Phantom democracy

Court has exposed the governing principle: evil deeds are done but there is no doer

The dance of Indian democracy is a virtuoso performance, the functioning of its institutions a monumental catastrophe. This irony is so palpable. Karnataka just witnessed a wonderful election. Participation was high, the contest was keen, the tone moderate. A thoroughly incompetent, corrupt and faction-driven government was thrown out of power. There is no other complication to the story. But how many times has this republic seen this exercise conducted, only to have its hopes dashed? We hope that the new government in Karnataka will move to a new paradigm of governance. But this result cannot shake off the looming institutional crisis. Parliament adjourned sine die, without conducting any significant business, as if we elect representatives simply to leave everything in abeyance. It says something about parliamentary capacity that some are relieved that it did not conduct business. Some of the bills, such as the food security and education bills, are so awful in their present form that it is a relief they were not passed.

And to top it all, the Supreme Court has given uncommon expression to common anguish in the questions it asked of government. The government has no sense of propriety, shame, ethics or common prudence. In court, the same sordid drama unfolded: scandal after scandal, made even more egregious by initial attempts to cover them up, then to brazen it out and then, in the final gambit, to insulate the highest authorities from any responsibility. There is a proper time and place for a debate on what the institutional architecture of the CBI should be; designing autonomous but accountable investigating institutions is not as easy as we often make out. But in this particular instance, there was a context that made the government handling of the CBI status report outrageous. There was a Supreme Court directive, there were several undertakings given by the government itself and there was the pressing political need to be seen to be above board. But the fact that the government did not even feel it proper to keep up appearances is a mark of how narcissistic and hubris-driven it had become. The responsibility for a culture of corruption, evasion, lying and sheer contempt for institutions lies directly at the door of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. Their air of injured innocence has become nauseating.

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