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By Nava Thakuria

It was an unusual gathering where the jurists, legal luminaries, political visionaries, Parliamentarians, social reformers and journalists expressed their views in a brainstorming discussion highlighting various ambiguities in the present Indian governance mechanism.Most of the speakers agreed that there is an urgent need of electoral and political party reforms as India adopted a partial colonial model of Constitution after its independence. Moreover, the excessive political power exercised by the Union government at New Delhi creating tremendous problems in governance was also discussed in the meeting.

The speakers and the participants in a seminar-cum-workshop on ‘Urgency of Reform in the Indian Political System: Revisiting the Constitution’ at Kolkata on February 11, 2012, also insisted that in a democracy, all the sovereign powers should belong to the people of the country. Organized by the Bar Association of Calcutta High Court and Divya Jeevan Foundation, the seminar-cum-workshop at Calcutta High Court auditorium was attended by hundreds of illustrious personalities from different sections of the society.

Delivering the keynote address, Dr Subhash C. Kashyap, an authority on the Constitution and Law argued that India is passing through critical times. Our polity is under severe strain. Faith of the people in the quality, integrity and efficiency of governmental institutions stands seriously eroded. Case for a review of the working of the institutions and for urgency of political reforms is unassailable, he asserted and argued  that with India’s independence, people did not feel the glow of freedom or the transfer of power to their hands. Only the masters changed. Even after the Constitution, the colonial model continued. “The Indian Constitution was largely an adoption or adaptation of the 1935 Act. The model adopted was not the British parliamentary system but its colonial version. We did not become citizens of a free country and masters in a democratic republic. We remained subjects,” he added. “Good governance is necessarily democratic, participatory, transparent, accountable and citizen-friendly. There must be fundamental change in the mindset and attitudes of Ministers, Members and Civil servants. They must cease to regard themselves as privileged masters and honestly behave like servants of the people,” Dr Kashyap pointed out.

He also stated that the time has come for a review of the Union-State relations and local governance institutions. The only way to make the Union secure is to make it lose extra weight and to shed its tendency to dominate the states and to monopolise power. To preserve India as a Union of States, it is necessary to build it as a federal Union or Union of autonomies with multi-tier government and sharing of powers from the lowest grassroots levels to Parliament.

We did not become citizens of a free country and masters in a democratic republic. We remained subjects

Addressing the gathering, SC Jamir, former Nagaland Chief Minister and former Governor of Maharashtra and Goa, stated that there is nothing wrong in the Indian Constitution or Parliament. Jamir also argued that any amendment to the Constitution at the expense of the interest of tribal and minorities would only backfire. He called for greater autonomy to the Naga people within the framework of Indian Constitution. “New Delhi is still very far from North East India and we the people of the region are guardians for the whole nation. India has a potential competitor (also threat) in China and we have to face the challenge. In that sense also, the Northeastern people must not be ignored,” Jamir asserted.

Earlier delivering the welcome address, Dr BB Dutta, chairman of Divya Jeevan Foundation and a former MP, Rajya Sabha pointed out that India as a largest democracy in the globe may be a prime source of inspiration for many other nations, but the country is itself facing crisis on many fronts. “The deep crisis of governance and administration, regional imbalance, strain in Centre-State relationship, unabated corruption, and Indian civil society as a whole with a blurred vision only shows the symptom of a calamity in waiting,” said Dr Dutta.

With countries becoming independent one after another after the Second World War, the spirit of democracy is on the rise but Western models and the eastern ethos of politics and culture have come into conflict, Dr Dutta highlighted adding that  ‘this is where the problem lies, leaders are afraid to experiment lest we get derailed by chaos and anarchy’. “People are unhappy as their aspirations are not reflected in the Governance and administration. The conflict in tribal parts of India particularly in North East amply bring this point to the fore as the battle between tribal democracy and Parliamentary democracy has dominated the scene since the beginning of Independence,” he asserted. Dr Dutta concluded by saying that we have drawn enough from the rich west, which is rich in science, technology and modern ideas. He added, “But now let us turn to our own masters like Gandhi, Ravindranath, Raja Rammohan Roy, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda etc and share their dreams. Let us share the dream of great rulers like Akbar and Ashoka with the spirit of Lalon Fakir, Moinuddin Chisti etc and relocate ourselves in society, culture and politics.”