It may not be wrong to observe that after the announcement regarding repealing of the (now infamous) Three Farm Laws by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi on November 19, 2021, even though passed earlier by the national Parliament, has led to a stronger ever emergence of ‘satyagriha’ or ‘duragriha’ – whatever one may call depending upon the Government-side or opposition-side one takes – on the political landscape of Independent India, as the unconventional ‘Fifth Pillar of Democracy’.
After the announcement of repealing these laws by the PM himself, the ruling alliance at the Centre is making all efforts to present itself worldwide as a generous and sensitive democratic government. Political message emanating from the episode however conveys that agitating farmer has won. It is feared that the decision at this stage could encourage many others to adopt similar strategy to get their respective demands conceded by the government.
The citizens, with pure national interest at heart and not any personal axe to grind or any political leanings to appease, have expressed relief over the anticipated end to 14 months of tormenting stalemate between the Government and the agitating farmers. They have been heard saying, “Daer aye, durust aye i.e. better late than never”, but there are others who consider the decision to repeal the three farm laws as the beginning of the end of perceptibly a strong Union Government. Still, many believe that ‘Modi works to a long term strategy unmindful of short term setbacks. He prefers to lose battles to win the war.’
In any case, the victory of the unconventional ‘Fifth Pillar of Democracy’ mentioned earlier has set the alarm bells ringing for Indian democracy. The so called ‘Fifth Pillar’ made its presence felt for once through show of strength in favour of Smt. Indira Gandhi by her supporters in June 1975, after she had imposed National Emergency. The next time, it appeared in 1985 through vigorous campaign by most of the influential Muslim politicians (barring a few) for nullification of verdict by Supreme Court of India in favour of Shah Bano to grant right to alimony from her husband. In 1990, it surfaced once again in the shape of strong protests against implementation of Mandal Commission report which had recommended giving government jobs to certain castes on basis of birth rather than merit of the candidate. The Pillar had however collapsed this time before the might of the Government.
The question now arises, “Should this Fifth Pillar perpetuate and should it over-rule the other four conventional Pillars?”
The Vice President of India M. Venkaiah Naidu, not long ago on December 8, 2019, had made key observations with regard to the need to bridge many divides in Indian society. He had stressed upon ‘establishing an effective mechanism for every organ of governance to perform to the best of abilities’. He had added that, “Improving the quality of life of people and translating the ‘Swarajya’ into ‘Surajya’ must be our focus.” While delivering the Virendra Bhatia Memorial Lecture on Pillars of Democracy in New Delhi, Mr Naidu had commented that ‘a general perception is building up that the quality of debates in the Parliament and the State legislature has been declining.’ He had appealed to everyone in legislature to introspect to make constructive contributions for the welfare of society. “There is right to protest in democracy but not for obstructionism”, he had said. He had asked the executive to give priority to the oppressed and to those living on the margins of society while emphasizing that people should be actively involved in not only drafting of various schemes and programs but also in their implementation. Referring to the traditionally quoted Four Pillars of Democracy, ‘the Legislature, Executive, Judiciary and the Media’, Mr Naidu had advised that each pillar must act within its domain, but not lose sight of the larger picture. He had cautioned, “The strength of a democracy depends upon the strength of each pillar and the way pillars complement each other. Any shaky pillar weakens the democratic structure”.
But with the repeal of the Three Farm Laws, doesn’t it appear that Pillars of Legislature, Executive, Judiciary and the Media are exhibiting their shaky structure, though may be for the time being?
Under the circumstances, in a country like India where roots of varied traditions, customs and culture are deeply entrenched in respective regions and sub-regions, no decision on key developmental issues, however progressive or technically sound, may henceforth be easy. Endless and exhaustive deliberations and persuasions may become necessary for arriving at a consensus or near-consensus decision. Therefore, an effective and appropriate alternative mechanism may be required urgently.
In the politically surcharged atmosphere, which has become a regular feature of Indian democracy, some states may show greater resistance in implementing Government of India schemes, despite of their being people friendly, but the Centre shall have to continue guiding the states and UTs. The Central Government must however show determination in monitoring rightful implementation of such programmes and schemes vigorously, in larger public interest. The Centre shall also have to show greater sensitivity and pro-actively in cases of exigencies, disasters and calamities, particularly when requested by the States/UTs. The current standoff and similarly occurring situations witnessed at different times, principally between the Centre and some of the States and generally fuelled by opposition parties and others, whichever and whenever these are, don’t augur well, either for the country’s institutions or for her security and welfare.
India isn’t alone in present day world to face such crisis. Andrew Breiner (June 8, 2021; The Library of Congress: The Pillars of Democracy) has reported crisis of almost similar nature in the United States, although the reasons may or may not be the same. He says, “The major institutions in American society are in a moment of crisis. From the branches of government to religious and civic organizations, the media, and political parties, these key foundations of American life are less respected, less trusted, and less involved in forming the character of individuals than at any point in our history.” With this background, “The John W. Kluge Center, with the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, is hosting the Pillars of Democracy series during July 2021 to May 2022 to explore how institutions work in a functioning society, and grapple with the question of how their decline can be counteracted.”
The panel discussions during the series are designed to draw on the expertise of a wide range of diverse participants: historians, political scientists, authors, and others from across the ideological spectrum and from a variety of backgrounds, which are expected to help create a full picture of the challenges facing American institutions, and their potential promise. Each event is designed to focus on panelists answering the questions: “What is the institution’s proper role? Where does it fall short? And what can we do about it?” Institutions identified for analysis are the US Congress, the Presidency, the Federal Judiciary, the regulatory state, political parties, electoral institutions, the military, churches and other civic institutions, the media, universities and the Academy.
The time has come when the Government of India also, without delay, must take urgent and earliest steps to identify and club together different opinions and institutions within the fold of the conventional Four Pillars of Democracy and invariably engage all stakeholders in constructive dialogue whenever required over respective issues, so that no scope remains for re-emergence of the anarchic Fifth Pillar of Democracy, which often takes the shape of unmanageable protestors of different hues taking to streets to grind their own axe.