Strengthening of the (Proper) Institutions of the Indian State

Several recent news items have been disturbing:

The Defence Forces:
The court martial of a defence officer of the rank of a general for taking kickbacks in the supply of “daal” (lentils).
The suspected involvement of a Lt. Col. in home-grown terrorist activities.

The Police Forces:
The regular feature of “hafta” that common Indians inevitably face.
The failure of the police in nabbing even those criminals who operate across the states. For example, the sandal smugglers in the areas adjoining Karnataka, Kerala and Tamilnadu, the naxalites roaming free across Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, AP, Orissa, etc.

The Judiciary:
Recent articles concerning impeachment or other recourses for bringing to line (or evicting from the judiciary) a High Court judge.
The number of pending cases and the projected time to complete them at the current rate.

And, something involving all—i.e., all arms of the government as well as common citizens: global terrorism.

Obviously, at the same time that India began to shine and Indians began to make it to the global Forbes list, there has also been ongoing a grave process of erosion of all the proper spheres of governence. If the Indian state is to be strong, these issues must be addressed with urgency, and the concerned institutions strengthened.

I have always been arguing for the lessening of government controls in economy. But it does not mean advocacy of either parallel governments or anarchy. (The former has de-facto been practised by the Naxalites in certain parts of the country for quite some time now—certainly also during the times when the BJP was in power at the Center. And as to anarchy, the suggestion towards establishment of police stations being run by political parties has also raised its head already—even if none takes it seriously.)

As the elections loom nearer, governments in mixed-economies tend to increase government spending. No country or party is exception to this rule. (For example, witness the actions of the recent governments in USA, UK, France, India, etc.) In particular, the supposed “right-wing” or the “moralizing” parties are not, either. BJP does exactly the same as does Congress. One would, therefore, expect a lot of expenditure to get announced over the days to come. … What can one do?

… Think about it… It, actually, is a good question—not just a rhetorical expression!

If it comes to me, I would advise the PM Manmohan Singh and the ruling coalition (and also state governments—irrespective of what party rules them) to sieze this moment and announce some really good expenditure plans that go towards strengthening of the proper institutions of government. (For the question of what constitutes proper functions of government, consult Ayn Rand’s writings.) It would make good sense politically as well as electorally.

I realize that I have to be extra careful here, simply because I am advocating increased expenditure. So, here we go…

Some don’ts. …

Firstly, Mr. Singh (and also chief ministers), do it decisively, definitely, but without foolish catch-phrases to go with it. In particular, do not try to describe it like “world-class government” etc. (the way Mr. Arjun Singh’s socialist friends recently tried to do, via showering of job-promotions under the name of “world-class universities”.) Please, do avoid that temptation.

Secondly, Mr. Singh, do not wrap your packages around with any socialistic language—flowery or otherwise. Just avoid this temptation too.

OK. I understand that politicians would want to have a punch about it. Sure, they can have it. For instance, don’t announce funds only for equipment and hardware resources for the police force. Go ahead, announce handsome salary hikes for the police personnel too. After all, our police does need incentive, and (I am being honest here) will actually also function better with increased pay. A proper code of morality would not regard the police personnel as objects of sacrifice.

Similarly, for the armed forces. But here, a little tact will be necessary. We will have to first tell the world that any increases on defence spending which arise because of the hikes in the salaries of our armed forces are both just and well highly well-deserved.

As to strengthening of the judiciary, frankly, I have no idea what precisely is needed. But I find it amazing that with all the explosion in the number of law graduates, we still should have to put up with a system of judiciary that cannot get or hire the sufficient number of judges… I find it amazing. What goes wrong? Where? I have no idea… Will someone please enlighten ordinary citizens like me?

(I also have some vague feelings about the necessity of repealing extraneous or superfluous laws. We in India have one of the largest written constitutions, and also a very long and unwieldy system of legal codes. We need to make it all leaner. For instance, we must strike out the word “socialistic” from the Preamble to the Constitution, fully restore property rights, and repeal many of the other “good-to-haves” that are not actually proper rights… But then, this whole matter of jurisprudence is too complex… It’s better if our lawyers and judges did something about it… I mean, we must push for constitutional reforms too, but legal experts will have to look into the aspect of what time will be most opportune for undertaking what reform when… One doesn’t want to end up having a worse legal code than the one we have already.)

In any case, I stand for strengthening of these three institutions. They do correspond to the proper functions of government. And, the time is opportune… What do you think, Mr. Manmohan Singh?

[Note added Dec. 5, 2008: May be, the time is not so opportune anymore…. The above piece was initially written on Nov. 24, 2008. It was revised and published on Dec. 5, 2008. The revision was limited to just adding a few sentences or so: the two examples of the difficult-to-pin-down inter-state crimes, the line that terrorism involves all aspects of government, and a bit of explanation about legal reforms…. Obviously, terrorism-related changes would have the topmost priority now. ]

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BTW, this is a minor aside, really speaking, but it would do well if our neighbours begin calling us “India” or “Bharat” rather than “Hindustan.” Pakistan’s rather articulate foreign minister was, just days back, shown on TV repeating “Hindustan.” This issue isn’t quite like the “Bombay or Mumbai” issue. It is deeper than that. India is neither a Hindu state nor does the idea of this nation state traces its roots to anything to do with those numerous “Stan”s existing in the world. The idea of India, the nation that we actually live in, today, just isn’t medieval… The expression “the idea of India,” which has become rather popular in the Indian press in the recent years, captures this spirit just right… It’s time we insisted on it… But, still, the first part of this post (regarding strengthening) is what is truly important; this small addendum, even if valid, isn’t, by comparison.

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The Congress party has taken too long a time on both the counts: in getting Mr. Deshmukh to resign and then in deciding who the next CM will be. Bad! (As an aside, it also was surprising to see even “Sakal” Main Editorial attribute wrong words to Mr R R Patil… Why?) Poor show!

But then I just cannot attribute every bad thing to politicians alone (the way, for example, Sonali Bendre was found doing on TV this afternoon… I mean, does it all begin and end with just who we elect, Sonali?)… More on this tendency which the elites (intellectual or business elites) in India show, some other time… (I will have to go into many deeper issues like castes, socially en-forced—literally—artificial division of work and the related ethos, the resultant set of discordant values, the resultant deep distrust, the further complications due to mixed economy on top of this all, etc. etc. etc. Really, it will have to be a separate piece or two. Or hundreds… Some other time.)

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