Sunday, 27 January 2013

Political reforms in India

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi made a very important and valid point last week when he spoke about opening the doors of a closed system and making the polity more inclusive. To make an honest confession, I'm no fan of Rahul Gandhi. Nonetheless, there's no denying that he touched upon a very important topic which, to my knowledge at least, has not yet been broached by any other Indian politician of note.

It is one of the absurdities of our political system that a pre-dominantly youthful country is being administered by a geriatric cabinet of ministers. To put it in perspective: the median age of the present cabinet of ministers is 65.2 years. 18 out of the 33 current cabinet ministers were born before independence and only 2 of them are below fifty years of age. That in a country where 65% of the population is below 35 years of age.

Dr. Manmohan Singh- The epitome of a geriatric political class

Rahul Gandhi was right once again, when he mentioned that a handful of people control the entire political space and that power lies only with those at the top. He could have added that those people at the top have taken considerable pains to exclude others from it. Is it any wonder that dynastic politics is the order of the day? The vast majority of India's political parties are family led (the BJP being a prominent exception), with the baton passing from generation to generation. Rahul Gandhi is himself a product of that system.

Lying at the root of this problem is the fact that there just does not exist a system to identify and groom potential leaders. That being the case, why not create state level institutions (I'm not talking about the civil services) dedicated to that very purpose? Each state could have an institution that identifies potential leaders. Let's begin by laying down certain specific criteria in terms of educational qualification and/ or existing work done by the candidate to ensure that only the truly deserving ones are chosen.

Rahul Gandhi: A product of the system he criticised

The people chosen could then undergo formal education to give them theoretical knowledge of subjects that a political leader ought to know, such as the constitution, macro economics, political science, geography and  demographics of the state, foreign policy and so on. The theoretical training ought to be followed by an internship period of at least one year where they get to work as assistants to state cabinet ministers, giving them insights into the actual working of the Government.

Such institutions will surely churn up leaders who are much better informed and more aware of the wider world outside which is the need of the hour. Given the sheer diversity and complexity of the country, India needs leaders who have a wide perspective, not people with limited, localised perspectives whose knowledge and aspirations scarcely extend beyond their respective regions. It will also give the youth of India an opportunity to participate in the running of their country as well as first hand knowledge of how the country actually runs.

Until such a system is implemented, the talk of creating a more inclusive polity with greater opportunities for the youth will remain plain lip service. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the track record of the Congress to give the impression that Mr. Gandhi actually means what he says. 

An inclusive political system is likely to remain a matter of mere lip service until the people of India take to the streets. Its just a matter of time before that happens. Our political class would do well to remember Tsar Alexander II's famous words "it is better to...destroy serfdom from above than wait begins to destroy itself from below".

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