Critics of the NDA government point to the disjunction between its magic-wand election promises and the seemingly unimpressive beginning. Under siege, the government’s defence is that it needs more time to undo the damage done by the UPA. With spiralling prices and inflation, fanned by a dismal monsoon and skyrocketing oil costs, the unbridled optimism of three months ago has all but dissipated. But amidst this gloom, there is one important area where this government has already made a perceptible difference. There is sufficient evidence to show that, after three years of unmitigated non-governance, the new government has moved positively towards righting “the ship of state”.
Let me explain. In its last three years, the UPA had eroded the authority of the political executive through its misdeeds and ineptness. It all began to unravel in 2011, when the government showed utter insensitivity to public outrage over confirmed reports that the Commonwealth Games top brass had, in the midst of other unpardonable financial irregularities, even procured toilet rolls at Rs 4,500 each. In similar crass fashion, it took no deterrent action in the 2G and coal block scams until the Supreme Court rapped its knuckles. The cowardly pandering to Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal bullying, to the extent of senior UPA ministers cravenly receiving renowned yoga guru and then Anna groupie, Ramdev, at the Delhi airport, made the UPA the laughing stock of the nation and irretrievably damaged its authority.
In the neverending orgy of government-bashing that followed, even the then Comptroller and Auditor General happily shed his sacred responsibility of non-partisanship and publicly lambasted the government with the licentiousness of an Arvind Kejriwal. His exaggerated, over-the-top calculations of losses in 2G were contested with facts and figures by UPA spokespersons, but nobody believed them, so low was the government’s stock with the people. Ashok Khemka, a serving IAS officer, brazenly defied government conduct rules as he preened before TV cameras and exposed the venality of the government. It was a free-for-all.
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Significantly, during this period of virtual non-governance, the Supreme Court stepped into the breach and took upon itself the responsibility of making the law, in addition to its legitimate duty of interpreting it. It directed the government to enhance the powers and independence of the CBI. The apex court’s twin judgments arbitrating that any person jailed even temporarily is debarred from contesting elections to legislatures provoked the drafting of the controversial bill on convicted legislators that was so dramatically torn up in the full glare of the media, a hypocritical gesture that did nothing to redeem the UPA’s sullied image but further reinforced the view that the titular leadership counted for nothing. The UPA’s pathetic attempt to become an anti-corruption crusader by seeking to clear pending anti-graft bills while teetering on its last legs evoked contemptuous amusement. By the end of its tenure, the government, headed by a leading economist turned cipher, had completely undermined the authority of the political executive.
In the short period of three months, there has been a sea change in the dynamics of governance. The government has emphatically regained control of its turf and thereby restored the equilibrium between the judiciary and the political executive, which is so vital for a vibrant democracy. In true democratic tradition, there has already been a healthy tug-of-war between the Supreme Court and the government on issues relating to the appointment of judges, which is how it should be. It is also good to see that the bureaucracy that, along with the political class and the business community, has grievously hurt this country is now being called to account. So far, this government has been doing it right, and despite a slow start on the economic front, there is still a collective passion to see this government succeed. To some extent, this mass endorsement can be traced to the near universal aversion to the previous dispensation, which seems to have learnt nothing from its rout.
The new government has emphatically re-established the authority and dignity of the political executive. However, it would do well to heed Kenneth Galbraith’s perceptive observation that “the success of a society is deeply dependent on the operation of a multiplicity of institutions that check and balance the force and possible domination that might otherwise be exercised by one institution”.
The writer, a former civil servant, is secretary general of the Lok Janshakti Party. Views are personal