds, functionaries and functions, positive results of the political investment has started to come in the form of model villages such as Hiware Bazar and Social Auditing Movement from Rajasthan.
However even the most educated and astute politicians are forced to making bad economic decisions due to political compulsions. Admittedly this has led to increasing rift between strategies for addressing developmental issues and winning elections. The overwhelming reasons for India’s challenges in governance is the increasing nature of power challenges and lack of institutional capacity to deal with it. This has in a way provided fodder to increasing inequality in this country. What our top five percent earns in terms of money is more than what is earned by the rest. Lack of a need based welfare system and development paradigm makes it difficult for a large population to rise themselves out of socio-economic deprivation. More often than not this maybe in terms of lack of quality education or access to health services, which ideally should occupy the centre stage of every political discourse in this country.