This book is a sequel to a recent book The Future of India: Politics, Economics and Governance, published in 2005. As its title suggests, the present book is concerned with India's politics as it has evolved in recent years.
I have had the rare privilege of watching the working of India's politics as a nominated member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha for more than three years. As I watched the proceedings, I also learnt that my understanding of India's politics was rather superficial, even though in my previous official capacity I had the benefit of frequent interactions with eminent political leaders in government and in the committees of Parliament. Participation in the work of Parliament from inside has been a different experience, sometimes highly satisfying and exhilarating but often worrisome. There is a lot going on below the surface in India's politics, which is not apparent to an outsider, but which could have substantial implications for the future of our country.
The primary purpose of this book is to convey, as best as I can, what I have learnt about India's politics from inside Parliament. The book also puts forward suggestions for political reforms in order to make India's democracy more stable, transparent and accountable. These proposals are practical and consistent with the parliamentary form of government. They are also in conformity with the intent of some recent amendments to the Constitution. I am conscious that the suggestions for political reforms made in this book are not likely to be easy to implement as they affect some established interests. My hope is that they will nonetheless inspire a broad public debate among concerned citizens, political leaders, experts, media and institutions of the civil society.
The views contained here are the personal views of a citizen-observer. I should emphasize that this book is not at all a 'memoir' or an account of what I said and what I did in the Rajya Sabha or elsewhere. As a nominated member, I am not affiliated with any political party. I am in Parliament just now, but not in electoral politics.
There is a fair amount of discussion in this book about the role of political leaders and political parties, some of which is not very flattering. My observations, such as they are, however, relate to our political system as a whole, and not to any particular party - large or small - or to any particular group of leaders in and out of office. I have consciously tried to deal with only 'systemic' issues, and not with any matter which its specific to a person, a selected group of leaders or a particular political formation.
India is fortunate in having leaders of high ability, competence and vision in government and Parliament. This is also true of political parties, each of which diligently try to serve the interests of its constituents. Collectively, however, the search for power and 'compulsions of coalition politics' in a diverse society, are increasingly the primary drivers of political behaviour.
The over-arching conclusion of this book, which I hope will be of particular interest to the reader, is simply that, over time, the power of leaders of political parties, particularly those of small parties, has increased substantially at the expense of ordinary members of legislatures and their constituents. With the emergence of multi-party coalitions as a regular form of government, and their relatively short life expectancy at birth, there is a palpable change in political dynamics which perhaps is not fully reflected in the original provisions of our acclaimed Constitution. Some of the recent amendments to the Constitution and other legislative enactments are in fact likely to increase political instability and encourage fragmentation of parties at the time of elections.
In a nutshell, without meaning to be provocative, I believe that if some of the emerging trends are not reversed, India's democracy by the people will become more and more 'oligarchic' - i.e. of the few and for the few.
I am grateful to K.D. Sharma and Satish Choudhary for their painstaking work in putting together the manuscript of this book for publication. I am also thankful to G.C. Khulbe for his assistance. The publishers, Penguin Books, under the leadership of Thomas Abraham, have been extremely supportive. I am particularly grateful to Ravi Singh and Udayan Mitra for carefully going through the draft and for their editorial guidance. I alone am responsible for the remaining errors.
Flap of the cover
In India's Politics: A View from the Backbench, Bimal Jalan, ex-Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and best-selling author of The Future of India, turns his gaze to the complex mechanics of the political system in the country.
As a member of Parliament, Bimal Jalan has watched the workings of India's politics closely. While there is much to be proud of in India's achievements as a vibrant democracy, there are some areas of concern which require attention. In particular, Jalan finds that the emergence of multi-party coalitions as a regular form of government - and their relatively short life expectancy at birth - has brought about a sea change in political dynamics. The search for power and the compulsions of coalition politics are increasingly the primary drivers of political behaviour in India today. This development combined with the need to cope with global terrorism, lawlessness and economic disparities during a period of high growth, calls for some urgent reforms in the working of India's vital political institutions.
Jalan puts forward a ten-point programme to make India's parliamentary democracy more stable, transparent and accountable. According to him, constant vigilance is indeed the price of liberty and if some of the emerging trends are not reversed, India's democracy 'by the people' could become more and more oligarchic - 'of the few and for the few'.
India's Politics: A View from the Backbench is an insider's account of how politics is practiced in India, and to what effect. It is one of the most important studies of the India's political system to have been written, and is especially relevant today, as the country celebrates its sixtieth year of independence.