Logic of Democracy

LOGIC OF DEMOCRACY

By

SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, March 30 2006

Parliament may unanimously vote for a bill on the “Office of Profit” issue but this will have to be consistent with the spirit and letter of the Constitution and with natural law if it is not to be struck down by the Supreme Court. It is thus important to get the logic right.

 

 

India is a representative and not a direct democracy. We the people constitute the Electorate who send our representatives periodically to legislative institutions at national, state and local levels. These representatives, namely, Lok Sabha and Legislative Assembly Members and municipal councilors, have a paid job to do on behalf of all their constituents, not merely those who voted for them. They are supposed to represent everyone including those who voted against them or did not vote at all.

 

 

In view of this, if the question is asked: “Was India’s interest served by Sonia Gandhi peremptorily resigning as the Lok Sabha Member from Rae Bareli and then immediately declaring she will fight a fresh election from there?”, the answer must be of course that it was not. Mrs Gandhi had been elected after an expensive process of voting and she had a duty to continue to represent all of Rae Bareli’s people (not just her party-supporters) for the duration of the 14th Lok Sabha. Instead she has given the impression that Rae Bareili is her personal fiefdom from where she must prove again how popular she is as its Maharani.

 

 

What needed to be done instead was to abolish the so-called “National Advisory Council” which, like the “Planning Commission” is yet another expensive extra-constitutional body populated by delusional self-styled New Delhi worthies. The NAC has been functioning as Mrs Gandhi’s personal Planning Commission, and she lacked the courage to scrap it altogether — just as Manmohan Singh lacks the courage to tell Montek Ahluwalia to close down the Planning Commission (and make it a minor R&D wing of the Ministry of Finance).

 

 

 

 

Lok Sabha’s duties

What are Lok Sabha Members and State MLAs legitimately required to be doing in caring for their constituents? First of all, as a body as a whole, they need to elect the Government, i.e. the Executive Branch, and to hold it accountable in Parliament or Assembly. For example, the Comptroller and Auditor General submits his reports directly to the House, and it is the duty of individual legislators to put these to good use in controlling the Government’s waste, fraud or abuse of public resources.

 

 

Secondly, MPs and MLAs are obviously supposed to literally represent their individual constituencies in the House, i.e. to bring the Government and the House’s attention to specific problems or contingencies affecting their constituents as a whole, and call for the help, funds and sympathy of the whole community on their behalf.

 

 

Thirdly, MPs and MLAs are supposed to respond to pleas and petitions of individual constituents, who may need the influence associated with the dignity of their office to get things rightly done. For example, an impoverished orphan lad once needed surgery to remove a brain tumour; a family helping him was promised the free services of a top brain surgeon if a hospital bed and operating theatre could be arranged. It was only by turning to the local MLA that the family were able to get such arrangements made, and the lad had his tumour taken out at a public hospital. MPs and MLAs are supposed to vote for and create public goods and services, and to use their moral suasion to see that existing public services actually do get to reach the public.

 

 

Rajya Sabha different species

Rajya Sabha Members are a different species altogether. Most if not all State Legislative Councils have been abolished, and sadly the present nature of the Rajya Sabha causes similar doubts to arise about its utility. The very idea of a Rajya Sabha was first mooted in embryo form in an 1888 book A History of the Native States of India, Vol I. Gwalior, whose author also advocated popular constitutions for the “Indian India” of the “Native States” since “where there are no popular constitutions, the personal character of the ruler becomes a most important factor in the government… evils are inherent in every government where autocracy is not tempered by a free constitution.”

 

 

When Victoria was declared India’s “Empress” in 1877, a “Council of the Empire” was mooted but had remained a non-starter even until the 1887 Jubilee. An “Imperial Council” was now designed of the so-called “Native Princes”, which came to evolve into the “Chamber of Princes” which became the “Council of the States” and the Rajya Sabha.

 

 

It was patterned mostly on the British and not the American upper house except in being not liable to dissolution, and compelling periodic retirement of a third of members. The American upper house is an equal if not the senior partner of the lower house. Our Rajya Sabha follows the British upper house in being a chamber which is duty-bound to oversee any exuberance in the Lok Sabha but which must ultimately yield to it if there is any dispute.

 

 

Parliament in India’s democracy effectively means the Lok Sabha — where every member has contested and won a direct vote in his/her constituency. The British upper house used to have an aristocratic hereditary component which Tony Blair’s New Labour Government has now removed, so it has now been becoming more like what the Rajya Sabha was supposed to have been like.

 

 

The corruption of our body-politic originated with the politicisation of the bureaucracy thirty five years ago by Indira Gandhi and PN Haksar. The Rajya Sabha came to be ruined with the “courtier culture” and “durbar politics” that resulted. This bad model which the Congress Party created and followed was imitated by the Congress’s political opponents too. Our Rajya Sabha has now tended to become a place for party worthies who have lost normal elections, superannuated cinematic personalities, perpetual bureaucrats still seeking office, and similar others. The healthiest course of action for Indian democracy may be to close it down completely for a few years, then recreate it ab initio based on its original purposes and intent (but this may not be constitutionally possible to do).

 

 

Holding Executive accountable

It is a forgotten platitude that in a representative democracy what elected legislators are supposed to be doing is represent the interests of the Electorate. Along with the Judiciary, the Legislative Branch is supposed to control the Executive Government, which is the natural oppressor of the Electorate. That is why the Legislature must be independent of the Executive — which is the precise intent behind Article 102 (a) of the Constitution of India: “A person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of either House of Parliament… if he holds any office of profit under the Government of India or the Government of any State…”

 

 

In other words, if you are a Lok Sabha MP or State MLA who is supposed to be a part of the august House which has elected the Executive Government and by whom that Government is supposed to be held accountable, then it is a clear conflict of interest if you are yourself in the pay of that Government. As a legislator, you are either in the Executive or you are not. If you are in the Executive, you are liable to be held accountable by the House. If you are not in the Executive, you are duty-bound as an ordinary Member of the House to hold the Executive accountable. The logic is ultimately as clear and simple as that.

 

 

It is inevitable that the delineation of the appropriate boundaries between Legislature and Executive will have to be pronounced upon by the Judiciary. The “Office of Profit” issue has opened an opportunity for a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court to speak on the rights and duties of the Legislative and Executive Branches of Government. And no Constitution Bench has ever spoken unwisely.

Advertisements

Imperialism redux

IMPERIALISM REDUX

Business, Energy, Weapons And Foreign Policy

First published in The Statesman March 14 2006 Editorial Page Special Article

By Subroto Roy

If souls can transmigrate, so may souls of companies, and future historians might well look back and say that the new US-India “CEO Forum” heralded the modern rebirth of the East India Company. Like the old Company, the new Forum has many ambitious, competent people. The American side includes heads of AES Corporation, Cargill Inc., Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Honeywell, McGraw-Hill, Parsons Brinckerhoff Ltd, PepsiCo, Visa International and Xerox Corporation. The Indian side includes heads of Tata Group, Apollo Hospitals Group, Bharat Forge Ltd, Biocon India Group, HDFC, ICICI One Source, Infosys, ITC Ltd, Max India Group and Reliance Industries — all stalwarts of what Mr Kanu Sanyal’s Naxals would have termed India’s “comprador bourgeoisie”.

Business advocacy
Presiding over the Indian side has been Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s trusted confidante, Montek Singh Ahluwalia (whose family moved to the USA after 20 years in India). Indeed it may have been his idea to have a government-sponsored business initiative. A “US-India Business Council” has existed for thirty years in Washington as “the premier business advocacy organization promoting US commercial interests in India.… the voice of the American private sector investing in India”. But for both Governments to sponsor private business via the Forum was “unprecedented” as noted by Washington’s press during Dr Singh’s visit in July 2005. The State Department (America’s foreign ministry) announced it saying: “Both our governments have agreed that we should create a high-level private sector forum to exchange business community views on key economic priorities…”

The Forum seems to have gone well beyond exchanging business community views, and has had a clear impact in the sudden redefinition of the direction of India’s foreign, military and energy policy. When Dr Singh addressed America’s legislature, the main aspect of the speech he read there had to do with agreeing with the American President “to enhance Indo-US cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear technology”. And nuclear energy has suddenly begun to dominate India’s news and national political agenda — even though the 2503MW of nuclear power produced in the country accounts for merely 4% of our civilian energy needs, barely significant. But before nuclear or any other deals could be contemplated with American business, the Dabhol payouts were required to be made. The Maharashtra State Electricity Board — or rather, its sovereign guarantor the Government of India — paid out at least $140-$160 million each to General Electric and Bechtel Corporations in “an amicable settlement” of the Dabhol affair. (When is the last word going to be said on that?) Afterwards, General Electric’s CEO for India was kind enough to say “India is an important country to GE’s global growth. We look forward to working with our partners, customers, and State and Central Governments in helping India continue to develop into a leading world economy”.

A weak and corrupt Delhi
Such nice rhetoric was on close display during the deal-making leading up to and beyond President George W. Bush’s recent India visit. America’s Ambassadors are mostly political appointees and special friends of the President of the day; the present Ambassador to India is a prominent Texas businessman, and business has been driving American thinking with India all the way. After Dr Singh’s visit, the US Foreign Commercial Service reportedly said American engineering firms, equipment suppliers and contractors faced a $1000 bn (1 bn = 100 crore) opportunity in India. Before the Bush visit, Dr Singh signed vast purchases of commercial aircraft from Boeing and Airbus, as well as large weapons’ deals with France and Russia. After the Bush visit, the US Chamber of Commerce has said the nuclear deal can cause $100 bn worth of new American business in India’s energy-sector alone. Getting American legislators to agree will require “massive grassroots efforts” at lobbying politicians, saying that “energy-starved” India will now become open “to US investment in key areas from IT and telecom to pharmaceuticals and insurance”. Mr Bush’s foreign minister Condoleezza Rice (who has authored the political aspects of the new India-orientation) and her pointman Nicholas Burns have said, “we are suggesting India-specific amendments to the Atomic Energy Act of 1954… It’s a waiver authority … We are not seeking relief from US law for any country in the world except India and we don’t anticipate putting any country forward. So it is India specific.” India will separate by 2014 closely entwined civilian and military nuclear facilities and put 14 of 22 civilian nuclear reactors under international inspection.

Now the East India Company had not intended to rule India but ended up dictating to a weak and corrupt Delhi, waging wars across Bengal, the Deccan and North India, and inducing “regime change” all over the place among local satraps. In the modern context, the American Government and its businessman Ambassador to the Delhi Court have made it crystal-clear India’s support has been expected in the matter of American policy towards Iran. Dr Singh has been his own Foreign Minister, crafting his America policy aided by Mr Ahluwalia on one hand and Mr M. K. Narayanan on the other. None of the three has diplomatic, historical or foreign policy-making experience. Mr Narayanan is a retired officer of domestic counter-intelligence (which is traditionally Pakistan-specific). Dr Singh and Mr Ahluwalia are retired economic officials. None has ever outlined for public scrutiny any views on India’s history, politics or foreign policy in any book or essay. India’s historians and career diplomats (and not just the most loquacious and greedy ones) have been silenced. Yet this is a time when a well-respected Indian world figure (though unfortunately there may be none, except Zubin Mehta) could have brought Iran and Israel to the conference table together. Iran must recognise Israel and the two countries must exchange ambassadors if the present tension is not to degenerate into more war in our region. Israel needs to declare itself a nuclear weapons’ power and not be belligerent towards Muslims, and Iran could be allowed to pursue its nuclear research within reason. It is in India’s and Pakistan’s common interests to see that Jimmy Carter’s extension of the Monroe doctrine to include the Persian Gulf be replaced by the Zionist philosopher Martin Buber’s idea of a “federative structure” for the peoples of the East. Instead the reverse is happening.

What economics does say
Dr Singh and Mr Ahluwalia may say economics has been driving their new foreign policy. But what economics actually says is that Government should have nothing to do with any kind of business. Government should encourage competition in all avenues of economic activity and prevent or regulate monopoly, and also see to it that firms pay taxes they are due to pay. But that is it. It is as bad for Government to pamper organised business and organised labour with subsidies of any kind as it is to make enterprise difficult with red tape and hurdles. Businessmen are grown ups and should be allowed to freely risk their capital and make their profits or their losses without public intervention. Government’s role is to raise taxes and provide public goods and services properly. We need to remind ourselves that India is a large, populous country with hundreds of millions of materially poor ill-informed citizens, a weak tax-base, a humongous internal and external public debt (i.e. debt owed by the Government to domestic and foreign creditors), a non-investment grade credit-rating in world financial markets, massive annual fiscal deficits, an inconvertible currency, nationalized banks, and runaway printing of paper-money. There is plenty of serious economics that has yet to begin to be done in the country. New Delhi must wake up from its self-induced dreaming.

Atoms for Peace (or War)

Atoms for Peace (or War)

by Subroto Roy

First published in The Sunday Statesman, March 5 2006 Editorial Page Special Article,

“Atoms for Peace” was Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1953 speech to the UN (presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister) from which arose the IAEA. Eisenhower was the warrior par excellence, having led the Allies to victory over Hitler a few years earlier.

Yet he was the first to see “no sane member of the human race” can discover victory in the “desolation, degradation and destruction” of nuclear war. “Occasional pages of history do record the faces of the ‘great destroyers’, but the whole book of history reveals mankind’s never-ending quest for peace and mankind’s God-given capacity to build.” Speaking of the atomic capacity of America’s communist adversary at the time, he said: “We never have, and never will, propose or suggest that the Soviet Union surrender what rightly belongs to it. We will never say that the peoples of the USSR are an enemy with whom we have no desire ever to deal or mingle in friendly and fruitful relationship.” Rather, “if the fearful trend of atomic military build-up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind…. if the entire body of the world’s scientists and engineers had adequate amounts of fissionable material… this capability would rapidly be transformed into universal, efficient and economic usage”. Eisenhower’s IAEA would receive contributions from national “stockpiles of normal uranium and fissionable materials”, and also impound, store and protect these and devise “methods whereby this fissionable material would be allocated to serve the peaceful pursuits of mankind.…to provide abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world… to serve the needs rather than the fears of mankind.” When Eisenhower visited India he was greeted as the “Prince of Peace” and a vast multitude threw rose petals as he drove by in an open limousine.

Now, half a century later, Dr Manmohan Singh read a speech in Parliament on February 27 relating to our nuclear discussions with America. But it seems unclear even his speech-writers or technical advisers knew how far it was rhetoric and how far grounded in factual realities. There is also tremendous naivete among India’s media anchors and political leaders as to what exactly has been agreed by the Americans on March 2.

Churchill once asked what might have happened if Lloyd George and Clemenceau told Woodrow Wilson: “Is it not true that nothing but your fixed and expiring tenure of office prevents you from being thrown out of power?” The same holds for George W. Bush today. Wilson made many promises to the world that came to be hit for a six by US legislators. In December 2005, Edward Markey (Democrat) and Fred Upton (Republican) promised to scuttle Bush’s agreements with India, and once the pleasant memories of his India visit fade, Bush may quite easily forget most things about us. All the Americans have actually agreed to do is to keep talking.

It needs to be understood that submarine-launched ballistic missiles are the only ultimate military deterrent. Land and air forces are all vulnerable to a massive first-strike. Only submarines lurking silently for long periods in waters near their target, to launch nuclear warheads upon learning their homeland had been hit by the enemy, act as a deterrent preventing that same enemy from making his attack at all. Indeed, the problem becomes how a submarine commander will receive such information and his instructions during such a war. (For India to acquire an ICBM capability beyond the MRBM Agni rockets is to possess an expensive backward technology — as retrograde as the idea India should spend scarce resources sending manned moon missions half a century after it has already been done. The secret is to do something new and beneficial for mankind, not repeat what others did long ago merely to show we can now do it too.) A nuclear-armed submarine needs to be submerged for long periods and also voyage long distances at sea, and hence needs to be nuclear-powered with a miniature version of a civilian nuclear reactor aboard in which, e.g. rods of enriched uranium are bombarded to release enough energy to run hydroelectric turbines to generate power. Patently, no complete separation of the use of atomic power for peace and war may be practically possible. If India creates e.g. its own thorium reactors for civilian power (and we have vast thorium reserves, the nuclear fuel of the future), and then miniaturised these somehow to manufacture reactors for submarines, the use would be both civilian and military. In 1988 the old USSR leased India a nuclear-powered submarine for “training” purposes, and the Americans did not like it at all. In January 2002, Russia’s Naval Chief announced India was paying to build and then lease from 2004 until 2009 two nuclear-powered Akula-class attack submarines, and Jaswant Singh reportedly said we were paying $1 thousand crore ($10 bn) for such a defence package. Whether the transaction has happened is not known. Once we have nuclear submarines permanently, that would be more than enough of the minimum deterrent sought.

Indeed, India’s public has been barely informed of civilian nuclear energy policy as well, and an opportunity now exists for a mature national debate to take place — both on what and why the military planning has been and what it costs (and whether any bribes have been paid), and also on the cost, efficiency and safety of the plans for greater civilian use of nuclear energy. Government behaviour after the Bhopal gas tragedy does not inspire confidence about Indian responses to a Three Mile Island/Chernobyl kind of catastrophic meltdown.

That being said, the central question remains why India or anyone else needs to be nuclear-armed at all. With Britain, France or Russia, there is no war though all three are always keen to sell India weapons. Indeed it has been a perennial question why France and Britain need their own deterrents. They have not fought one another for more than 100 years and play rugby instead. If Russia was an enemy, could they not count on America? Or could America itself conceivably become an enemy of Britain and France? America owes her origins to both, and though the Americans did fight the British until the early 1800s, they have never fought the French and love the City of Paris too much ever to do so.

Between China and India, regardless of what happened half a century ago, nuclear or any war other than border skirmishes in sparse barren lands is unlikely. Ever since Sun Yat-sen, China has been going through a complex process of self-discovery and self-definition. An ancient nation where Maoism despoiled the traditional culture and destroyed Tibet, China causes others to fear it because of its inscrutability. But it has not been aggressive in recent decades except with Taiwan. It has threatened nuclear war on America if the Americans stand up for Taiwan, but that is not a quarrel in which India has a cogent role. China (for seemingly commercial reasons) did join hands with Pakistan against India, but there is every indication the Chinese are quite bored with what Pakistan has become. With Pakistan, our situation is well-known, and there has been an implicit equilibrium since Pokhran II finally flushed out their capacity. Had India ever any ambition of using conventional war to knock out and occupy Pakistan as a country? Of course not. We are barely able to govern ourselves, let aside try to rule an ideologically hostile Muslim colony in the NorthWest. Pakistan’s purported reasons for acquiring nuclear bombs are spurious, and cruelly so in view of the abject failures of Pakistan’s domestic political economy. Could Pakistan’s Government use its bombs against India arising from its own self-delusions over J&K? Gohar Ayub Khan in 1998-1999 threatened to do so when he said the next war would be over in two hours with an Indian surrender. He thereby became the exception to Eisenhower’s rule requiring sanity. An India-Pakistan nuclear exchange is, unfortunately, not impossible, leaving J&K as Hell where Jahangir had once described it as Heaven on Earth.

America needs to end her recent jingoism and instead rediscover the legacy of Eisenhower. America can lead everyone in the world today including Russia, China, Israel, Iran and North Korea. But she can do so only by example. America can decommission many of her own nuclear weapons and then lead everyone else to the conference table to do at least some of the same. Like the UN, the IAEA (and its NPT) needs urgent reform itself. It is the right time for serious and new world parleys towards the safe use of atoms for peace and their abolition in war. But are there any Eisenhowers or Churchills to lead them?