Making the Indian political process more efficient

Ram Guha has some suggestions:

First, promote bipartisanship on issues of national security and foreign policy. The Congress and the BJP are equally guilty here. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Srinagar, as the first prime minister to do so in more than a decade, Sonia Gandhi asked the Congress ministers in the state government to boycott his speech. More recently, when several years of peace were threatened by the Amarnath controversy, L.K. Advani worked to intensify the conflicts between Jammu and the Kashmir valley, when he could have instead chosen to collaborate with the government to resolve them. On the question of terrorism, too, the BJP and the Congress seek to wound the other party rather than to make common cause in the national interest. When the idea of India is itself in peril, there must be no place for the politics of vindictive opposition.

Second, promote lateral entry into government. One reason Western states are better run than ours is that top jobs are not a monopoly of party apparatchiks and civil servants. Rather, qualified technologists, lawyers, entrepreneurs and journalists are encouraged to enter government in posts suited to their skills. Why should a successful businessman not be eligible to be made commerce secretary, or a brilliant scientist education secretary?

Third, restore Parliament as a theatre for reasoned debate, which it indeed was for the first quarter-century of its existence. The first few Lok Sabhas met for some 150 times a year; now, we are lucky if Parliament convenes for 80 days a year. And when they are not on holiday, the members of parliament seek not to speak themselves but to stop others from speaking.

Fourth, put pressure on political parties to voluntarily adopt a retirement age. No one more than 70 years of age should be permitted by their party to contest elections or hold office. In a young country and fast-moving world, to have octogenerians running state governments or seeking to be prime minister simply won’t do.

Fifth, act on the EC’s suggestion and include, on the ballot paper, the category “None of the above”, to be inserted after the list of candidates for each constituency. The right not to vote, and to make it known that an individual will not vote , is a natural extension of the democratic right to choose a particular candidate or party to represent oneself.

Though Guha calls his proposals realistic, it is not clear how things would work out; for example, if the majority choose none of the above, what happens? Re-election? How costly would that be? Will the candidates in the original list be allowed to contest again? Why or why not? Apart from his second suggestion, which might be rather easily implementable, the others need strong political will (which is not going to be present unless the current bunch of politicians find that it indeed is in their interest to do so). Some of the others, like the last one discussed above also seem to lead to practical issues that are to be thought through. Having said that, it still is a list that is worth talking about, adding to and deleting from!

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