A simplistic assessment of what ails India, or the system of governance in this country, is bound to result in simplistic solutions that may find traction with the ill-informed if not uneducated sections of the masses and fetch unrestrained applause for those who propose them but should cause concern among the thinking classes.
There is a case for appointing an empowered oversight authority to ensure that politicians and bureaucrats do not abuse their power to feather their nests, as has been done in recent times by members of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Cabinet and those entrusted with organising events like the Commonwealth Games of last year. But as the experience of similar oversight committees elsewhere (for instance in Indonesia) shows, anti-graft laws by themselves are not sufficient to contain or eliminate corruption — governance reforms are also needed to remove reasons and incentives for giving and accepting bribes.
Anna Hazare and his team of civil society activists are not entirely unaware of this necessity and as much is reflected in their statements calling for reforms, especially in the manner of electing representatives to various bodies of governance, from panchayats to Parliament. India does need electoral reforms, along with radical reforms in many other areas, including the judiciary, but it would be dangerous to allow popular slogans that stir emotions in the streets to become the architecture of those reforms.
The right to reject all candidates in an election and the right to recall elected representatives may find a certain resonance with habitual naysayers and those who exult in agitprop as a means of demonstrating their power to force the Government's hands, but the implications of instituting such changes in our electoral system are clearly of no consequence to them. In any event, reforms are not about pandering to populist demands; on the contrary, the best reforms often lack a popular appeal. Also, reforms cannot be seen in isolation, they must be part of a holistic approach towards giving a new direction to governance which, in turn, is decided in large measure by long-term goals that further our national interest.
If we must look at reforms, we will have to do so with great care and caution. Mere tinkering with existing laws does not amount to reforms; what is called for is framing and adopting an entirely new system. For instance, electoral reforms cannot be just about introducing the right to reject candidates in an election or recall elected representatives. That would be self-defeating and utterly meaningless. What we need to look at is a new model of electing representatives that will help eliminate the infirmities of the current system and, more importantly, remove the scope for political corruption.
That would mean looking at the system of proportionate representation based on votes secured by political parties with candidates from pre-declared lists making it to elected bodies. But it would also mean redefining the role of each elected body — if we were to adopt such a model, MPs cannot be expected to nurse constituencies or serve as drain inspectors; they would be full-time policy-makers, which is what they really should be.
This, of course, is only one example. There are many other models available. Let's look beyond slogans to titillate the lowest common denominator.