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The Institutions of Democracy and assumed diverse forms and modes of

functioning. In many European countries
democratic ideals and values grew in
­response to the oppressive rule of absolut­
André Béteille ist monarchs. Here again there were dif­
ferences even between neighbouring

This essay describes and e live in the age of democracy. countries. In the UK the slow ascent to­
compares Parliament and the This means that democracy wards democratic principles and practices
provides the touchstone by began in 1215 with the Magna Carta al­
Supreme Court and examines the
which political actions and processes are though, as I have already noted, the steady
relationship between them. judged as beneficial or otherwise. The expansion of the rights of citizenship has
Parliament may still be a great virtues of democracy as an ideal of social not been accompanied by the abolition of
institution, but its members are and political life are acknowledged even the monarchy or, for that matter, the House
in ­regimes that are at least formally of Lords. In France, on the other hand, a
no longer great men. How long
monarchical as in countries such as the more dramatic change took place from
can a great institution remain United Kingdom (UK), the Netherlands and monarchy to republic in 1789, although
great in the hands of small men? the Scandinavian kingdoms of Denmark, France alternated between republic and
The SC has held its place in the ­Norway and Sweden. It must be pointed monarchy (or empire) well into the second
out that this has not been so in all places half of the 19th century.
public esteem rather better than
or at all times, and the validity and legiti­
the Lok Sabha, despite the macy of what have been called “aristocratic” Democracy via Confrontation
occasional allegation of financial as against “democratic” regimes have The idea of democracy came to us with
impropriety. Parliament, the SC been widely acknowledged in the past colonial rule. But as Nirad C Chaudhuri
(Tocqueville 1956). (1951: v) put it memorably, it conferred
and the party system have all
For many the main virtue of democracy subjecthood on us but withheld citizen­
begun to reveal hitherto is that it gives the common people a place ship. The aspiration of Indians to become
concealed deficiencies which in the sun. It reduces the gap between the a nation of free and equal citizens, which
should be brought to light and rulers and the ruled by restricting the was kindled by colonial rule, was given a
powers of the former and enlarging those distinct focus with the formation of a
criticised, but constructively and
of the latter. In a monarchical or imperial ­political party, the Indian National Con­
not destructively. regime in the true sense of the term, the gress as early as in 1885. That party
common people are subjects and not citi­ ­became the vehicle for the aspirations of
zens. The advance of democracy trans­ the nationalist­s against their colonial rul­
forms subjects into citizens. It is a paradox ers. Their leaders could ask for national
of our time that the rights of citizenship independence only by mobilising the
are better respected in monarchies such India­n people as a whole against the
as Britain and the Netherlands than in colonia­l regime­. They found it natural to
­democracies such as India or Sri Lanka. use the languag­e of democracy in their
Democracy is animated by the lofty fight for independence.
­ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. Democracy emerged in India out of a
These were the ideals of the French Revo­ confrontation with a power imposed from
lution which inspired people in many outside rather than an engagement with
countries to challenge the absolutist mon­ the contradictions inherent in Indian soci­
archies of the past. We too invoked them ety. Those contradictions remained deeply
as our nationalist leaders challenged their embedded in the Indian social order even
colonial rulers. After the attainment of as the country opted for a democratic
This is a revised version of the Third Pravin
Visaria Memorial Public Lecture delivered in independence we inscribed those same politica­l order on the attainment of inde­
Ahmedabad on 1 March 2011. It will appear in a ideals in the Preamble to our Constitution, pendence. They are giving Indian demo­
book to be published later by Oxford University and added to them justice – social, eco­ cracy a very different character from
Press under the title Democracy and Its nomic and political. democrac­y in the west which grew and
Political regimes which call themselves advanced by confronting a succession of
Andre Beteille ( is democracies or subscribe to democratic internal social contradictions.
National Research Professor and Professor ideals and values have in fact emerged In the west, the democratic and industrial
Emeritus of Sociology, University of Delhi.
­under very different historical conditions revolutions emerged together, reinforcing
Economic & Political Weekly  EPW   july 16, 2011  vol xlvi no 29 75
Calls for MACRO Research Proposals for the year 2011-12

Indian Institute of Banking & Finance (Estd: 1928) is working with a mission “to develop professionally qualified
competent bankers and finance professionals primarily through a process of education, training, examination, consultancy/
counselling and continuing professional development programme.” As in the past this year too IIBF, intending to focus
on contributing to banking industry and financial services through encouraging innovative ideas, has decided to address
contemporary issues which will have an impact on the economy in general and financial services in particular, through
purposeful research. Research organisations/ researchers affiliated to research organisations/banks are hereby invited
to send their proposals for undertaking research in any of the following areas:

1.  Role of UID in Banking

2.  Real Estate Financing
3.  BASEL III and Indian Banking
4.  Issues in SME Financing
5.  Financing of Agri-Business
6.  Study of Transaction Cost in Banks
7.  Study of Customer Service in Banks

Who can participate?

Research organizations/institutes as well as individuals (with a Ph.D. degree) affiliated to research organisations/
institutions/banks having a proven track record, are eligible to apply. If the project is undertaken by individuals, the
proposal should be routed through their organizations after taking requisite permission, if applicable. It may be
noted that the Institute encourages empirical research in which the candidates can test their hypothesis through
data (primary/secondary) and lessons from which can be drawn for the industry (banking & finance) as whole.

Size of research report:

Around 200-250 pages

Time frame:
The final report should be completed within four months from the time it is commissioned.

Research proposals will be evaluated on their merit as well as the track record of the research organisations/
researchers submitting the proposal. Selection will be made after the short listed researchers make a brief presentation
to the members of the IIBF’s Research Advisory Committee (RAC).

Research Grant:
The selected research project carries an award of Rs. 1,50,000/- (Rupees one lakh and fifty thousand only). On
commencement of the project a part (25%) of the award money will be given by way of advance and the remaining
balance will be disbursed only on acceptance of the final report. In case a report is found unacceptable during the
midterm review, the research organisation/researcher will not be paid the remaining amount. In case a research
organisation/researcher abandons the project mid way, they would be required to refund the advance together with
interest at the prevailing Prime Lending Rate (PLR) of the State Bank of India (SBI).

Applicant research organisations/ researchers are required to submit typed proposals in English along with a brief
bio-data highlighting their experience in conducting similar research.

Submissions must quote the mobile no./landline no. and email ID of the member. The last date for submission
of the papers is 30th August 2011.

Applications may be sent via post or courier to:

The Director of Academic Affairs,
Indian Institute of Banking & Finance,
Kohinoor City, Commercial-II,
Tower – I, 2nd Floor, Behind Kohinoor Mall,
Off. L.B.S. Marg,
Kurla (West),
Mumbai 400 070
                  Tel: 022-25039604/9746/9907

76 july 16, 2011  vol xlvi no 29  EPW   Economic & Political Weekly

each other and slowly and steadily trans­ s­ ociologist not only the court but also law I­ ndia is due in no small part to the weak­
forming the whole of society. The economic is an institution; not only the school but ness of the institutions of civil society. But
and social preconditions for the success of also education is an institution; and not I will not discuss those institutions here,
democracy grew along with, and some­ only the family but also marriage is an partly for reasons of space and partly be­
times in advance of, the political institu­ insti­tution. In both senses the institution cause I have written about them in some
tions of democracy. In India, the politi­cal has to be distinguished from the indivi­ detail elsewhere (Béteille 2000a: 172-97;
argument for democracy was adopted by dual and from acts that are peculiar to Gupta 2005: 437-58).
the leaders of the nationalist movement particular individuals.
from their colonial rulers and adapted to I find it convenient to begin with the in­ Parliament and Judiciary
their immediate objective which was free­ stitution as an enduring group that out­ My treatment of political institutions will
dom from colonial rule. The building of lives its individual members, and then to be illustrative rather than exhaustive. I
new political institutions took second move on to the regular and recurrent acti­ will focus on Parliament and the state leg­
place, and the creation of the economic vities that are a part of that group’s exist­ islatures, the Supreme Court (SC) and high
and social conditions for the successful op­ ence. The advantage with this is that the courts, and on political parties. Others
eration of those institutions, such as educa­ institution as an enduring group often has may be added to these, but considerations
tion, healthcare and other social services a distinct physical identity as, for instance, of space do not permit me to do so. At any
lagged well behind. the school, the court or the legislature, rate, no one can deny the great impor­
Ministers, legislators and even judges and this enables us to form a concrete tance and value of the institutions I have
never tire of speaking of the need to put picture of its social identity. It is relatively chosen for discussion here.
service to the common man first. It is a easy to form a clear picture of the school Some will no doubt ask why I have chosen
habit of speech that was acquired during as an institution before asking whether only two of the great institutions of gov­
the struggle for national independence, what goes on in it does or does not corre­ ernance, the legislative and the judicial, and
and now serves as a mantra on all public spond to any meaningful form of educa­ left out the third which is the executive.
occasions. The common people them­ tion. That is the kind of question that we This is not because I consider the executive
selves are not sure how much they can must ask ultimately about our political in­ to be less important than the other two
­depend upon those who repeatedly invoke stitutions but it will be useful for a start to but because I believe that a consideration
the ideals of democracy in their name. It is form a concrete picture of those institu­ of any two, and a comparison and contrast
in this context that I turn my attention tions in their concrete settings. of them will suffice to present my main ar­
from the ideals of democracy to the actual As one would expect in a country with gument about the nature and significance
operation of its institutions. the size, diversity and antiquity of India, of institutions. Moreover, I have elsewhere
there are many different institutions per­ discussed in some detail the nature and
The Operation of Democracy forming a wide range of functions, social, significance of the executive branch of the
While much may be said about democratic economic and political. Some of these in­ government (Dar 1999: 198-230). My dis­
ideals and values such as those of liberty, stitutions have their origins very far back cussion there of the distinction between
equality and social justice, I focus my at­ in time while others are of more recent the political and the administrative execu­
tention here on the institutions of demo­ origin, although even here, the older of tives foreshadows the distinction I make
cracy. I do so not only because of the in­ our high courts can trace their origins here between the rule of numbers and the
trinsic importance of institutions for the back to the 19th century. In discussing the rule of law in my contrast between the
successful operation of democracy but institutions of democracy, my focus will legislature and the judiciary.
also because they appear to me to be more be not on the institutions that have come I would like to begin with Parliament.
concrete and tangible as objects of en­ down from our ancient or medieval past, This is a natural point of departure not
quiry and investigation. but on those that began to emerge from only because of the obvious importance of
The term “institution” has many mean­ the middle of the 19th century onwards. I Parliament as a political institution but
ings, as is to be expected of any term that will thus not have anything to say about also because of its high visibility. Nothing
is used so widely and across so many dif­ the village democracies of the past about that happens in Parliament remains a
ferent disciplines ranging from law and whose institutional form or mode of func­ ­secret. From the very beginning, the press
political theory to sociology and cultural tioning we know little or nothing. and the public were given access to Parlia­
anthropology (Béteille 2010: 114-33). Even In speaking about the institutions of ment when it was in session. Today one
among sociologists the term has at least democracy, I will focus on the specifically can see the proceedings in Parliament on
two different though related meanings. In political institutions. It has been recog­ television without having to leave one’s
the first sense, an institution is an endur­ nised for nearly 200 years that democracy drawing room. Live telecasts have led to
ing group with a distinct identity and with has a social as well as a political side the demystification of Parliament and, as
boundaries that mark it out from its envi­ ­(Tocqueville 1956). Of particular impor­ we shall see, to a certain devaluation of it
ronment. In the second sense, it is a pat­ tance to the operation of democracy are in the public eye.
tern of activities that are recurrent, legiti­ what I have called the institutions of civil Parliament enjoys the pride of place
mate and meaningful. Thus, for the society. The weakness of democracy in among the institutions of democracy. This
Economic & Political Weekly  EPW   july 16, 2011  vol xlvi no 29 77

is particularly true of the Lok Sabha. Its standing, are of course not unique to is. It is insulated from public pressure
very name, the House of the People signals ­democracies. There have been royal and expected to deal even-handedly with
its popular and representational charac­ courts of justice, and the British set up government and opposition­.
ter, and it is not without reason that our courts of justice when they began their Because of its higher visibility and its
form of democracy is known as the parlia­ rule in India. The courts of justice in inde­ more representational character, many
mentary form. It is true that the president pendent India have continued many of the believe that it is Parliament rather than
is, constitutionally, the head of both houses conventions and practices established the SC that embodies most fully the spirit
of Parliament, but for all practical purpos­ unde­r colonial rule and have been criti­ of democracy. The SC is believed to be
es the conduct of the Lok Sabha is the re­ cised, unfairly in my judgment, for being “elitist” rather than popular and hence not
sponsibility of the elected members them­ more colonial than democratic. Those fully democratic. This reflects the populist
selves, and they conduct their affairs in who direct their barbs at the SC for its as against the constitutionalist concept of
public view. colonia­l antecedents tend to forget that democracy. As the populist conception
Direct election by the people gives to our Lok Sabha itself is modelled in more gains ground, the valu­e placed on the
the members of the Lok Sabha their dis­ ways than one on the House of Commons ­institutions of demo­cracy, including Par­
tinctive democratic legitimacy. The formal in Westminster­. liament itself, tends to decline.
composition of the two houses of Parlia­ Whereas our legislators are elected, our
ment and their powers and functions are judges are appointed according to pro­ Numbers and Law
laid down in some detail in the Constitu­ cedure­s laid down in the Constitution. Democracy rests on a delicate balance be­
tion of India. In addition to Parliament, we A  judge does not have a constituency in the tween two principles which may be called
also have the state legislatures whose sense in which a member of Parliament the rule of numbers and the rule of law.
­organisation mirrors in many ways the (MP) has one. An elected MP has a special Numbers are important in a democracy at
­organisation of Parliament. responsibility towards his constituents. A every level. When a person contests an
Along with the central and state legisla­ judge of the SC has no constituents towards election, he or the party which supports
tures, the SC and the high courts are the whom he has any special ­responsibility. him makes an assessment of the numbers
other great institutions of democracy. The court is not a popular institution in to see that the candidate has a reasonable
Courts of justice, no matter how high their the sense in which an ­elected legislature chance of success. In Parliament or in any

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78 july 16, 2011  vol xlvi no 29  EPW   Economic & Political Weekly

legislative assembly, the success of a law and not the rule of numbers. Political to enlarge the presence of women through
motion and sometimes even the survival leaders make commitments under pressur­e a system of quotas is yet to bear fruit.
of the government depend on the ability and in the end it is left to the courts to de­
to muster the right numbers at the right cide whether those commitments are le­ Changing Character
time. This is believed by many to require gally and constitutionally valid. When the The earlier Lok Sabhas appear in retro­
both manipulation and coercion. courts have to intervene again and again spect to be “elitist” not only in their social
The courts are designed to determine in such matters, the relationshi­p betwee­n composition but also in their style of func­
what is right and wrong in the light of the elected legislators and appointed judges tioning. They included a fair proportion of
Constitution and the laws. Where there is comes under strain and the major institu­ professional people, particularly lawyers.
a violation of the law, the courts have to tions of democracy become weakened­. Many of them were somewhat detached
rule against the violators even where they We have now entered a season of coali­ from the rough and tumble of electoral
constitute a majority. In our country the tion politics at the centre as well as in sev­ politics. They were able to keep their hands
courts have a special significance because eral states. Coalition politics has brought relatively clean even when they had to en­
disregard for the rule of law is very wide­ home the fact that the calculation of num­ ter Parliament by contesting elections. It
spread in the public domain. The true bers can be of crucial importance even was believed possible to win an election
significance of the courts of law in a where the numbers are not very large. He on the candidate’s standing in public life.
demo­cracy is that people look to them to who heads a coalition government has to Winning an election on the basis of one’s
protect the citizen against the arbitrary pay close and continuous attention to the professional competence and standing has
use of power by the state and its function­ numbers he is able to muster. It is well now become difficult if not impossible.
aries. But they also have the obligation known that many compromises have to be Our present prime minister, Manmohan
to protect individuals and groups from made in the work of legislation simply in Singh provides a striking confirmation of
being unjustly treated simply because they order to keep the numbers together. In the this. Nobody can question his personal
are outnumbered. Democracy requires in­ states whole groups of legislators are integrity or his professional competence.
stitutions to ensure that the rule of law is not sometimes taken away to distant and But he has ventured only once, and that
overwhelmed by the weight of numbers. undisclose­d destinations so that they do too unsuccessfully, to contest an election
In discussing these issues it is impor­ not desert the government in its hour of for the Lok Sabha.
tant to keep in mind the distinction be­ need. These actions are often on the Not only has the number and propor­
tween power and authority. People who borderlin­e between what is legally valid tion of persons with professional experi­
have the numbers behind them often and what is not, and rival parties, or even ence and competence declined in the Lok
seek to impose their power even where members of the public move the courts to Sabha, the number and proportion of
they have no authority in the matter. give a verdict­. those with real or alleged criminal records
Many persons who believe that they are In his much-acclaimed work on the has increased. The criminalisation of poli­
backed by numbers because of the elec­ ­English Constitution, Bagehot (1928) re­ tics has entered the Lok Sabha as well as
toral support that they have won, or for marked that there was a dignified part the vidhan sabhas. The disclosed assets of
some other reason feel that the prevalent and an efficient part in that constitution the members of Parliament show that at
rules and procedures are obstacles that and that it worked well when the two least in one respect, that of wealth, they
should not be allowed to frustrate the parts were in proper balance. I believe are far from being representative of the
public interest as they perceive it. Rules that our own premier institutions of de­ population of a country in which poverty
and procedures are indeed sometimes ob­ mocracy must be submitted to the test of is pervasive and endemic. If one is able to
solete or archaic, and when it is in the both dignity and efficiency. I will begin enter Parliament, one’s children are un­
general interest for them to change, they with Parliament and then make some likely to ever have to live in poverty.
should be changed. But here again, they brief observations on the state legislatures The style of functioning has also
cannot be changed instantly and on the before moving to the courts of law. changed, although it is difficult to say how
spot but only in accordance with estab­ There have been significant changes in far the change in style is related to the
lished procedure. the composition and character of the Lok change in composition. One may speak of
In a large, diverse and disorderly Sabha since it was first constituted nearly a change from a temperate to an intem­
societ­y with an open political system such 60 years ago. Socially, it is more repre­ perate style. In a democracy Parliament is
as ours, it is never easy to settle an issue of sentative of the population of the country the pre-eminent forum for openly express­
immediate or urgent public concern by the than in the past. Its membership is drawn ing dissent and disagreement. In the past,
counting of heads on the spot. When a few from a wider range of castes and classes parliamentary debate was conducted in
hundred or a few thousand, or even a few than before. This is perhaps even truer of an atmosphere of civility, in conscious or
lakh persons bring road and rail traffic to the state legislatures. These changes have unconscious imitation of proceedings in
a halt, it is not easy to decide whether they come about mainly through conscious the House of Commons in London. Even
or their victims constitute the majority. efforts by each and every political party to where disagreement was strong it was tac­
The rights and wrongs of the issue have to widen its base of electoral support from itly understood that it had to be expressed
be decided in accordance with the rule of one general election to another. The move in parliamentary language.
Economic & Political Weekly  EPW   july 16, 2011  vol xlvi no 29 79

The tone of civility has all but disap­ long can a great institution remain great does not necessarily mean that during the
peared from parliamentary debate. Inter­ in the hands of small men? hours when it was allowed to work, it al­
ruptions are frequent and noisy, and it The ordinary legislative business of ways worked in an efficient or business-
has become a matter of routine for several ­Parliament proceeds in a desultory man­ like manner.
persons to speak at the same time. Rush­ ner until some misdeed of the govern­ Recently a whole session of Parliament
ing to the well of the house is no longer an ment, real or alleged, is brought to light. was lost because a determined opposition
uncommon event, and the speaker has a The opposition then pounces on the gov­ demanded an enquiry by a Joint Parlia­
difficult time in maintaining order, and ernment and demands an immediate ex­ mentary Committee which the govern­
has to adjourn the house repeatedly. Even planation on the floor of the house. The ment was not prepared to concede. It was
the Rajya Sabha, where debates are ex­ treasury benches try at first to take eva­ prepared to have the matter examined by
pected to be less acrimonious, has to be sive action, but the opposition remains the Public Accounts Committee instead.
adjourned for lack of order. All of this can persistent. The obduracy of the treasury Even informed citizens are not always
now be witnessed on television by the benches is matched by the vehemence of able to understand what such differences
­general public which is becoming increas­ the opposition. The television channels signify for dealing with the matters on
ingly inured to misconduct in the House seize their opportunity for breaking news, hand. Increasing numbers of them are
of the People. and lure members of Parliament into their coming to the view that our legislators are
Perhaps the lowest point in parliamen­ studios where the debates reproduce the less interested in the designated business
tary disorder was reached during the de­ disorder of the debates in Parliament. of legislation than in settling scores among
bate over the Civil Nuclear Agreement in It is not at all my argument that the themselves. There are serious worries
2008. The government was determined to demands of the opposition are always un­ about the loss to the exchequer caused by
get the bill passed and the opposition was reasonable or that the government never recurrent stalemates in Parliament.
equally determined to block it. Because has a reason for refusing to concede those What should be debated in the full
some of those on whose support the gov­ demands. In the noise and disorder gener­ house is increasingly left to committees to
ernment relied were against the bill, the ated in Parliament over scandalous mis­ do. This becomes to some extent unavoid­
numbers on the two sides were not abso­ conduct by someone somewhere, it becomes able when the business of legislation ex­
lutely clear. The government won in the difficult to decide on the merits of the pands. Passing the burden of important
end by a very narrow margin, and there individual case. But the long-term effect business on to committees takes care of
were the usual allegations of horse trad­ of continuous discord and disorder within the requirements of efficiency up to a
ing. What was unusual, however, was that Parliament is an erosion of public trust in point. It is regrettable nevertheless that
three of the members of the main the institution itself. Parliament is no longer able to meet the
­opposition party rushed into the house The successful operation of Parliament high expectations of it that were created
with a sack full of currency notes which as an institution depends on a measure of in the wake of independence, and that its
were placed before the speaker as materi­ trust in the fairness of the system by both members now spend so much of their time
al evidence of the bribe paid by the ruling government and opposition. Here, in­ in disputes that appear to be both endless
party to ensure that the motion was car­ creasingly each side seems to believe that and fruitless­.
ried. The dignity of the House was com­ the other side can act only in bad faith and
promised as it had never been before. never in good faith. Perhaps there is a fail­ Judiciary: Principle and Practice
The speaker of the 14th Lok Sabha, a ure of political imagination on both sides. The SC has held its place in the public
distinguished parliamentarian, expressed The ruling party finds it hard to imagine esteem rather better than the Lok Sabha.
his frustration and anguish again and having to vacate the treasury benches to Despite the occasional allegation of finan­
again. His repeated admonitions to the make room for its opponents; and the op­ cial impropriety, our judges are still re­
members to act with decorum generally position party finds it hard to imagine garded as being on the whole learned,
went unheeded. We get a vivid picture of what it will have to face after it has se­ high-minded and dutiful in contrast with
his frustration and exasperation from his cured its place on the treasury benches. legislators, ministers and civil servants.
memoirs published shortly after he ceased The disorder in Parliament detracts not The higher courts of justice are smaller,
to be a MP. On 28 February 2008, he said only from its dignity but also from its effi­ more compact and more purposeful than
in the House, “I am sorry I have to say that ciency. Parliament has to be repeatedly the legislatures. They are also better insu­
you are all working overtime to finish de­ adjourned, sometimes for only a few hours, lated from popular pressure.
mocracy in the country”. Some months and sometimes for a few days. Anxiety A person from any class or community
later he said, “I can only say that you are over a possible boycott of Parliament dur­ may seek election to Parliament. He may
behaving in the most despicable manner”, ing the budget session has grown over the be a peasant, an artisan or a man with
and, again, on the same day, “The whole years. It has been calculated that “Out of only five years of schooling and still take
country is ashamed of its parliamentari­ 1,738 hours and 45 minutes, the fourteenth an active part in parliamentary debate.
ans” (Chatterjee 2010: 171). Parliament Lok Sabha wasted 423 hours because of dis­ The appointment of judges is confined to
may still be a great institution, but its ruptions and adjournments due to disor­ the middle class, and that too, to the
members are no longer great men. How derly scenes” (Chatterjee 2010: 160). This upper levels of it. The legal profession is
80 july 16, 2011  vol xlvi no 29  EPW   Economic & Political Weekly

described as a learned profession, and get entangled in litigation for no fault of alliance­s indispensable and at the same
lawyers and judges have an elevated posi­ theirs to feel that they are the victims time volatile.
tion in society by virtue of their education rather than the beneficiaries of the courts. There are various reasons behind the
and occupation. Where the middle class is Thus, while the court is no doubt an proliferation of parties in India. It is a
very small as it was in India until recently, institution­, some might question how far large country with a very diverse popula­
the higher judiciary stands out from the it acts as a democratic institution in up­ tion and a tradition of cultural and social
rest of society. There are pressures now to holding the principle of equality in its pluralism. There are parties and associa­
make the judiciary more representative in actua­l practice­. tions representing all shades of ideological
terms of caste and community, but it is I have so far described and compared orientation from the extreme left to the
difficul­t to visualise a judiciary whose Parliament and the SC. This is only the extreme right. There are secular parties
members belong in equal proportions to first step in the understanding of the insti­ and “pseudo-secular” ones. In India no
every social class or stratum. tutions of democracy. A second and more party is prepared to disown secularism,
Judges disagree with each other al­ difficult step would be to examine the re­ and hence when a party is denounced by
though these disagreements are not on lationship between them. They are as­ its adversary for not being secular, it labels
party lines or are not expected to be on signed distinct spheres of operation, but the adversary as “pseudo-secular”.
party lines. The chief justice has no au­ they are expected to work in harmony. There are regional parties such as the
thority to issue a whip to ensure conform­ There is a wide gap between the expecta­ Asom Gana Parishad, the Telegu Desam
ity with his own judgment. When he finds tion and the reality. The question is not Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazha­
himself in a minority­, all he can do is to simply whether the gap is particularly gam which have specifically regional inte­
record a dissenting judgment. Judges ex­ wide in India today, but whether it is grow­ rests. But every regional party has an eye
press their disagreement in judicial prose ing wider. on the centre if only because of the con­
and not by shouting at each other or bran­ There are various reasons – personal, cessions it hopes to secure from it. Like­
dishing their fists in open court. And gen­ professional and others – for friction be­ wise, a national party, or a party which
erally speaking, judges are less eager to tween Parliament and the SC. The exclu­ expects to hold office at the centre seeks to
appear on television than MPs. sive jurisdiction claimed by the one is not maintain a regional presence and to
Judicial prose is learned, not to say always recognised as being exclusive by secur­e alliances with regional parties at
­recondite, and at least in India it tends to the other. Underlying all of this is the ten­ the centre as well as in the states. An alli­
be prolix. Two or three judges often write sion between the two irreducible princi­ ance partner who is strong only in its own
separate judgments even when their opin­ ples of democracy to which I have referred region does not always act consistently in
ions are substantially the same, and they more than once, the rule of numbers and the state and at the centre.
tend to write at great length. Judicial de­ the rule of law. That tension, carried be­ The number of parties increases when
liberation and judicial composition take yond a certain point, may erupt into the an existing party splits into two or more
time. As a result, cases remain unattended kind of disorder that calls for the suspen­ parties. Splits have been quite common in
for months and years. sion of the institutions of democracy political parties in India. A party may split
The law’s delay has caused worry to or­ eithe­r for the time being or for good. because of differences in ideology or be­
dinary persons in many places and in cause of the clash of personal interests and
many ages, but it seems to have acquired Party and Faction ambitions. In India, the latter is the more
pathological dimensions in India today. Apart from the institutions of the State, important factor, although those who
This is partly because aggrieved parties such as the legislative and the judicial bring about a split always invoke some
are rarely satisfied with the verdict of the ones, political parties play an important point of principle as their reason. Politi­
lower courts and seek to go on appeal to part in a democracy. Our party system has cians have personal ambitions every­
the higher ones. When a particular party acquired a distinctive character as the where, but it is only in some countries that
does not want an early decision, he can number of parties has increased steadily personal ambition prevails so frequently
engage a counsel who is skilled in the art during the 60 years since independence. over loyalty to the party. It is difficult to
of securing adjournments. It is sometimes At the time of independence, the say whether this is due to the strength of
suspected that there is collusion between Congres­s Party held a unique position as personal ambition or the weakness of the
lawyers and judges in expediting or delay­ the party of the nationalist movement. Its party as an institution.
ing a hearing. main adversary, the Muslim League lost Not only personal ambition, but loyalty
While the law’s delay affects large num­ its significance in India with the Partition to family, kin and community may also
bers of persons, it does not affect them of the country. The Hindu Mahasabha un­ override loyalty to the party. The institu­
equitably. As I have indicated, some might derwent several transformations before tional requirements of a modern political
benefit from it while others suffer. Indian emer­ging as the Bharatiya Janata Party, party concerned with democratic govern­
society is a highly stratified one, and some now the principal adversary of the Con­ ance are different from those of groups
can bear more easily than others the costs gress Party. The proliferation of parties based on kinship, caste and community.
in both time and money of a protracted has given a distinctiv­e character to politi­ The shifting alliances among political
judicial process. It is natural for those who cal alliances in India. It has made those parties that are a conspicuous feature of
Economic & Political Weekly  EPW   july 16, 2011  vol xlvi no 29 81

the Indian political scene are often gov­ be attracted to politics just as someone One of our leading journalists and poli­
erned by the personal loyalties of leaders growing up in a medical family may be at­ tical commentators, Malhotra (2003) has
and their followers. tracted to the medical and someone in a provided a well-documented account of
Is every political party an institution in legal family to the legal profession. But in dynastic politics on the subcontinent. He
the sense in which I have been using the a society and in an age in which individual has pointed out that dynastic politics in
term? Here it is important to distinguish ambition counts for something, one may India is not confined to the Congress Party
between party and faction. Factions have follow one’s own aptitude and choose a or to what has come to be described as the
existed since time immemorial, and the career for oneself. In India there is a gen­ first family in the country. He has docu­
Indian soil is congenial to their growth. eral tendency for young men to be guided mented the rise of what he calls “midi”
The political party is of much more recent by the family in the choice of a career. The and “mini” dynasties in various states.
origin, and it came into being in the politi­ genealogical route is followed by default These dynasties aim to secure control not
cal environment created by colonial rule. where other criteria of selection are not only over the party but also over the gov­
The oldest political party in the country, strictly required. And it is of course much ernment. Dynastic control over a party
the Indian National Congress was created easier to adopt politics as a career without loses its strength where the party has little
at the initiative of a British civil servant, any specialised training than it is to adopt prospect of forming a government­.
Allan Octavian Hume. a career in a profession requiring long and
A leading student of the subject has de­ arduous training. Interpreting the Maladies
fined factions in terms of the following five The value placed on family and kinship I have in the foregoing drawn attention to
attributes: (i) a faction is a conflict group; is much stronger in India than it is in coun­ the maladies by which what I consider to
(ii) a faction is a political group; (iii) a fac­ tries such as Britain and France where the be the basic institutions of democracy are
tion is not a corporate group; (iv) faction institutions of democracy based on open beset in India today. My objective is not to
members are recruited by a leader; and and secular principles have had a longer argue that these institutions have become
(v)  faction members are recruited on life and a clearer definition. It is not that dispensable or valueless and that we
diverse principles (Nicholas 1965). Factions there have not been political families in should try to build a new and more vibrant
and parties are based on different organi­ those countries, but in general political in­ form of democracy in which people gov­
sational principles, and where the faction stitutions have been better insulated from ern themselves by creating new social
is strong, the party tends to be weak. the demands of family and kinship. This is movements and new associations. On the
As an institution, the party is expected to because kinship there is not regarded by contrary, it is because I believe in the great
have a longer span of life than a faction. It people in general as the natural route to importance of those institutions and the
is expected to outlive its current ­members political office. need to maintain them in some order that
while still retaining its name, its ­identity Millions, if not hundreds of millions of I have drawn attention to their current
and its basic structure. An important re­ Indians believe that when a political leader failings. Elsewhere, I have drawn atten­
quirement of institutional conti­nuity is the passes away, particularly when this hap­ tion to the distinction between constitu­
replacement of existing members by new pens unexpectedly, he should be succeed­ tional and populist democracy (Béteille
ones according to a distinct set of princi­ ed by his son, his daughter, his wife or 2008). We started on independence to cre­
ples. New members may be inducte­d by even his daughter-in-law. We will fail to ate a constitutional democracy, and I be­
election or by appointment. These are both understand the weakness of the party as lieve that we adopted the right path and
valid and legitimate principle­s in a demo­ an open and secular institution if we ig­ should not be diverted from it.
cracy, depending on the natur­e and func­ nore the pressure for genealogical succes­ If we look back on what we had expected
tions of the institution. As we have seen, sion characteristic of our social order. of our democratic institutions at the time
MPs are elected while judge­s of the SC are
appointed­. The conditions of eligibility in
the first case are politica­l and in the second
case they are professional. REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIES
There is a third way in which succession April 30, 2011
may be ensured, and that is through gene­ Women and Water: Issues of Gender, Caste, Class and Institutions – Maithreyi Krishnaraj
alogical connection, i e, through ties of kin­ Questioning Masculinities in Water – Margreet Zwarteveen
ship and marriage. Monarchs are not elect­ ‘They Are Not of This House’:
ed or appointed, they select themselves by   The Gendered Costs of Drinking Water’s Commodification – Kathleen O’Reilly
Caste, Gender and the Rhetoric of Reform in India’s Drinking Water Sector – Deepa Joshi
virtue of birth. Selection for leadership by
Women and Decentralised Water Governance:
birth is a very widespread political practice   Issues, Challenges and the Way Forward – Seema Kulkarni
in India and other south Asian countries.
For copies write to:
The practice is so widespread as to appear Circulation Manager,
to many to be a principle­. Economic and Political Weekly,
It is to some extent natural for someone 320-321, A to Z Industrial Estate, Ganpatrao Kadam Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 013.
growing up in the home of a politician to
82 july 16, 2011  vol xlvi no 29  EPW   Economic & Political Weekly

of independence, we are bound to be dis­ The Emergency took a toll on the opposi­ the authorities and on the side of that
appointed. In his closing speech to the tion, but, what is more important it dis­ amorphous and indefinable body known as
Constituent Assembly, Babasaheb Ambed­ credited the Congress Party in the eyes of the people. As a result, the deeper roots of
kar had expressed hope for the future but the people and to some extent even in the political failures remain unattended.
he had also warned against complacency eyes of some of its own reflective ­members. Here I would like to make a distinction
(Government of India 1989: 978). The Few people today, irrespective of the party between individual misconduct and insti­
“grammar of anarchy” against whose re­ they support, look back on the Emergency tutional failure. My main interest as a
vival he had warned, far from dying down, with satisfaction or pride. The Emergency sociologist is in the latter and not the
has acquired new legitimacy from various did not abolish the institutions of demo­ former. Our legal system has procedures
sources. But if we look around and view cracy, but by subduing them, it created at for dealing with individual misconduct.
developments in our neighbouring coun­ least for a while a deeper awareness of Admittedly, those procedures do not al­
tries and further afield in the countries their value. ways work fairly or expeditiously. But, fre­
which have also become independent and In retrospect, the Emergency was rela­ quent and repeated recourse to agitations
self-governing, we cannot but see the dif­ tively mild, and it did not last very long. and demonstrations bring us close to the
ference that democratic institutions have The person who imposed it herself brought grammar of anarchy. They cast doubts on
made to India’s vast population. Some it to an end by calling for elections. In the the efficacy of the prescribed procedures
have benefited substantially from them al­ fitness of things, she lost the elections and undermine their regulatory capacity.
though others, constituting perhaps the and her party had to take its place on No public institution can work effec­
majority have benefited only marginally. the opposition benches. Indira Gandhi tively where there is a general failure of
Our party system has failed in many im­ certainly succeeded in bending the insti­ trust and where that failure is expressed
portant respects, but we still have a plural­ tutions of democracy to her will, but only openly, repeatedly and stridently. There is
ity of parties which are able to express di­ to some extent. She has been described a rising current among our public intellec­
vergent views in the legislatures and out­ repeatedly as a dictator and a despot, but tuals of emancipationist and antinomian
side. Parties are able to articulate diver­gent compared with real dictators such as rhetoric. In this kind of rhetoric the target
views in a manner that is more reasonable, Hitler, Stalin or Mao, she was at best a of attack shifts from particular individuals
more coherent and more constructive than half-hearted dictator. to the institutions they serve, and finally
the voices raised in demonstrations, rallies What made Indira Gandhi a half-hearted to the whole institutional order of society,
and other evanescent gatherings that are dictator was not so much any trait of per­ including the institutions with which I
the staple of populist as against constitu­ sonal character as the institutional envi­ have dealt. Parliament, the SC and the
tional politics. And if we are bedevilled by ronment in which she had made a place party system have all begun to reveal defi­
the multiplicity of parties, it is well to re­ for herself. She may have despised the leg­ ciencies that had at first remained con­
member that a system with many parties is islators, the judges, and even the members cealed. Those deficiencies should be
still a democracy, which a system with one of her own party as individuals, but she brought to light by public intellectuals and
single party is not. could not cast out of her political imagina­ criticised, but constructively and not de­
The institutions of which I have spoken tion the institutions they served and that structively. Relentless antinomian assaults
– Parliament, the Supreme Court, and stood above them (Dhar 2000). that undermine public confidence in them
even the political parties – stand as bul­ India has a large and articulate body of leads to a weakening of democracy and
warks against the dangers by which de­ public intellectuals comprising journal­ not its strengthening even when those as­
mocracy is threatened, particularly in ists, lawyers, social scientists and many saults are made in the name of the highest
those countries where commitment to its others. Some of them enjoy only a local or ideals of democracy.
basic principles is weak. Without those in­ regional reputation while others are
stitutions, neither respect for the rule of known nationally or even internationally. In the Name of Civil Society
law nor care for the interests of the dis­ Public intellectuals play a very signifi­ The institutions of democracy have not
advantaged would be sustained for long. cant role in a democracy. At their best they served the people of India as well as they
The two dangers by which democracy is act as the conscience keepers of the nation. were expected to. They have repeatedly
threatened in many countries are anarchy But many of them, at least in India are in­ and persistently acted against the spirit of
and the abuse of power (Béteille 2000b). clined to adopt vehement if not sensation­ demo­cracy. This has been pointed out
They threaten it from opposite sides, but alist modes of expression which tend to time and again by the well-wishers of
have ultimately the same effect. obscure instead of clarifying public issues. those institutions as well as their adver­
India experienced a period of authori­ Even reckless attacks on the authorities do saries. The reasoned criticism of public in­
tarian rule during the Emergency of 1975- not generally entail significant costs in stitutions, no matter how severe, is one
77 when the abuse of power became wide­ ­India at least in comparison with other thing; their thoughtless and wilful deni­
spread and almost a matter of routine. The countries such as China, Iran or the Soviet gration is another­. It does not appear right
due process of law was disregarded; lead­ Union during its ascendancy. This leads to me to argue as if our economic, social
ers of opposition parties were put in jail; many public intellectuals to positio­n them­ and political advance in the last 60 years
the courts remained silent and complicit. selves, almost as a matter of routine, against owed nothing to them.
Economic & Political Weekly  EPW   july 16, 2011  vol xlvi no 29 83

It is of the essence of democracy to institutions and those that have to act be­ This is because the army appears to many
allow open criticism of its institutions not cause such a framework does not exist­, or people to be the only institution that is
only in Parliament, but also outside it, in exists only in name. In India some leaders modern, secular and progressive and that
the press and in meetings and associations of popular movements speak and act as if can hold the country back from a descent
of various kinds. Civil disobedience too no such framework exists, or as if democ­ into chaos. In countries such as Egypt and
has a legitimate place in a democracy. But racy can be established only by disman­ Tunisia people have little to choose
the greatest exponent of it, Mahatma tling what exists. ­between being ruled by the army and liv­
­Gandhi always maintained that the civil In India a framework of democratic ing in a state of continuous disorder. In
disobedient must be prepared to submit institutions not only exists but has acted India we do have a choice but many of our
his own conduct to stricter moral scrutiny as a shield against the most menacing public intellectuals appear unmindful of
than the ordinary citizen. Moreover, as threat to democratic rule which is military what the institutions of democracy have
Ambedkar had pointed out in the Constit­ rule. Many well-meaning social activists enabled us to escape.
uent Assembly, the entire context of civil believe that once the corrupt government We must not underestimate the signifi­
disobedience had changed with the change and the equally corrupt opposition have cant part that the army has played in many
from a colonial state to an independent been put aside, a new and incorrupt lead­ countries in the modernisation of society.
nation with a republican Constitution ership will automatically emerge from Egypt offers a good example. Few will
(Government of India 1989: 978). among the people by a spontaneous act of deny the social and economic advances
Not all the protests, demonstrations self-generation, a kind of sociopolitical made by that country between King
and rallies organised against the govern­ parthenogenesis. This might happen in Farouk’­s time and the present. But those
ment or in defiance of it correspond to the realm of fantasy, but it is not what gen­ advances were made by a regime headed
­Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of civil disobedi­ erally happens in the real world. by three successive military men: Nasser,
ence, or to anybody’s idea of it. Many of When an existing government is over­ Sadat and Mubarak. I have been told by
them, including some that are organised thrown by a popular upsurge, the respon­ persons who understand and sympathise
in the name of civil society are anything sibility for forming a new government with Pakistan’s predicament – Americans,
but civil. sometimes falls on the military. This is the Indians and even some Pakistanis – that
Civil society has to play an active role in likely outcome when the opposition is not Indians do not understand what Pakistan
a democracy. But today we cannot ignore constituted as an institution. If we look owes to its army. We must not treat lightly
the fact that what are called civil society around in our neighbourhood and beyond what we owe to our democratic institu­
movements differ very much among them­ to the countries of west Asia and north tions for enabling us to manage our politi­
selves in character and composition, and Africa­, we will find many examples of cal affairs without incurring too many
have very diverse political agendas includ­ this. Where the institutions of democracy debts to our army.
ing some that are not only antithetical to are feeble and unformed, the army is a
the spirit of democracy but are very pecu­ natural candidate for taking over the gov­ References
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84 july 16, 2011  vol xlvi no 29  EPW   Economic & Political Weekly