Friday, Oct 31, 2014

Out of my mind: Colonial hangover

Written by Meghnad Desai | Posted: August 3, 2014 12:53 am

In the House of Lords, the benches on which the Peers sat in the old days were separated by a distance which had to be more than two swords’ length. This was to prevent members breaking out into a duel and hurting each other. There have been no duels for a while. Even in the House of Commons, disruption of business is unheard of.

In the new Parliament in India, in both Houses, the normal practice of unruly behaviour — rushing to the well, and confrontations near enough to fisticuffs — has resumed, leading to adjournments. Outside Parliament, retired MPs are refusing to vacate their allotted houses. Recently information came out that the governor of Gujarat spent 500 days away from her job, including 277 hours in air travel. She cannot be the only governor wasting public money.

India is proud of its democracy but it has to be said that its highest quality is the efficiency of the electoral process. Once the members are elected, the quality of performance of the elected legislators leaves a lot to be desired. Those who get to be in the ruling party/coalition behave worse. Their perks and privileges cost a lot.

It is time for the civil society to ask some tough questions. Why is it that India adopts British practices in their bad bits but not the best ones? Is it not time to compute the costs to the taxpayer of the behaviour of the politically privileged legislators and members of the Executive?

In Britain, MPs do not get free housing nor do they have many of the travel and medical perks which MPs and their families in India enjoy. No MPLADS either. What does an MP cost in terms of salary, expenses, market value of the likely rent on Lutyens properties? Is the sum around a thousand times the per capita income of India or more? Has anyone kept an audit of the horrendous costs of such fractious mischief that MPs indulge in?

India has a feudal attitude to its ruling class. The idea of a governor general/viceroy at the apex was to reproduce the British monarchy in the colonies. There were governors in each Presidency to reproduce the monarchical illusion. Independent India slavishly adopted this practice as part of its Constitution. So the entire panoply of feudal relations is still here.

The constitutional position of the President reflects that of the Crown in the UK. It is customary for the monarch to read the speech from the throne at the start of each Parliament. But I have already proposed in the UK that this is an anomalous practice. Why should the Queen read out the speech written by the PM? Why cannot she summon the PM to read his speech? Whatever the British do, why should India copy that practice? Let the Rashtrapati preside over the opening of Parliament, but let the Prime Minister tell the world what his government is going to do.

Unlike the UK, but like the US, India has a vice-president as well continued…

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