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Representative versus Direct Democracy

Yet another must read article from Prof. Mahendra Prasad Singh who continues to write in his inimitible style that is simple in its expression but articulating complex thoughts about issues that India faces. 




            The problematique of this paper is to explore a significant aspect of Indian democracy in terms of the original design as well as subsequent evolutionary trajectory bearing on the relationship between representative democracy and direct democracy. This relationship appears to be central to the making of the Indian Constitution and the working of the Indian political system for over six decades since the commencement of the Constitution in 1950. Yet despite its foundational and developmental importance, this crucial relationship in the theory and practice of Indian democracy has not been systematically explored and analysed in the literature on politics in India. This paper seeks to fill this gap in the study of the Indian political system.

Representative versus Direct Democracy

            Anti-colonial freedom struggle in India led predominantly by the Indian National Congress (INC or Congress) in the first half of the twentieth century was deeply ambivalent between republicanism or representative democracy, on the one hand, and ideas of direct participatory democracy and direct action or militant nonviolent political agitations, on the other. This ambivalence recurs throughout the nationalist movement. This is evident in the debates between the Congress Moderates like Dadabhai Naoroji, M G Ranade, and G K Gokhale and Extremists like Balgangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Bipin Chandra Pal. The Congress leaders were also divided on the issue whether the Congress should enter the Legislative Councils set up under the Government of India Act, 1919, or boycott them. The successful Swadeshi Movement in Bengal against the partition of the province between Hindu-majority West Bengal and Muslim-majority East Bengal by Lord Curzon in the first decade of the twentieth century was also a limited struggle within the overall imperial-colonial framework for the annulment of a specific divisive decision of the British government in India. Gandhi's Noncooperation Movement of the early 1920s and its withdrawal in the event of outbreak of violence in Chaurichaura in the United Provinces (U P) and his civil Disobedience Movement in the early 1930s and his subsequent withdrawal into what he called ‘constructive politics’ clearly reflect a valiant attempt to resolve the dilemma between democratic and revolutionary methods of struggle. The two local struggles that Gandhi waged in the second decade of the twentieth century on behalf the peasants in Champaran in Bihar and mill workers in Ahmedabad in Gujarat were also tight-rope walks between the poles of conflict and cooperation with the existing system rather than a full-scale revolutionary class struggle. The Motilal Nehru Committee Report, 1928, commissioned by an all-party conference in colonial India, presented a blueprint of parliamentary federal government with a bill of rights for the Indian subjects within the overall framework of Dominion status under the British Crown. It was superseded by the Lahore Resolution of the Indian National Congress in 1930 presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru for complete independence from British rule. It was followed by the Karachi Congress Resolution in 1931 that contained a comprehensive charter of political and economic rights that presages the fundamental rights and directive principles of state policy enshrined in the Constitution of independent India enforced in 1950. Yet when the imperial government introduced the next round of constitutional reforms under the Government of India Act, 1935, offering limited federal autonomy to the provinces and princely states and a diarchy of bureaucratic and representative governance at the Centre, the Congress first decried it but subsequently formed ministries in the Congress-majority provinces. It is another matter that the federal component of the 1935 Constitution could never be operationalized due to the reluctance of the princely Indian states to join the proposed federation, and the Congress ministries in the provinces later resigned protesting against the British decision to get India involved in the Second World War without consulting the Congress. The 1942 Quit India Movement backed by Gandhi's call for "Do or Die" and eventually led by Jayaprakash Narayan from the underground when the entire top Congress leadership was jailed was probably the only revolutionary struggle that resulted in direct seizure of power by the people in some local areas. But it was soon suppressed and contained and the Congress leadership was back to the negotiation table to discuss with the British rulers the British Cabinet Mission Plan, 1946, for the independence of a united India under a confederal Constitution. The Constituent Assembly of India elected under the Cabinet Mission Plan even endorsed the Objectives Resolution moved by Jawaharlal Nehru anticipating that the Muslim League will also subsequently accept the confederation option and join the process of making of such a Constitution. But that was not to be, and the Cabinet Mission Plan was superseded by the Mountbatten Plan, 1946, for independence based on the partition between the two post-colonial states of India and Pakistan following the British withdrawal in the wake of the Second World War.

            It is evident from the foregoing that, unlike the modern USA, France, and Switzerland which were born in war of independence or revolution, Indian independence was gained through a legal transfer of power from the British Parliament to the Constituent Assembly of India under the Independence of India Act, 1947. Unlike those countries where the established governments were overthrown and the people took power in their own hands and established new regimes, India experienced a constitutional change of regime at the time of independence. Gandhi had demanded as early as in 1922 that the Constitution of India would be framed by a Constituent Assembly directly elected by the people. Instead, under the British Cabinet Mission Plan the Constituent Assembly came to be indirectly elected in 1946 by the provincial legislatures, which were themselves elected by a limited franchise based on educational qualifications and property ownership extended to only 38.5 percent of the Indian adult population under the Government of India Act, 1935. The Preambles of the Constitutions of both the USA and India begin with the ringing declaration of popular sovereignty proclaiming "We the people..." as the source of all political power. Yet it has a greater ring of authenticity in the US constitutionalism than in the Indian, for the foregoing reasons. The differences between the revolutionary birth of the US and Swiss Constitutions, for example, and the evolutionary birth of the Indian Constitution have left their imprints on their respective constitutional principles, practices, and laws. For example, the Constitution and laws of India do not give any quarters to institutions of direct democracy such as formal people's initiative in law-making, referendum, and recall of elected representatives. The Constitution of Switzerland provides for all of these, in exceptionally fuller measures, though recall is provided for in only 3 of the 26 cantons, and even in these it has not been used in fact for a very long time. Switzerland is also the only federal country in the world where the federal, cantonal, and commune-level governments equally share one-third of the total national revenue. In the United States of America referendum is provided for only for constitutional amendments in some states in case of the federal constitution. Some state constitutions in the USA in the ‘wild west’ allow more liberal  use of referendum on many matters. In Canada too referendum has been a part of the political experience, especially in the western provinces contiguous to the western USA, and to an extent in the French Canadian province of Quebec. Australia too uses referendum for ratification of constitutional amendments after their passage by the two houses of the Parliament. Referendums are also used at the state level in Australia, the only British Commonwealth country that has also adopted some daring features of American federalism like a directly elected Senate and residuary powers to the states. These “wayward” ways of Australians may perhaps be understood in terms of their continental size and distance from the Mother Parliament in the Westminster. France with its revolutionary past also employs some of these devices of direct democracy.  Germany which also experienced  a revolution in 1918 and was born in 1949 in the wake of the World War II provides for referendum in state Constitutions mainly; in the national Constitution referendum finds a place only in the context of territorial reorganization of federating units. All these political systems combine representative democracy with certain measures of direct democracy in varying degrees, Switzerland exceeding and excelling all[1].

Ancient Athens and some other Greek city-states of the time as well as the Roman Republic of the yore practised direct democracy in which citizens deliberated and made laws and elected their officials. Most of these early experiments in direct democracy degenerated into mob rule that later gave rise to dictatorships or rule by aristocrats[2].

In ancient India too direct democratic institutions of the Vedic Sabhas (poular assemblies) and Samitis (aristocratic councils) and post-Vedic Janapadas (tribal territorial communities) and Mahajanapadas (tribal territorial proto-states), including Buddhist Ganasanghas (republican confederations/federations) flourished in the North. These were subsequently superseded with the emergence of more centralized states founded by the Nandas and the Mauryas in Magadha. The Maurya state in particular expanded into the first subcontinental state in Indian history[3]. In early and later medieval South India there eixisted Sabhas (assemblies of Brahman villages), Urs (assemblies of peasant villages), and Nagarams (guilds of trading communities) which lost some of their autonomies with the rise of the greater Vijayanagara state in the peninsula superseding the Pallava and the Chola states.[4] Under early and later medieval Indian regional and subcontinental states the fate of the local political systems with panchayats (rural councils of five based on territorial or caste communities) varied with the vagaries of the centralizing power of the states concerned.

 In the trail of the American war of Independence a strong strain of plebiscitary democracy persisted, but one to the founding fathers of the American Republic, James Madison, reflected the sober view of many of the framers of the United States Constitution when he wrote in 1787; “Such democracies [as those of ancient Greece and Rome]…have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives, as they have been violent in their deaths” (The Federalist, paper no. x)[5] Madison was apprehensive that direct democracy might be dangerous to freedom, minorities, and property and breed violence by one group against anther.  

            The Indian Constitution (1950) basically contains a scheme of republican or representative democracy with a periodic renewal of electoral mandate at a normal interval of five years. This is despite the fact that the interim President of the Constituent Assembly and a leading light of the Patna Bar, Dr Sachchidanand Sinha, in his inaugural address had broached all the lading models of comparative constitutionalism including the Swiss model to the attention of the makers.[6] However, the Legal Advisor to the Assembly Sir B N Rao and the Chairman of the drafting committee Dr B R Ambedkar had in their notes and addresses focused mainly on the Anglo-American and the White Commonwealth models in Canada and Australia.[7] The Constituent Assembly clearly rejected any major or formal concession to direct democracy beyond its limited acceptance at the level of village panchayat under the towering structure of parliamentary federal governments at the Union and State levels in the representative mode. The Constituent Assembly Debates do not have anything great and exciting on Panchayats of Gandhi's imagination. The idea of Gram Swaraj as a bottom-up scheme of power from the people (rather than the rhetorical power to the people), was simply buried without much wide lament. The debate on article 31A of the draft constitution, which ended up being article 40 in Part IV of the Constitution on the directive principles of state policy, was marked by a profusion of rhetorics and naivety by a few Gandhians like T. Prakasham (Madras, General) and Surendra Mohan Ghose (West Bengal, General). Even the shrewd K. Santhanam appears to have paid some clever lip service and indulged in platitudes at the best. Praksham made reference to President Rajendra Prasad's remark at some point in the debates that the panchayats should be the 'basis' of the Constitution and the Legal Advisor B.N. Rao's comment that while he sympathised with the idea but it was too late to make change in the basis of the Constitution; yet in the next breath Prakasham thanked Ambedkar, the Chairman of the drafting committee, for including the article on panchayats as one of the directive principles of state policy belatedly! Everyone knows that this article itself is no more than an euphemism. Someone also made a reference to the very negative opinion of Ambedkar expressed about the village communities while presenting the draft constitution for debate in the Assembly. Even K. Santhanam, who moved the amendment with an overwhelming support of the House, to add the article under the debate to the Constitution that was adopted, seemingly agreed with those who disapproved the almost mystical idea of self-sufficiency of the village community. L. Krishnaswamy Bharathi (Madras, General ) reads as the only realist among those who participated in this debate, including Ambedkar who quickly accepted the amended article that became article 40 at the end of the day in the final text of the Constitution. Bharathi said "I must confess that I am not fully satisfied with this amendment, for the simple reason that even today under the present constitution, I think the Provincial Governments have enough powers to form village panchayats and operating them as self-governing units. But to the extent it goes I must express my satisfaction." Ultimately what boils down to the conclusion, according to Bharathi, is what Gandhi said on the occasion of the Asian Relations Conference convened by Nehru in New Delhi as the head of the interim government of India : "Non-violence with its technique of Satyagraha and non-cooperation will be the sanction of the village community."[8]

            There is another instance in which the Constituent Assembly turned its back to the direct democratic device of referendum. The rejection of the idea of having a directly elected President of India is a case in point. The matter was settled in favour of a President indirectly elected by the elected members of the Parliament and of the State Legislatures by proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote. This also happened during the debate on the power and process of amending the Constitution (article 304 in the draft constitution, which became article 368 in the final text). In the context of ratification of federally relevant amendments by states, Brajeshwar Prasad (Bihar, General ) proposed the idea of ratification in a referendum by the people in various states of the Indian Union. This was rejected and the Assembly settled for ratification by state legislatures to the tune 50 percent of the total number of the states[9].

            So, as it happens, neither the Constitution of India nor any law in the country make any provision for direct democratic devices of initiative, referendum, and recall. There are, of course, elaborate provisions for periodic elections at Union, state and local levels and for the Election Commission of India for the conduct of polls for the offices of the President and Vice-President of India and the Parliament and State Legislatures. The 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments (1992) also prescribe for the enactment of panchayat and municipal laws for local government and appointment of State Election Commissions to conduct elections at local levels. Part III of the Constitution on fundamental rights of the citizens guarantees fundamental freedoms of speech and expression, to assemble peacefully and without arms, to form associations and unions, to move freely throughout the territory of India, to reside and settle in any part of India, and to practice any profession or to carry out any occupation, trade or business. These rights are only subject to any law imposing reasonable restrictions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India or public order or morality (article 19). Add to these the right to equality (article 14) and right to life and personal liberty that cannot be taken away "except according to procedure established by law" (article 21). This starry triangle forms a most formidable and strong bill of rights in the realm of comparative constitutional law. And judicial interpretations have expanded them beyond the apparent intents of the makers of the constitution. This is illustrated by the virtual replacement in case law of the "procedure established by law" clause by the American constitutional doctrine of the "due process of law" rooted in the theory of natural law. Yet the fact remains that these rights cannot be stretched to the extent of direct democratic rights of initiative, referendum, and recall in terms of constitutional and positive laws of the land. Indeed, even the right to vote has been rather conservatively interpreted by the supreme court of India to be a legal right; it is neither a customary nor a fundamental right in its judgement.

The construction of participatory democratic and protest rights in Gandhian ideology and / or political theory is, of course, a different proposition. And I do concede that the Gandhian technique of nonviolent satyagraha has become a part of national ideological heritage of India. It has also found a receptive echo is several other countries of the world. Nevertheless, it is important to recall what Ambedkar said in his last major speech in the Constituent Assembly towards the end the deliberations. Said he: "If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us."[10]

            In the post-Independence politics of India, there have been at least three major occasions when the issue of direct democratic devices of popular participation in governance has prominently figured in the political discourse. These are the extra-parliamentary movement against corruption and authoritarianism in the government led by Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) in the first half of the 1970s, the post-Emergency 44th Constitutional amendment (1978), and the India Against Corruption (IAC) campaign led Anna Hazare and his team in the wake of the Arab Democratic Spring of 2011. In the first half of the 1970s India was rocked by a chain of extra-parliamentary mass protests in Gujarat led by Morarji Desai and in Bihar initiated by students and non-Congress and non-Communist opposition parties that came finally to be led by JP, the Gandhian socialist leader who was drawn out of virtual political retirement, that spread like a prairie fire across north India down to Bangalore. These movements demanded the resignation of Congress governments of Indira Gandhi at the Centre and in States and the dissolution of the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas for a fresh electoral mandate on the plea that the people had lost trust in these corrupt and authoritarian governments. JP rhetorically advocated his vision of what he called the Total Revolution which included the popular right to recall the elected representatives mid-term in a genuine participatory democracy. While the Gujarat Movement succeeded in getting the State Assembly dissolved under the pressure of a fast unto death by the rebel Congress Gandhian Morarji Desai, the JP Movement was superseded by the imposition of internal emergency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of the Indian National Congress in June 1975 under article 352 of the constitution, pleading that Congress governments as duly elected representatives of the people had the valid democratic mandate to rule for the five-year term. The Emergency as well as the JP Movement appeared to be fraught with the danger of lapsing into authoritarianism of the elite or the masses, but they were fortuitously checked on their tracks.[11]

            The post-Emergency Janata Party Government born out of the JP Movement did not institute recall in the representative-legislative system of the country. It did, however, seek to introduce referendum through the 44th Amendment (1978) to be held prior to a "Change in the Constitution which would have the effect of impairing its secular or democratic character, abridging or taking away fundamental rights, prejudicing or impeding free and fair elections on the basis of adult suffrage, and compromising the independence of judiciary..." According to the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the 44th Amendment, such changes "can be made only if they are approved by the people of India by a majority of votes at a referendum in which at least fifty-one percent the electorate participate." It also said "Article 368 is being amendment to ensure this." Paradoxically however, article 368 was left untouched by the amendment. The Statement of Objects and Reasons also remains unaltered in the constitution (Forty-Fourth Amendment) Act, 1978.[12] This was probably because of the fact that the Janata Party Government`s majority in the Lok Sabha was counterveiled by the majority of the Congress Party in opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Thus apparently the Congress opposition did not agree to any alteration in article 368 but allowed the Statement of Objects and Reasons to stand as it was. But it does not have any effect in law, only an ideological function of some sort.



The Recent Anti-Corruption Movements and Direct Democracy

            In the wake of the heady Arab Democratic Spring of 2011, the India Against Corruption (IAC), founded by Arvind Kejriwal, a product  of the elite  Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, a Rght to Information movement activist, and a Rayman Magasasay Award-winner persuaded Anna Hazare13, an  Indian army veteran and a celebrated crusader against political corruption in Maharashtra swearing by Gandhian nonviolence and satyagraha and a resident villager of Ralegan Siddhi, to  lead a team comprising others like Shanti Bhushan, Law Minister in the Morarji Desai Janata Party government, his son Prashant Bhushan, a senior Supreme Court Advocate, Kiran Bedi, India`s first woman Indian Police Service (IPS) officer now retired, Justice Santosh Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge, Medha Patkar and Manish Sishodia, social activists, etc., and launch a national campaign against corruption. Along with an unusually powerful institution of Lokpal at the centre and Lokayuctas in states - somewhat similar to Scandinavian Ombudsman/New Zealand`s Parliamentary Commissioner but strangely above even the Supreme Court of India and oblivious of the federal division of powers in the Indian Constitution! -  to deal with cases of corruption involving political and administrative classes from the top to bottom, they also  raised the pitch for direct democratic devices like the right to recall, besides the right of the voters to reject all candidates if they so like in an election for representative institutions. Anna Hazare also gave expression to his vision of participatory direct democracy in India in which law-making would be a joint endeavour between the legislatures and the Gram Sabhas premised on a relationship of parity. The movement, conducted through direct public meetings in metro cities and more widely through internet social networking sites and backed by Anna Hazare's public fast unto death on the issue of a strong ombudsman law in the midst of a great media hype in New Delhi, presented a big spectacle of public protest. The Indian National Congress (INC)-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government incrementally yielded under its pressure. There was an unprecedented instance of the direct participation of the civil society in drafting a Lokpal-Lokayukta bill by a government-appointed joint panel co-chaired by a Union minister and a civil society nominee. When the process was stalemated, the government and the Team Anna proceeded to draft their respective bills unilaterally, but the government was pressurized to refer both the bills to a parliamentary standing committee. The reconciled constitutional amendment bill failed to muster the requisite two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha and was roundly thrashed in the Rajya Sabha before it was abruptly adjourned sine die on the last day of the winter session of 2011 at the midnight on December 31. When the Parliament resumed its session in the spring of 2012, the bill was referred back to the select committee for a relook. The government has gone on record saying it was an one-time-off instance, but then a precedent is set which may not of course settle into a convention.

            After the grand success of the Hazare India Against Corruption Movement in Delhi in the spring and monsoon of 2011, the hope of a repeat public mobilization in December 2011 in Mumbai was a fiasco. Lower public turnout and health problem forcing Anna to call off the fast ended the spectacle on medical advice. However, despite government`s attempt to scuttle the campaign and critical comments by the leaders of the Muslim minorities and Dalits, the Anna Team tried to regain the lost public space by forging ties with Baba Ramdev`s Bharat Swabhiman Andolan movement for bringing back the huge black money of Indian politico-administrative and economic elites stashed away in foreign banks, on the one hand, and by announcing and initiating new plans for agitations beginning in the new year, on the other. Baba Ramdev`s fast in June 2011 in the Ramlila Grounds, New Delhi, was broken by a midnight crackdown by Delhi Police, for which the Supreme Court reprimanded the governments of India and Delhi City State for their undemocratic and unconstitutional conduct. Earlier, the Team Anna had maintained a thinly disguised respectable distance from the Baba Ramdev Movement. That subsequently became a thing of the past. The Anna Team in the meantime came closer to the Baba Ramdev Movement strongly criticizing the highhandedness of the government. In a one-day fast by the Baba at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, in early June 2012, the Team Anna demonstrated full solidarity with the event and appeared playing a second fiddle to the well financed and well organized spectacle on this occasion for a change. The Team Anna too announced its plans for a series of campaigns including fasts for the coming months of 2012. Team Anna also announced plans to set up People`s Candidates against the two major national parties – INC and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The two movements evidently moved closer.  A joint fast was planned by India Against Corruption and Bharat Swabhiman Andolan from July 25, 2012.

            India Against Corruption released a list of 15 tainted ministers in the UPA government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who, they contended, were causing the stalling of the Jan Lokpal Bill.  They demanded the setting up of a special investigative team against them and fast courts to prosecute them and Members of Parliament with criminal and corrupt antecedents.  To press the demand Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sishodia, and Gopal Rai sat on an indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi beginning on 25 July, 2012, with Anna scheduled to join later, which he did on the fourth day. There was wide but less than enthusiastic popular participation this time. The crowds swelled somewhat by the solidarity arrival on the scene by Baba Ramdeva and his followers for a day in the afternoon, making some to observe that the movement was likely to gather momentum on the support of various sections of the middle classes represented in the two leading organizations. Ten days of public fasts left the government unmoved. A group of 23 eminent citizens, including some former army and navy chiefs, a former Supreme Court Chief Justice, and some retired civil servants persuaded the fasting leaders to break their fasts to keep their fight on against the insensitive government. The issue of direct democratic devices like voter`s right to reject and recall was conspicuous by absence during this campaign.

            In the months that followed, cracks appeared in what had popularly come to be known as the Team Anna by the autumn of 2012 mainly on the issue of Arvind Kejrival, Prashant Bhushan, and Manish Sishodia floating the idea of forming a political party and campaigning their cause electorally, and Anna Hazare and Kiran Bedi rooting for the earlier non-party approach of the movement. The breach is now complete, with Hazare having formally dissolved the Team Anna and formed a new Team Anna with such members of the earlier team as Justice Santosh Hegde, Kiran Bedi, social activists Medha Patkar and Akhil Gogoi, and others. The former Army Chief  General V K Singh was named a special invitee. Anna has asked the dissidents not to use his name or photographs in their political activities. In the third week of November 2012 Kejriwal decided to drop the previous name of his organization India Against Corruption and announced the formation of a new party, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and adopted a constitution committed to the ideology of decentralized democracy, development, and justice. The party would aim at securing people`s right to initiative in law-making, referendum on needed revision in law, and recall. The Gram Sabha and Mohalla Sabha would have power to decide on their development needs. (The Hindu, New Delhi, November 25, 2012: 1). All this spells a vague challenge to the existing constitutional architecture of the Indian republic. The nitty-gritty of reconciling these new features with the existing parliamentary federal constitution of India, or, else, posing a frontal challenge to it – are all left in a state of splendid ambiguity.  The party would only have a collegial power structure consisting of a 23-member National Executive elected by a National Council. In addition to the earlier social activists mentioned above,  two eminent academics – political scientist Yogendra Yadav (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi)  and sociologist Anand Kumar (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) also appeared on the scene on the occasion of the launching of the party. Earlier, during its gestation period, the party had already declared that it was wedded topromoting probity and austerity in public life, putting all its income and expenditure on the website, and promising the enactment of the Jan Lokpal bill within 10 days of being voted to power – all posing a big challenge to the existing political parties. Both are convinced campaigners of the idea that both the major national parties - INC and BJP – as well as the rest of the parties in the system are deeply mired in corruption and are not interested in ending corruption. Prima facie, there does appear to be a silent complicity in the entire political class, with the possible or partial exception of the communist parties, in the absence of legislating political party reforms and anti-corruption measures, despite repeated recommendations of commissions after commissions appointed by the various Union governments themselves from time to time. However, a rather puzzling aspect of all the three strands of the anti-corruption movements is that none of these has raised any question about the wide-spread phenomenon of family control or dynastic domination of most political parties in India, with notable exceptions of the communist parties and the BJP.

            The Kejriwal group since its separation from the Anna group organized a series of exposes of alleged corrupt practices indulged by Congress and BJP ministers and party functionaries in the autumn of 2012. These included the alleged nexus between realters DLF Limited, Congress president Sonia Gandhi`s son-in-law Robert Vadra, and the Haryana Congress government led by Bhupinder singh Hudda for political favours, alleged financial irregularities in the running of the Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust by the Congress Union Minister Salman Khurshid`s wife, alleged political favours to companies owned by BJP President Nitin Gadkari by the Indian National Congress-Nationalist Congress Party coalition government in Maharashtra, alleged political favours by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government of India to the leading Indian private sector company Reliance in providing them contracts at damned cheap rates for gas explorations in the Krishna-Godavari Basin which smacks of crony capitalism, alleged secret bank Swiss bank accounts of India`s leading industrialists and a Congress MP close to Rahul Gandhi, and the alleged ‘gifting away’ of the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation`s 20 percent stake in the Krishna-Godavari Basin to two private companies for gas explorations by BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi (BJP) of Gujarat.

            These exposes came in the wake of the scams related to 2G telecom spectrum allocations and coal block allocations by the UPA governments led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh brought to notice of the Parliament, media, and public by the constitutionally entrenched Comptroller and Auditor General of India, to say nothing of the numerous other scandals concerning the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society in Mumbai meant for war widows involving the political leaders, and administrative and army officers, etc. All these led to important cases and stern judicial action by the Supreme Court or High Courts.  The Lokayuktas in Karnatka ruled by BJP and in Uttar Pradesh ruled by Bahujan Samaj Party also caused several cases to be filed in courts against the  corrupt BJP Chief Minister of Karnataka, and ministers and civil servants there and in UP.

The two anti-corruption groups have desisted from mutual acrimony. Kejriwal says Anna is still his guru and Hazare says their paths are different but the goals are common. Anna has also said that although he will not join the party formed by the Kejriwal group, he will support it in its electoral bid. The Anna group members have claimed the brand name India Against Corruption made famous by the Anna-led campaigns, and Kejriwal has said he will yield to the demand if Anna said so, and he did sowhen he formed the new party.

Political parties and political movements in Indian and comparative politics have had a mutually exploitative relationships. Parties without movements and movements without parties find it difficult to make themselves sustainable propositions. The INC, Janata Party/Dal, Socialist and Communist parties, and BJP, to name some important national parties in India, illustrate this point. These parties were born in or brought to the fore by the movements associated with them. The INC was the product of the freedom movement and its earlier phenomenal political success was derived from that symbiotic relationship. And its subsequent decline is also attributable to the loss of its association with any new movement in contemporary India. The Janata Party/Dal was born in the JP Movement and it tried to sustain itself through the Mandal Reservation policy move, which is inherently incapable of turning into a major mass movement. The disappearance of the Socialist parties earlier (1970s) was attributable to their absorption by other centrist parties and movements.  The Communist parties` current decline (early 2010s) is at least partly due to the weakening of the trade union movements in the present phase of neoliberal economic reforms and globalization. The BJP was brought from the margins to the mainstream of politics through the Ayodhya Ram Mandir Movement during the 1990s, which again suffers from some inherent limitations in secular and multicultural India.

In this backdrop, Anna`s preference for the non-party movement option and Kejriwal`s inclination to form a political party may weaken both in isolation. This would be particularly unfortunate in view of the fact that the cause of fighting against corruption today is much more difficult than at the time of the JP Movement in the 1970s. Then it was the JP Movement and non-Congress/non-Communist opposition parties versus the Congress plus a marginal Communist Party of India (not the Communist Party of India-Marxist) in power, today the fledgling and divided Anna and Kejriwal movements are up against the vested interests in undemocratic control of the entire established party system and special interest groups including the big corporate capitalist class grown considerably stronger in economic power and political influence since the neoliberal economic reforms.  The anti-corruption crusaders stand to gain by a combined assault on the system. But that is not on the cards at present. The two leaders` restrained offensive against the other may, however, mean a possible reunion between the two on the way ahead. If their separate strategies make some headway in their own ways, there may be some incentives for the two to join hands in the future.

            While opening a new office for his reconstituted team in Sarvodaya Enclave, New Delhi, just before Diwali 2012, Anna said he will begin a nation-wide tour campaign from January 30, 2013. While Jan Lokpal is the issue all in the group harp on including Anna, Anna himself also made a new call that foreign companies must be stopped from entering the country. He decried the land acquisition by governments in India for handing it over to the corporate companies and the move to privatise water and power. He demanded that the power to decide on land acquisition for non-agricultural purposes must reside in the Gram Sabhas (village councils).

It is anybody`s guess whether the divided anti-corruption movements will have any impact on the present government`s policy or on the electoral prospects in the elections in the near future and especially in the general election due in 2014. The UPA government in office at this writing (November 13, 2012) has grown particularly unresponsive to the split anti-graft campaign. The new party being formed by the Kejriwal group will probably be a poor match to the enormously resourceful and corrupt political machines in the plutocratic electoral fray. The only factors in favour of a positive change are (a) the probable public reaction against the endemic and unusually thick cases of political corruption meticulously exposed by constitutionally empowered institutional and extra-institutional devices and campaigned against by the anti-corruption crusaders, and (b) the reasonably free and fair polling, thanks to the Election Commission of India.  


            Summing up, strongly pervasive or partially incorporated institutions of direct democracy are a feature of republics born in moderate revolutions or wars as in Switzerland and the USA. In the Indian case, the transfer of power from the colonial rulers to the nationalists was legal, but independence was won after a long freedom struggle in which extra-constitutional methods of political agitation were used. Reflecting this dual legacy, India has been ambivalent between representative democracy and direct democracy. There is some tension between the constitution of India and its national political heritage of the Gandhian vision of Gram Swaraj and political methods of nonviolent satyagraha. This tension is also reflected in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution which invokes the doctrine of popular sovereignty that proclaims "We, the people of India..." as the source of all power and the rest the Constitution that outlines an essentially representative or republican version of democracy. And the structure of governments in India, despite repeated attempts to incorporate measures of direct democracy, remains rooted in representative democracy.

This is not to say, however, that the yearning for a participatory direct democracy in cohabitation with representative democracy is not valid. Nor can it be said to be destined to fail, except the presumably unworkable institution of recall in the Indian condition as highlighted by the erstwhile Chief Election Commissioner of India, S Y Quraishi. Even in Switzerland, out of 26 cantons, only three have the institution of recall and even these have not used it for a very long time. The proposed neo-Bonapartist Jan Lokpal and parity between Gram Sabha and the Parliament will also have to be rationalised in conformity with the parliamentary federal structure of the Indian Constitution. This is particularly necessary in view the prevailing judicial doctrine of the umamendability of the “basic structure” or “essential features” of the Constitution invented by the Supreme court since its ruling in the the Keshavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala  (1971).14 The movements have got neither viable alternative vision nor the power to overturn the existing constitutional architecture. Within the overall framework of the Constitution, workable participatory direct democratic devices may well be incorporated in a partial combination and a harmonious construction to provide a democratic check on degeneration of electoral and governmental processes. This is an imperative in the backdrop of endemic corruption and criminalization of the political process during the Indira Gandhi Emergency regime (1975-1977)15 and since the 1990s. Elections have become so expensive by now that the Parliament has turned into a plutocratic club which is indicated by the fact  that 57.80 percent of the 15th Lok Sabha  elected in 2009 are crorepatis (multi-millionnaires), their percentages ranging between 81.81 in the Shiv Sena and 6.25 in the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Among the two major national parties, the percentage of such MPs is 70.87 in the INC and 50.86 percent in the BJP.16 The percentage of MPs with pending criminal cases in this Lok Sabha is 29.72 percent, with the Shiv Sena again topping the list with 81.81 percent and the All India Trinamool Congress trailing at 21 percent. The corresponding data for the BJP and INC are at 37.9 percent and 21.36 percent repectively.17




[1]Jonathan Steinberg, Why Switzerland? Cambridge University Press, 1996, 2nd edition, chapters 2 and 3; Vernon Bogdanor, ed., The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Institutions, Oxford: Blackwell Reference, 1987, p.177.

[2]See Vernon Bogdanor, ed., The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Institutions, Oxford: Basil Blakwell Reference, 1987, pp. 177 and 524-526; and Scott Gordon, Constitutional State: Constitutionalism from Ancient Athens to Today, Harward University Press, 1999, especially chapters on “Athenian Democracy” and “The Roman Republic”.

[3]See R. S. Sharma, Aspects of Political Ideas and Institutions in Ancient India, Delhi: Moti Lal Barsidass, 2009; Romila Thapar, From Lineage to State: Social Formations of the Mid-First MillenniumBC in the Ganga Valley, Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1984, her Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, and her Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998.

[4]Burton Stein, Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1980, and his Vijayanagara: New Cambridge University History of India, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

[5]Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, & John Jay, The Federalist, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Max Beloff, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987, 2nd edition, p. 45. The Federalist was originally published in the USA in 1787.

[6]See India, Republic, Constituent Assembly Debates, Official Report (hereafter CAD), Book No. 1, New    Delhi: Lok Sabha Secretariat, 2003, 4th reprint, pp. 2-7.

[7]See the “Report by the Constitutional Advoser [B. N. Rau] on his visit to USA, Canada, Ireland, and England,” in B. Shiva Rau et. al., eds., The Framing of India`s Constitution: Select Documents, vol. III, New Delhi: Indian Institute of Public Administration, 1967, pp. 217-234; and Ambedkar`s address while presenting the draft constitution for debate in the Constituent Assembly, CAD, Book No. 2, op. cit., pp. 31-44.

[8]Ibid., p. 520.

[9]Ibid., Book No. 4, pp. 1648-1667.

[10]Ibid., Book No. 5, p. 978.

11Bipan Chandra, In the Name of Democracy: JP Movement and the Emergency, New Delhi: New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2003.

[12]See the text of the 44th Constitutional amendment reproduced in M.V. Pylee, Constitutional Amendments in India, Delhi: Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd., 2003, pp. 206-222, read with the text of the constitution with notes and comments in P.M. Bakshi, The Constitution of India, Delhi: Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd., 2011, eleventh edition, pp. 334-336.

13 For early regional anti-corruption movements led by Anna Hazare, see Rob Jenkins, “In Varying States of Decay: AntiCorruption Politics in Maharashtra and Rajasthan” in Rob Jenkins, ed. Regional Reflections: Comparing Politics Across India`s States, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004: 219-252.

14 Supreme Court of India,  Keshavananda Bharati v. State of kerala (1973) 4 Supreme Court Cases :225

15 See Norman D. Palmer, “India in 1975: Democracy in Eclipse,” Asian Survey, Vil. 16, No. 2, 1976: 95-110. See also the Justice Shah Commission Report commissioned by the Morarji Desai Janata Party Government.

16 Compiled and computed from and

17 Compiled and computed from and