Let's bridge the democratic deficit | Opinion | Times Crest
Popular on Times Crest
  • In This Section
  • Entire Website
  • The Imphal Taliban
    July 13, 2013
    Manipur's police force have begun arresting young men for accessing sleazy content on their phones and in cyber cafes. Even the romantic SMS to…
  • Deflating victim Narendra Modi
    July 6, 2013
    With the CBI chargesheet in the Ishrat case, the carefully crafted Modi-versus-The Rest campaign has gone for a toss.
  • It's time we moved mountains
    July 6, 2013
    Lamenting the tragedy of Uttarakhand isn't enough, we need to set up a commission to manage natural hazards, says KS Valdiya.
More in this Section
Leaving tiger watching to raise rice Ecologist Debal Deb, who did his post-doctoral research from IISc in…
The crorepati writer He's the man who gives Big B his lines. RD Tailang, the writer of KBC.
Chennai-Toronto express Review Raja is a Canadian enthusiast whose quirky video reviews of Tamil…
Don't parrot, perform Maestro Buddhadev Dasgupta will hold a masterclass on ragas.
A man's man Shivananda Khan spent his life speaking up for men who have sex with men.
Bhowmick and the first family of Indian football At first glance, it would be the craziest set-up in professional football.
From Times Blogs
The end of Detroit
Jobs in Detroit's car factories are moving to India.
Chidanand Rajghatta
How I love the word ‘dobaara’...
Can ‘bindaas’ or ‘jhakaas’ survive transliteration?
Shobhaa De
Anand marte nahin...
India's first superstar died almost a lonely life.
Robin Roy

Let's bridge the democratic deficit

The Hazare campaign offers an opportunity to make our policy-making process more transparent and participatory, says Shamnad Basheer.

It fell several notches short of a Tahrir square. But it was enough to capture the imagination of nation, a nation that has witnessed scam after scam in the recent past, and where, attempt after attempt to introduce an anti-corruption law failed for four long and continuous decades.

Indeed, thanks to a man who threatened to take his own life, "Lokpal", a term that might have had raised eyebrows till a month ago, has now gained common currency. Some see the man as an enlightened saviour of sorts. Others as a dangerous blackmailer at the brink of subverting a precious democratic process that many believe we enjoy in India. I come neither to praise Anna Hazare nor to bury him. But to simply point to an enormous opportunity that his act of starving presents for us as a country.

That Hazare gained enormous public support by threatening to sacrifice his own life at the altar of an anti-corruption principle that he staunchly believes in is beyond doubt. However, what of the implementation of this principle through the technicality of a law? It's a fair guess that many of those who came out in support through rallies and candle light processions would have failed to read the bill, be it the government "Lok Pal" version or any of the many civil society "Jan Lok Pal" versions.

It is this participatory deficit that the Hazare movement must seek to redress. It must leverage the popular sentiment it has thus far gained by actively encouraging the public to participate in the law-making process. That government laws are drafted in secret for the most part is no new revelation. Even at the stage of parliamentary scrutiny, most intensively felt during the myriad "sittings" of standing committees, the ones consulted are a select few;not the public and in most cases, not those with subject matter expertise.

To this extent, law and policy-making processes in this country suffer from a serious democratic deficit. Granted that the formal processes (such as the act of voting by elected representatives, many of whom may have never read beyond the title of the bills presented) are all complied with, but substantively, the process is a largely nondeliberative one, with bills being presented and voted upon, for and at the behest of a select few.

Apparent government efforts to instill public participation are far from optimal. Many a time, bills are never released for public views or participation. And even when they are, the websites that call for participation are far from welcoming. The Indian "Bayh Dole" bill, seeking to regulate the management of intellectual property at universities, is an excellent example of the sheer deficit in the process. A law firm with very close ties to the government was tasked with drafting the bill. It borrowed significantly from a US legislation on the same theme, sans any consideration of the techno-cultural specifities of India, and even more problematically, sans any consultation with key stakeholders, namely universities and public-funded research institutions.

The bill was then secretly peddled between different ministries. After much public hue and cry, the bill was made available on a government website, but with no indication that public comments were welcome, and after four years since the first draft of the bill. Subsequently, even at the stage of parliamentary review by a standing committee, it was not until the Indian Institute of Science went to the press claiming that it was never consulted, that the committee relented and called for wider stakeholder participation. Thanks to this participation, the committee was able to appreciate that the bill was fundamentally flawed. It therefore directed the government to make extensive changes to the bill. By this time, five years had elapsed and the government was forced to go back to the drawing board. A process that fostered wider consultation earlier on in the lawmaking process would have saved us all this wasted time and effort.

Given this backdrop, the moral success of the Hazare agitation throws up an excellent opportunity to open up this closed law-making process and to pave the way for more deliberative discussions. Unfortunately, the Hazare movement has come across as controlled by a select few who wish to replace the government coterie with their own. Further, several discordant notes have already been struck by the various statements by Hazare, his lieutenants and others that he chose to share stage with. Little wonder then that the movement has attracted the ire of many who are suspicious of the threat to our democratic process.
Questionable as their means are, Hazare and club have broken new ground by gaining admission to a closed-door law making process. It would be a travesty if they now replicated the hegemony they seek to challenge. They must now leverage the moral capital gained so far and translate it to a call for wider and more informed public policy and law making. This must involve not just educating and sensitising the public, but also our ministers and parliamentarians. For, in the allegedly selfless act of starvation by an endangered Gandhian species lies the hidden potential to begin the slow process of transformation from a largely formal democracy to a more substantive and participatory one.

The writer is a professor of IP Law at WB National University of Juridical Sciences

Other Times Group news sites
The Times of India | The Economic Times
इकनॉमिक टाइम्स | ઈકોનોમિક ટાઈમ્સ
Mumbai Mirror | Times Now
Indiatimes | नवभारत टाइम्स
महाराष्ट्र टाइम्स
Living and entertainment
Timescity | iDiva | Bollywood | Zoom
| Technoholik | MensXP.com


itimes | Dating & Chat | Email
Hot on the Web
Book print ads | Online shopping | Business solutions | Book domains | Web hosting
Business email | Free SMS | Free email | Website design | CRM | Tenders | Remit
Cheap air tickets | Matrimonial | Ringtones | Astrology | Jobs | Property | Buy car
Online Deals
About us | Advertise with us | Terms of Use and Grievance Redressal Policy | Privacy policy | Feedback
Copyright© 2010 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service