Democracy can be meaningful and productive for the people only when Institutions that are created by the legislative frameworks are allowed to operate and deliver on their mandate. Democratic Institutions are necessary to maintain social order and human progress by creating or enforcing rules. Such Institutions are truly effective only when they are manned by people with both the moral authority and technical capacity to run them. These Institutions have a great role in a particularly ‘noisy’ and ‘unhealthy’ democracy like ours. They are critical in an eco-system like India’s where people are not generally known to follow rules. Most Democratic Institutions play a ‘regulatory-enforcing’ role and their efficacy depends on the extent to which citizens believe that a reward or penalty will be forthcoming if they take or refrain from taking a particular action.
The Institutions can deliver on their functions and role only when both the citizenry and the ‘rule-making’ legislators accord them the respect they deserve. The most evident expression of respecting an Institution is by following the rules that these Institutions are mandated to enforce. Institutionalized rules and the beliefs they help form enable, guide and motivate most individuals to adopt the behavior associated with their social position. The king’s strength comes not from his army but from the beliefs held by each member of the army that everyone else will obey the king’s orders and that the best response is also to obey. Another critical element for the smooth functioning of democratic Institutions is the credibility and reputation of these Institutions themselves. One of the signs of good governance in a state or country is measured by how effective and efficient are these democratic Institutions. Going by this standard, the state of Karnataka has a sorry story to tell. The last three years has seen a steady and systematic decline in the standards of the many democratic Institutions of Karnataka. More critical is the scant respect that the political executive is showing these democratic institutions. Apart from not boding well for Democracy, it also has irreversible and long term consequences that Karnataka may not recover from at all.
Let us first take the example of managing the bureaucracy and posting of officials at all levels. Politicizing personnel administration is the beginning of the degeneration of governance. For Democracy to be effective, the executive should neither curry political favours nor the political establishment use postings and transfers as rewards shown to compliant officers. Karnataka’s administrative fabric has further been corroded with postings to very senior positions across the state being made on caste grounds. Today we see more than 400 key and senior positions filled with people of one particular caste group. Apart from weakening the administrative machinery, it also upsets the fragile social fabric that is prevalent in the state. Unfortunately, this will set in motion an irreversible process where future governments and politicians will make caste aligned postings a norm. To make matters worse, we have legislators and ministers insisting in having senior officials transferred out on grounds as flimsy as not receiving their phone calls or for missing their names on the invitation of public functions.
Appointments to all the Commissions are no longer based on the ability or the competence of the person being appointed. Proximity to the Chief Minister, political affiliation and caste compulsions seem to be the deciding factors. The controversy that surrounded the appointment of members to the Karnataka Public Service Commission is well known. The recent appointment of members to the Information Commission also reveals the mindset of the Government. The Chief Minister’s Principal secretary has been rewarded with the post of the Chief Commissioner even before he officially retires. Other members have been appointed to the important body based on their political affiliation and the loyalty shown to political masters when they served in the Government. Reducing asymmetry of information is critical to ensuring social accountability of the government and one wonders how a politically aligned Information Commission will render justice to its role.
Recent imbroglio and corruption scandal that the Institution of the Lok Ayukta was subjected too has all but eliminated public trust and faith in its role in fighting corruption. The allegation that the son of the then Lok Ayukta indulging in acts of corruption and the Lok Ayukta holding onto his post till he was nearly impeached has all but made this Institution a public joke. To make matters worse, the Government has not made any credible attempts to appoint the head to this decaying body. One also wonders if the appointment to this post will also be driven by political and other compulsions rather than seek out a credible person of stature who can restore some semblance of dignity and probity.
Though other commissions like the Child Rights Commission and Women’s commission have members appointed to them, one can see the role that political patronage and caste equations have played. Institutions like the State Human Rights Commission serve the critical purpose in ensuring that the State does not over extend its reach and one worries on its losing its importance with lobbying happening to occupy the chair there too.
The Chief Minister and his council of ministers need to realize that Governance will not happen accidentally. One needs to be deliberate, strategic and intentional about providing good governance to the people of the state. And Democratic Institutions serve the vital role of not only ensuring checks and balances within the system but also enabling a constructive relationship between the state and the citizenry. Apart from weakening these Democratic Institutions, trivializing them will further erode public faith in them and their functioning. And the loser will not just be the citizens but the entire state of Karnataka including the political establishment.
The Kannada version of this article appeared in page 7 of Prajavani on 22 02 2016 Democracy-Dev Prajavani 22 Feb