Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A fast between breakfast and lunch

A fast between breakfast and lunch
Syed Ali Mujtab

Chennai: It was a dramatic day here in Chennai on Monday April 27, 2009. I received a SMS on my mobile phone from my friend a chartered accountant Mr Raja. It was as follows:

“Sri Lankan President has ordered the army to use chemical weapons to destroy LTTE who were been surrounded in 10 sq kilometer. If army explodes chemical bombs than a massive human genocide would occur.”

The massage was truncated but knowing the gravity of the situation I could feel the chill in my spine as every thing is fair in love and war.

Before I could get over with this feeling, I learn that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has sat on indefinite hunger strike demanding the end of hostilities between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government.

The aging patriarch of the DMK party who has just been discharged from the hospital few weeks ago after undergoing spinal surgery chose to sit on hunger strike by the side of the DMK founder leader Anna Durai’s statue located on the Marina beach.

No one in the city knew about this fast and business was as usual, till the media started playing it on and making the world aware of this development. The news was that the ‘Kalinger’ meaning great leader wants to die for the Tamil cause.

First Kalinger sat on a wheel chair to observe the fast. Soon a Shamiyana was put to cover him from the sun. Fans and coolers came in to give him some comfort, short while later a cot was brought for the old man to stretch up. A team of doctors monitored his health. His wife and children joined him, later film stars and host of other celebrities started visiting the spot.

All this started at about 6 AM after the breakfast and a great deal of action took place in the next four five hours. All the DMK big wings who were electioneering in the different parts of the state for the May 13 Lok Sabha elections halted their campaign and rushed to the spot. Many government servants loyal to DMK rule left their offices to pay allegiance to the great leader.

The media turned out in large number to cover the main story and the sidelights. The OB vans of the TV channels lined up to telecast this reality show live. As the news started spreading people started coming in large numbers. There was security problem and the entire area was cordoned off.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi who was electioneering in West Bengal called the fasting Tamil Nadu leader. She reportedly requested him to call of the fast, but Kalinger did not heed to her advice. A stream of phone calls started coming but all were handled with due courtesy sans any commitment.

Finally it was the Union home minister P Chidambram’s phone call at about 10 AM that arrested the matter from further precipitation. The Home Minister gave an assurance to the fasting leader that the Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa has given him assurance of ceasefire and this would be announced in few minutes.

Even before the news of ceasefire was made public in Sri Lanka, the great leader called off is fast in Chennai. This was done before 12 noon and every one had enough time to get ready for the lunch!

I too had planned to go to the scene of action but since the show was over I preferred to remain indoors. Later from the media reports I found that it was not a ceasefire offer. The Sri Lankan government only gave a commitment not to use heavy guns and artillery on those trapped in no fly zone. It has already been described the unilateral ceasefire announced by the bottled up LTTE a big joke.

Those who have been watching these developments very minutely, this stage play of a fast between breakfast and lunch by the DMK patriarch convince about the sagacity of the Indian politicians. What other could not achieve through various means a simple act of political posturing by the ageing leader did so without much of a trouble.

It remains to be seen in the coming hustings how much this episode of fast between breakfast and lunch would swing the electoral fortune of DMK party but every one is convinced that the political maverick of Tamil Nadu has scored some brownie points over his opponents who are playing the game of one-upmanship on the Sri Lankan issue.

So finally no matter what we may say about the Indian politician, sometime their act proves that they are capable of moving the earth even if it’s across the sea.

The adage that politicians are the best practitioners of the art of possible is reflected in this case. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister has once again proved that he master in that craft.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can contacted at

Election 09: No one talking about checking money lending

Election 09: No one talking about checking money lending

Syed Ali Mujtaba

Money lenders find an important place in history of South Asia. The vocation of lending money is followed by certain caste group from ancient times in India. This separate group is known by different caste names in different states of the country.

There is unanimity on the role of money lenders in India but there are differences over their contribution towards the society. Seldom one comes across the positive image of this group of people.

India being primarily agricultural economy and farming heavily dependent on advance money, the association of Indian peasantry with money lenders is long and checkered.

The history of South Asia is littered with the stories of dependence of ordinary folks on money lenders. In fact there are man instances where land lords too were dependent on this group of people. It’s a subject that’s widely researched.

In my research on the Partition of India, I have come across many source material that talks about rural indebtedness of Muslim peasants of west Punjab and Sindh in the hands of the Hindu money lenders.

The 1946 election in the heart of Pakistan was also a vote to get librated from those who thrived on usury. The high rate of interest charged by the money lenders had made them lead life penury.

The same role was played by the Chetirs of Tamil Nadu in Burma. The Japanese occupation of Burma came as boon for peasantry there.They felt liberated from the yoke of Indian money lenders.

The Burmese peasantry rose in revolt to chase these money lenders out of their country. These folks were forced to take a ‘long walk’ to Tamil Nadu. The memory of this ‘walk’ is still rife in this part of the world.

However, one cannot deny the fact that these money lenders played a big role in the capital formation of modern India. The history of many corporate giants of today could be traced to the humble beginning pursuing this vocation generations ago.

The modern banking system initiated by the British rule hardly changed the face of rural credit. This profession still survives in length and breadth of the country. Many people are still dependent on them for monetary credit. It’s an exploitative system in every sense of the term and anyone caught in it may find hard to escape without loosing.

Even though the alarming rate of farm suicide has been occurring in this country with impunity there is little effort to look into the practice of money lending that seem to be the main reason behind this catastrophe. The government of the day has failed to provide easy access of monetary credit to the rural folks.

This cast doubts whether there is problem with the modern banking system in India or there is deliberate attempt by the successive government to patronize this exploitative practice.

All indications suggest that the governments are hand in gloves with the money lenders and giving them the lease in perpetuity the levers of exploitation.

In this season of electioneering, when the talks about bringing back the ill gotten wealth is reaching its crescendo no one is even whispering to do away with this evil practice.

The conspiracy of silence by the political leaders over this issue suggests the mental makeup of the leadership in the country. One is bound to conclude that more farm suicides are inevitable in the days and years ahead.

Here I like to pitch in a random thought. Perhaps one of the reasons of the decline of the power base of the Muslims in South Asia could be due to the strict abhorrence of their religion towards the practice of money lending. This might have blocked the capital formation and stymied the process of industrial growth.

Thus the feudal mode production that Muslims supervised in South Asia could not cross the hump and reach the plateau of capitalism. They crystallized and fossilized there finally to decline and fall.

The ladder looks too tall now and this could be the reason of commotion that’s being witnessed here.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist baased in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Election 09- Cash for Vote an Established Norm

Election 09- Cash for Vote an Established Norm
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Buying votes is established practice in India; its denial is also an established norm. Come elections, assembly or parliamentary, the scope to make quick bucks brighten up the minds of many ordinary folks in country.

There is rampant buying of votes going during this election and there is nothing secret about it, says a journalist covering the parliamentary election 2009. “Voters know this is the time to make money and are willing to auction their votes for a price. Since there is no polarization of votes this time as there no big issues, the political parties have little choice then to grease the palm of the voters, if they want to win the seat.”

A few press clips adds poignancy to this story. In Karnataka on April 10, 2009 police seized Rs.80 million in cash and a truck-load of liquor in two separate raids near Bellary town.

The cash was being transported in a G4S security agency vehicle from the head office of Axis Bank in Banglore to its branch office in Bellary. The seized vehicle lacked valid documents and police suspect that transferring such a huge amount during elections could be meant for distribution to the voters.

In another raid, the Karnataka police seized a truck-load of liquor at a check-post during transit from the adjacent Davangere district. Bellary goes to polls in the first phase April 23, along with 16 other constituencies in the state.

In Andhra Pradesh police seized cash worth over Rs.50 million from different places of the state. Police had set up check posts to check illegal transfer of money, liquor, weapons and explosives and recovered wads of cash during search of vehicles. Obviously such huge amount must have been meant for buying the votes.

Candidates are coming out with novel methods to woo the voters. Several packets of chicken along with large number of liquor bottles were seized by of Andhra Pradesh police in the Karimnagar district. Each packet contained half to 1 kg of chicken meant to be distributed to the voters. It seems liquor and chicken were meant to spice up the drinking sessions of the voters.

Similarly, some non traditional items too have come up for distribution. Andhra Pradesh police seized large number of cricket kits and footballs meant for voters during this election.

In this context Tamil Nadu has set record of some sorts. In the Thirumangalam assembly by-election held in Madurai district on January 9, 2009, a vote was bought for Rs 7000, an unprecedented rate in the annals of Indian democracy.

In fact a clash broke out between those opposed taking money and those who wanted it. As no one likes to kick the “Laxmi,” the goddess of wealth, they kicked those who opposed taking the money.

There were reports from that election that in some places on the polling day, money was dropped in envelopes along with milk sachets delivered at homes before dawn.

Some candidates have invented innovative ways for eliciting a vote. A candidate offered saffron thread and betel leaf to a lady voter to ensure her vote. The idea was since articles are considered sacred any one accepting them can not make false promises.

There are some comical tales as well. In the Thirumangalam by-election, one voter went for a biryani feast organized by a political party, a day before the election. After coming back home, he found some of his goats missing. It took a while for him to realize that he had gorged on his own goats!

It’s said voters often take money from many parties but finally vote for the one they support. However, it’s easy said then done. The spies of the candidates work over time to ensure that nothing such sort of thing happens in the first place. This is cross checked on the day of the polling. The voters that have taken money for casting its vote are monitored by polling agents, when they show up to the polling booth. At some stage if it’s found that anyone has indulged in cross voting, then the life of such person is made miserable. It seems some kind of honesty has developed in this business as well.

The Election Commission specifies that not more than Rs 25 lakh can be spent by a candidate during an election. This amount is ridiculous even for municipal election in India. Given the size of parliamentary constituency, which is hundred times more than a municipal constituency, one can imagine the amount required for electioneering.

There is no unanimity among the political parties or the candidates on the amount to be spent for the electioneering. A horde for one-upmanship has developed on this issue. Since winning an election ensures plough of rent from politics for five years, there is no dearth of financers offering cheap credit. This is reflected in the huge flow of cash that’s visible on the streets during every election.

The moral popes many frown over such practice but the ordinary folks who are the prime beneficiaries of this illicit arrangement are a happy lot around this time. Actually elections are the only time when the rural India gets a chance to make merry and party and find happy moments in their dark life.

Even though elections are short lived and come after a long interval there is a sense of carnival attached to it. The free flow of food, liquor and money injects a great deal of enthusiasm among the voters towards elections. They turn out in large number, make merry have fun, and get joy rides in vehicles meant for canvassing during electioneering.

It seems some understanding has developed between the practitioners of democracy and its foot soldiers on such unconventional rules of democracy in India. While the practitioners of democracy want to fly its banner very high, the foot soldiers are unconcerned about the wisdom of the electoral process. What matters to them is how much money they can make or merry around during this dance of democracy.

As the juggernaut of Indian democracy rolls, such facets have become part and parcel of its electoral process. So the punch line is not “Jai Ho” but Papa don’t preach look for the party tonight!

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Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@

LS Election 09- Watch Out Uttar Pradesh

LS Election 09- Watch Out Uttar Pradesh
syed Ali Mujtaba

As the Lok Sabha elections are round the corner, the politics of Muslim vote bank has once again hot up in the Indian heartland of Uttar Pradesh where majority of the Muslim population resides. There are 19 per cent Muslim voters spread over 27 districts out of 71 districts in the state.

Uttar Pradesh has 80 Lok Sabha constituencies, the highest number in the country. In 34 Lok Sabha seats Muslims are in a position to decide the fate of the candidates. They are in numerical majority in 24 Lok Sabha constituencies.

Yet only 8 Muslims were elected to the Lok Sabha in the last elections from Uttar Praesh. No party may like to address this demand of democracy, yet all abide by the rules that democracy is all about number game, where majority rules.

There are four formations that has substantial political reckoning in the state. The Samajwadi party and Bahujan Samaj party are fighting for number one position. The BJP stands on number three, while the Congress is a distant fourth. The left the Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh and few other fringe parties have some presence in this state.

Uttar Pradesh has seen a sharp polarization of politics on religious lines centering on the issues related to Ram Janm bhoomi in Ayodhya. The state has also seen polarization of politics on caste lines in wake of the implementation of the Mandal Commission report that recommended reservations for the other backward classes.

While the Ayodhya event triggered the Hindu sentiments and catapulted the BJP to the centre stage of Indian politics, the Mandal recommendations brought the Samajwadi party and the Bahujan Samaj party to the forefront of UP politics.

The BJP went on with its religious campaign to enlist the Hindu vote bank, the Samajwadi and Bahujan Samaj parties competed with each other for the Muslim and backward caste vote bank. Both the parties also tried to outflank each other with promises of protectors of Muslims interests. Muslims thus have been natural ally of both the camps.

They had the first shock when the Bahujan Samaj Party aligned with the BJP to form the government in the state. It’s another matter in 1995 that the BSP ditched the BJP when it came to hand over the power. Since then three times the two parties have come together to assume power in the state.

Muslims as a result had special liking for the Samajwadi party because of its ‘don’t touch BJP’ stand. However, they got a shock when this party inducted the former BJP leader and Chief Minister Kalyan Singh into its fold. Kalyan Singh happens to be the architect of the demolition of the Babari Masjid and Muslims find to reconcile with such crude realities of politics.

Ever since then Samajwadi party’s relationship with Muslims have become tenuous. The party’s show boy and one of its founder leader; Azam Khan is on warpath against the induction of Kalyan Singh into the party.

Azam Khan is a rare breed of orator on the Uttar Pradesh political scene. He has the gift of the gab and can pierce into the heart of vast multitude by the sheer theatrics of his oratory skills. He commands a huge following and his dissent reflects the popular expression of his constituency.

There is no denying of the fact that the Samajwadi party stands on the crunches of the Muslim vote bank. It will be a disaster for the party if its Muslim show boy walks out of its ramp. The party has already lost Sahid Sidqui, its English speaking face on national televisions, who went on to join the Bahujan Samaj party.

It looks Mulayam Singh Yadav has to decide between the rock and hard surface. If he keeps Klyan Singh, he may loose Azam Khan and if he pushes Klyan Singh out it would be a breach of trust. So the entire energy of the Samajwadi party is to make Azam Khan and Kalyan Singh cohabit in the party. Mulayam Singh is holding parleys with Azam Khan to bend his stand and once again take part in this ‘reality show.’

Azam Khan has few other issues with the party. He is upset about the party’s nomination of actress Jayapradha from his home turf Rampur. He also has problems with party’s spokesperson Amar Singh who has taken control of the party and dominating all its important decision.

Amar Singh image is that of a bourgeoisie’s representative in the party of backwards. He seems more found of actor and actresses, industrialists and financers rather than the core constituency that forms the political base of the party.

The chanakya of the Samajwadi party is busy right now to package the unholy alliance with Kalyan Singh. He is trying to get endorsements from mosques, madarsas, darghas and religious seminaries. He is also making rounds to other contractors of Muslim vote bank to keep the party’s electoral base intact. He is confident of his managerial skills as he chuckles; Mein hoon na- I am there.

The most important point of this story is who speaks on behalf of Muslims. What kind of people is leading this community? If we go by the media projection, then there are three kinds of people that are projected as the leaders of the community. One the clerics, other the show boys that dot every party, and third Muslim non-believers that stand at the opposite fringe and are critical of their religion.

It’s often asked where are the moderate Muslims, why are they not consulted in important matters, why only a myopic picture is presented of such an important community, is there a conspiracy going on?

Notwithstanding the facts, the 15th Lok Sabha elections provide one great opportunity to silence the voices that are misleading the community. There has been slow but gradual awareness about the citizenship rights and the importance of the general elections. It’s time the moderate voices to turn out in large numbers and assert their identity. This alone can change the image of the community. The election results of the 15th Lok Sabha elections are eagerly awaited to know if this is happening.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist. He can be contacted at

Media, Islam and Gender- An Indian Experience

Media, Islam and Gender- An Indian Experience
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Islam has made India its home more than 1400 years ago. The footprints of Islam could be found in India as early as seventh century. Islam since then has been interacting with Hinduism uninterruptedly. Such interactions have made India house the second largest Muslim population in the world next only to Indonesia.

However, going by the fact of long association of Islam with India, if we look at the media discourse in this country, Islam is portrayed as the 'other’ 'exotic', 'different', 'obscurantist', 'backward', ‘extremist' form of creed.

These stereotypes are apparent in the so called mainstream media particularly when it comes to portrayal of Muslim women and in that context Muslim community in general.

Indian media is found of reporting a host of controversial issues dealing with Muslim women. Issues like polygamy, rape, divorce, maintenance, alimony, veil, child marriage, forced marriages, women praying in mosque etc are reported with great juice and spice.

It comes as no surprise when Muslim women are discussed only in terms of controversies in the Indian media. This is perhaps to reinforce the bigger picture that Muslim men and Islam are irredeemably anti-women.

Take for instance 'Imrana rape case.’ The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) issued a statement alleging that over exposure given by the media to the Imrana issue and taking it to the streets was aimed at defaming Islam and Muslim personal law.

AIMPLB general secretary Maulana Syed Nizamuddin had said; "to bring such a local issue to the streets and defame Islam and the personal law is totally unjustified and incorrect.”

“Had the media and some intellectuals not unjustly interfered in the episode, Imrana would not have suffered so many difficulties, he said, adding, the board feels that taking such social evils to the drawing rooms by the print and electronic media would in no way reform the Muslim society but on the contrary will help in spread of such evils.”

One can site several other cases and quote any number of media reportage to suggest that there is a tendency in some section of influential Indian media to portray Islam and Muslim men as anti-women.

One wonders why there is so deep-rooted bias even though Muslims have long been part and parcel of the Indian social life.

Seeking reasons to it would divert the focus of this subject, suffice would be to say that there is a tendency to sedulously cultivate certain stereotype that the Indian media wishes, unconsciously or otherwise, to reinforce.

Indian media discourse seems to convey that Muslims are a monolith community and their identity solely rest on their religion. Its portrayals of Muslim women reveal a marked tendency to homogenize all Muslim women and to present them as uniformly oppressed creatures.

The media reportage is based on the views of conservative clerics reared in a tradition of patriarchy and are seen as representatives of all the Muslims in the country. Their views that are guided by the strict precepts of religious tenets are used by the media to argue that Islam is by definition 'misogynist', 'patriarchal', and 'cruel.'

The debate on Muslim women then gets transformed into one on Muslim personal law and its impact on the Muslim community. Here the attempt is to castigate the personal law as archaic and outdated, fit to be scrapped.

Seldom one encounters positive images of Muslim women in the Indian media, their rights and privileges within the Islamic faith, their struggles to achieve them from their own community. There is little reportage of Muslim women who could speak for themselves and offer their own argument about their understanding of Islam.

Indian media carefully ignores the fact that Muslims are divided in terms of class, caste, region, language and so on. Muslim women like any other community too have complex and multiple identities.

The views of Muslim reformists who use Islamic arguments to counter the views of the conservative clerics and to present more gender-friendly understandings of Islam on these issues are often given little attention.

All this feeds into the negative thinking of the Muslims community as whole that’s faced with a growing sense of insecurity and threats to their identity in India.

Indian Muslim community’s faith in the secular credentials of their country certainly feels shaken when media images of the community is built around negative stereotypes.

These ideas on "Media, Islam and Gender- an Indian Experience” is to be further developed.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Watch Out for War Anarchy or Revolution

Watch Out for War Anarchy or Revolution
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I am back after attending the Asia Media Conclave, organized by the Asia Media Forum and Asia Resource Foundation, on March 25-27, 2009 at Bangkok, Thailand. There were about 75 journalists from 20 Asian countries gathered there and took part in the deliberations that went on for three days on various issues pertaining to media and global politics. I may like share couple of points that I feel should interest a larger audience.

A speaker from India built an argument that every global economic recession leads to war, anarchy or revolution and one may watch for this to be happening in the days ahead. He attributed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 to the economic crisis. Even Perestroika and Glasnosts could not turn around the Soviet economy. The resulted was the passing of an empire.

The speaker then cited the oil crisis in the 1970s that led to the nine years of war between Iran- Iraq. He attributed the World War II to the economic depression of 1927 and the rise of Hitler. Similarly, he said the economic recession led to World War I (1914-18) and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917.

The main thesis of his argument was now the global economic recession is an established fact, what is to follow is a war, revolution or anarchy. I feel this is a significant point made and worth pondering keeping the global political canvass in mind.

As far as war is concerned, the economic recession has followed the War and not the vice versa. The economics of two battles fronts; one in Iraq and other in Afghanistan perhaps has triggered the economic meltdown. The indications are that rather than rekindling the war fires, the current recession may extinguish them.

If war is a probability then it could be against North Korea or Iran, the two axis of evil on the US radar. However, the point is; can US afford to open two more battle fronts in the current stage of economic recession. One has to be a lunatic to say YEH!

The other possibility for war could be China may capture Taiwan taking advantage of the economic meltdown. In such situation can US fight a Kuwait liberation type war against China to liberate Taiwan? Can it mobiles global coalition of forces as it has done before on two occasions against Iraq. The probability is quite dim.

In the global canvass, South Asia has always remained a flash point for war between India and Pakistan over the festering problem of Kashmir. However, since the impact of economic recession is not so profound on the region, a war between India and Pakistan is completely ruled out.

As a matter of fact, the possibility of war seems to be less probable option in the current global scenario.

Then is revolution a possibility? Pakistan seems to be only place sitting on the embers of Islamic revolution. There is apparent political mismanagement of the country. The economic meltdown is causing hardship to the people and in turn fueling religious extremism. In this backdrop the rise of Taliban has to be seen who are gaining popularity as an alternative to civil-military rule in that country. So if at all a revolution can happen in the world then it could be probably in Pakistan.

Where we should look for anarchy? The most probable fall out of the economic recession is felt on the US. With so many jobs lost, so many companies going bust, it could breed social tension, crime rate may escalate and a whole lot of domino effect attached to it could lead to anarchic situation in the US.

Notwithstanding the facts, the above argument appears to be bit flimsy when weighed in the context of globalization and integration of the new world order. The G-20 summit in London has demonstrated that the global concern of economic recession has to be tackled collectively.

All this appears to be fine but the possibilities of war, anarchy or revolution can also be not ruled out.

I am still not done with the Bangkok media conclave. There were few interesting points made about the media scene as well.

In most of the Asian countries, there is a deficit of democracy and genuine space of independent journalism. The attack on journalists in the Asia countries and their fatalities substantiate this fact. Sri Lanka is supposed to be a democratic country, so is Nepal, and Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, but in these countries journalists are highly vulnerable species.

There is a rampant corporatisation of media and there is less space for activist media. The space for entertainment media is growing at the expense of socially committed media. There is less space for media as expressions of social justice and dissent, and still less for the voice of the marginalized. As a result activist journalists who believe in human rights and basic freedom of expression are at the receiving end.

The silver lining in the media scene is its future trajectory suggests that in the next 10 years or so, the face of existing media would substantially change. There will be new actors, including citizen journalists that will be more active and in turn create new forms of digital democratization. This change has already started happening.

Last but not the least, something that may be relevant in the current election scenario in India, is a chat with fellow journalist from Thailand on the tricks to sustain political meetings in his country. He said there are three major requirements; good Music, on high voltage, sound system, good food to all the participants and lastly good quality of mobile toilets with comfortable seats to recharge the pain of hunger. This is besides the daily wage allowance that’s given in advance by the political group to sustain the crowd.

If we compare this with India, there is some similarity but not much of sophistication. Here, people are transported in tractors and lorries to the political meetings, some music is also there but not loud enough to make them dance, people get their allowance at the end of the meeting, and are transported back to their locations. It seems toilets have not caught the imagination of the people attending political meetings in India.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at


Syed Ali Mujtaba


When it comes to governance, India is a functional democracy. Like any other democratic system of governance, Indian democracy is also based on five pillars; the legislature, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the media and the civil society. When we look at the architecture of Indian governance, it’s a picture of perfect imperfect. Each pillar stands on a shaky base. India suffers from a crisis of governance. This paper examines the apparatus of Indian democracy and comes up with suggestions as how to ameliorate the ills of governance. Let me prefix saying I am looking at this topic as a glass that is half empty, though some may as well view it as half full.


India has a bicameral legislature. The lower house or Lok Sabha comprises of 543 elected members. The Upper house or Rajya Sabha has 250 members, 12 nominated by the President, rest elected through an Electoral College comprising of central and provincial legislatures.

The legislature actually represents the people of the country and reflects the quality of governance. Even though India has undergone 14 elections, it’s still plagued with a faulty composition of its central legislature. There are various issues that need to be looked into when we talk about legislative reforms.

The foremost is the absence of democracy within the political parties. What is being witnessed is a tendency to shed democratic values and revel in promoting hereditary leadership in the party. A cursory look at many political parties reveals they are run like a personal fiefdom with an aura of dynastic rule. This stultifies the essence of democracy and diminishes the self- esteem of the people.

It is imperative in a parliamentary democracy, whether of the Westminster type or other, the Prime Minister should earn a seat in the Lok Sabha and should be the elected leader of the party. In the outgoing 14 Lok Sabha, the Prime Minister was inducted into the upper house through party’s electoral strength in the Electoral College. This backdoor democracy does not auger well for setting the standards of the governance in India.

Another anomaly of Indian democracy is it’s unable to prevent people of criminal background to get elected to the Parliament. Since considerable percentage of electorates are illiterate and are not well informed, persons with tainted records use money and muscle power to get elected. The 14th Lok Sabha had 25 per cent representatives with tainted background. How can a country get quality governance when corrupt and dishonest people sit in its Parliament? Necessarily, some method has to be found to cleanse the legislature of people having dubious record.

The crisis of governance begins with the electoral alliance that’s stitched to form a ruling coalition. The ‘coalition Dharma’ now drives the cart of Indian governance. Since such alliances are cobbled after the elections, electorates have little role in its formation. What is seen is for crumbs of power ideological polarization are being overlooked and unholy alliances are stitched. Some fringe parties are roped into such alliances and “Independents” have field day extracting their pound of flesh. Such make shift arrangements of governance blocks development of the country.

The political parties in order to continue its activities and to contest elections require huge money. The corporate houses in order to flourish in business need political protection. So a nexus has developed between the political parties and the corporate houses. It has undermined the idea that India is a socialist republic. The political- corporate nexus is undermining the desire of good governance.

As far as politicians are concerned they are popularly viewed as the fountainhead of corruption. The talk on the street is, election is a business where investments are made for contesting polls and returns are guaranteed after getting elected. The disproportionate assets of the politicians tell the tales of corruption in India. Unless corruption is weeded out from the body politics, India may continue to suffer from the crisis of governance.


The political executive is assisted by a permanent administration or the bureaucracy. India has two tire of bureaucracy; one belongs to the central government, other to the provincial. Both have two component; one civil administration and second law and order maintenance. This structure of governance was established under the colonial rule to administer India from Great Britain. After independence, the mental makeup of Indian bureaucracy has hardly undergone any change. The governance as a result has made little progress over a period of time.

Indian bureaucracy is popularly viewed as an institution of inefficient, ineffective, obstinate, obstructive, self-serving, unaccountable, and corrupt individuals. Obviously people shape up opinion not in vacuum but only after their interaction with those in administration. It would be no mean task to reform this machine that swears to usher an ideal civil society.

The relationship of the government officials with the people still has colonial overtone. A common Indian is scared to meet government officials and see them as a symbol of state power. At same time, the government officials too maintain a distance from the people. The general public cannot have direct audience with administrative officials and the grievances have to be routed through a battery of the peons and clerks of that office. There is hardly any change in the mechanism and attitude of governance even 60 years of independence. Unless the colonial structure of bureaucracy is dismantled, little progress could be expected in the quality of governance.

Indians are brought up with the idea that bureaucracy is the steel frame of India, a stable system that provides continuity to the governance. Indian experience suggests our failures on development are more due to poor management of the country. When laws are passed but not implemented, or implemented without fair application or with incredible delay; the crisis of governance is more profound. This includes the police that uphold the rule of law. In such situation ordinary people imagine they are still under an alien rule and lack trust in the impartiality of governance. In democratic systems, it is important that people should have an unstinted faith on those who hold the reins of governance and any image contrary to that reflects a crisis situation.


The judiciary in India is also a colonial legacy. According to Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer "Indian justice system still has the tenor of the British band and lacks the notes of Bharat’s veena."

Indian judiciary is based on three tire system. The Supreme Court is the fountain of justice. High Court is the highest judicial body in a state. The lower courts in the districts form the third tire of judiciary.

Indians have tremendous faith in judiciary. They believe their litigation would be explored thoroughly and impartially through the judicial system. However, this perception gets eroded once they discover how expensive, slow, laborious, corrupt is the judicial system.

The slow delivery of justice is attributed to the pending cases. Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan has said that 2.59 crore cases are pending disposal. Of this, 98 lakh are in the High Courts and 43,000 in the Supreme Court. There are several thousand cases where judgments have not been delivered long years after arguments are over.

There are several reasons for backlog of cases. One, many judges dispose of cases without deciding the real issues, thus leading to the rebirth of the problems. Sometimes judges of superior courts retire or secure transfers without pronouncing pending judgments. There are subordinate courts where adjournments are liberal. The system of three, four or more appeals, revisions, reviews and special leave petitions make litigation a long drawn out process.

The other side of the story is; there are also instances where a presiding judge hears two or three cases simultaneously. This makes a mockery of the public trial.

There is no effort on the part of the Judiciary to simplify procedures of the Civil Procedure Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Evidence Act. In the age of technology, they simply have become archaic and arcane.

A weak judicial system is a serious weakness of the Indian democracy. The crisis of governance glares to all those who have had the taste of the Indian judicial system.


Media is hailed as fourth estate and the watchdog of the democracy. The essence of the media is objectivity, neutrality and should not have any motives. Unfortunately the Indian media gives the impression that it’s much more business conscious than the business houses. As a matter of fact, there are many business houses that control the media outlets. It has distanced the fourth estate from its desired goals and objectives.

The complexion of media has changed a lot after the liberalization of the country. Gone are the days of committed journalist who settled for low salaries for the ideal of journalism. In liberalized India, it’s the glamor that attracts the new entrants to journalism rather than the ideals of the profession. As a result, the tribe of committed journalists is becoming extinct in India.

The biasness of the media is reflected in the composition of the news room. A head count would reveal the character of Indian media scene. Most of the newsrooms have upper caste bias; there are also biases of language and region. There is little representation of the minorities and marginalized sections in the news rooms of mainstream media. This is the crudest flaw of the Indian democracy.

It is also widely believed that several newspapers and TV have partisan approach to political parties and they highlight or ignore news depending on their leanings. The selection of news is done with the view of sensationalizing the news and increasing the newspapers circulation or viewership. Indian media is quite unmindful of its consequences on the psyche of the people.

Another anomaly is that some section of the media could be influenced to carry out motivated writings. Sponsored columns in magazines and newspapers and sponsored programmes in electronic media are having a field day in Indian media scene. The sponsors peddle their views making a mockery of media being a watchdog of the society.

In recent times, Indian media has given enough reasons to think that business promotion and money making has become its central theme. This distortion of media has belittled Indian democracy. A situation exists where fighting for the national cause also involves fighting for an objective media.

Civil Society

Indian system of governance reflects a fundamental difference in the relationship between the people and the State. We find there is little accountability of the State to provide services to the people at large. The unresponsiveness of the State has led to proliferation of Non Governmental Organizations termed as 'civil society organization.'

It is estimated that the total number of NGOs in India could be about 1.5 to 2 million, of which 53% are rural and 47% urban. The rapid growth of NGOs corresponds to the money they receive from the funding agencies i.e. government, corporate and institutional sources.

It is matter of debate, whether the NGOs are catapulting Indian society or have become institutions to exploit the social problems and make money out of it. The popular impression is, NGOs are operational in the areas where huge money is pumped in and the organizers get a sizable cut out of it. It’s generally believed the entire NGO sector in India would collapse like a house of cards if foreign, private or government funding is stopped.

Traditionally, people's movements are self-reliant: they have to raise their own resources, and are led by representatives from among the people. These representatives have to be accountable to the people. In contrast, the NGOs while claiming to represent the people are led by officers of the NGOs, who are paid by funding agencies. So NGOs are accountable to the funding agencies and not to the people.

What is seen is; NGOs are working as a buffer between the Indian State and the people. The State has absolved of all its responsibilities and NGOs are acting as the private contractors. In such situation people cannot demand anything from NGOs as a matter of right, what they get from them is only a 'charity'. This Indian State finds this a useful medium to maintain the trappings of democracy without any responsibilities of social justice. This is one the reason Indian social space is so crowded with the NGOs. These distortions of democracy manifest a crisis of governance.


Governance has a management and legal dimension, but it must dig deeper in capturing the values and attitudes of a society and polity. It must rest on a moral base which in today's democratic ethos is codified into laws and conventions. Good governance under democratic polity should create countervailing measures whereby it can rein in forces inimical to the society. Its primary job is to uplift the deprived and marginalized section of society, bridges the gap between haves and haves not, developing and the developed. It should ensure equal opportunity and justice to all the citizens. Enforcement agencies should act as the agents of change and not as master’s society.

However, India’s problem is those elected or appointed to serve the society do not believe in any such principles. As a result none of the pillars of democracy is any where near perfection. Corruption is the running theme among all the pillars of Indian democracy. A 2006 report of the Swiss Banking Association claims that Indians are the biggest depositors of black money in banks located in Switzerland. They have USD 1.5 trillion in Swiss banks, that’s more black money than the rest of the world combined. It’s a matter of common sense whose money that could be. Obviously not of common man.

The big question is what should be done to stem the rot that has set in the system of governance? Does India need a revolution to cleanse the system? Can elections be turned into referendum on those elected? How the so called masters of the people can be made servants of the society? Can the third tier be down sized and its responsibilities enhanced with adequate resources so that there is real community control? There are endless paths to tread but which is the right course to usher in good governance?

One has to remember, every citizen has a responsibility to actively participate in the democratic process. Their non participation in the electoral process, giving bribes to get things done, and remain unmindful about negative facets of democracy is precipitating the crisis of governance.

The lessons of sixty years of democratic experience in India suggest that common man is still withdrawn from the democratic process. Elections are a ritual in which they are mere spectators. It’s this attitude of let it be “chalta hai” that’s providing oxygen to bad governance. If good governance has to be prioritized then every Indian has to change this mindset. When will this even happen? Your guess is as good as mine!

Let me round off saying Indian governance is much healthy if we compare with the neighboring countries. The voting patterns indicate that the Indian electorate is able to make informed judgments about the governance of the country.

The bureaucracy and judiciary may be bit tardy but still is deliverable. Indian civil society is fairly robust; instances of social change are felt on ground.

The issue of criminalization of politics has regional overtones. The political culture of north differs from South. What is said about Bihar and Uttar Pradesh may not be appropriate for Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

As far as corruption is concerned, it’s not unique to India alone. Indian system does not suffer disproportionately if we compare it with other developing countries. There is a tendency to seek rent from politics in all unequal societies. So Indians should not flagellate themselves as the biggest sinners on earth.

As I have said in the beginning, Indian of story of governance is glass half empty as well as half full. Notwithstanding the facts and with all its pitfalls, India is a functional democracy.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at This paper was presented at the Asia Media conclave in Bangkok on 25-27 March 2009.