We do not need the Chief Minister of Delhi to sleep on a pavement for us to know that there are some fundamental flaws in Indian democracy. So in my humble opinion, it was a silly thing to do. But, as I have expressed grave misgivings about the Aam Aadmi Party long before the shenanigans of last week, I have no intention of writing yet another piece on their juvenile antics. Instead, since it is Republic Day, I intend to use the occasion for some stocktaking. Where does India stand today? What are the achievements? What are the failings?
In our short journey as a modern nation state, we have nurtured our democracy so well that its roots today are strong and deep. This is our biggest achievement. With a general election months away, we can spend a smug moment revelling in the thought that if people are as sick of the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh government as they appear to be, they will have a chance to boot it out. If despite deep disappointment and despair, Rahul Gandhi succeeds in the pretension that he is the new face of our oldest political party, then he is a bigger leader than this columnist has given him credit for. And, if his main challenger succeeds in winning enough seats for the BJP to acquire a desperately needed new look, then good luck to him. May he succeed in making real the dream of prosperity and governance that he has sold so well in his campaign.
Whenever I take stock of India’s failing, the first thing that comes to mind is the failure of our criminal justice system to keep up with the times. Last week, this failure became more horribly obvious than usual because of the rape of the young girl on the orders of a village kangaroo court. Where were police? Why are they never around to stop these barbaric things from happening? Would there still be this kind of primitive justice if India’s real courts had more firmly imposed the rule of law?
To find answers to these questions, I went to see Harish Salve. He is not just an outstanding lawyer but one who has shown the courage to speak frankly about things that go beyond his immediate brief.
When I asked him why the Indian justice system had failed to keep pace with the needs of India’s people, he said, without a moment’s hesitation, that the biggest problem was that there were too few judges. Most western democracies have around 200 judges per thousand people. In India, we have 11. And, there are vacancies, Harish pointed out, but who wants to become a judge if at the end of your career you do not have enough money even to buy yourself a decent home? Judges are paid peanuts even by Indian standards, so the first thing that must improve are their salaries.
The second thing that needs to be curbed is the passion Indian …continued »