BUNCH OF THOUGHTS
Present system of elections defective True representatives do not come up Couple territorial with functional representation Make Panchayat election unanimous socialism leads to slavery-Theory of trusteeship-Striking a balance between individual incentive and decentralisation of wealth-Hindu values, the backbone of success
Our country has now opted for the democratic structure. But if this arrangement has to succeed, it is essential that the common mass of people should be properly educated and enlightened. Making them mere literates will not serve the purpose. They have to be made aware of their role and responsibilities with respect to the various aspects of our national life such as politics, economics, etc.
It is such an enlightened people alone who will be capable of electing the right type of representatives. If, on the other hand, the common people are uneducated and ignorant they can easily be swayed by the baser appeals of selfishness, parochial interests and vulgar inducements. Representatives elected by such an electorate would never be of a desirable type. And the people as a whole will have to suffer its bitter consequences-at least till the next elections. Such a failure will also result in disillusionment and scepticism about the efficacy of democracy itself.
The present system of electing representatives results in one more curious phenomenon. A doctor or an advocate or simply a "politician", who knows next to nothing about agriculture, gets elected as the spokesman of the rural electorate! The only qualification to get elected will be ones skill and capacity to manipulate votes and win the elections. The coming up of the present new class of politicians and representatives who are more of "politicians" than of "representatives" over the last three decades is because of this defective system.
A Few Samples
I came across a shocking instance during the days of war with Pakistan in 1965. Then the canals on our side had dried up as water had not been allowed from the dam. The canals of Pakistan side were, however, flowing full. When I happened to meet a deputy minister in the defence ministry I asked him as to why the canals had been denied water, whether it would not result in the drying up of crops and shortage of foodgrains and slackening on the internal front. The minister replied that the water flowing in the canals would be a defence risk as that would cause reflections and become an easy target for the enemy planes. When I countered him with the fact of the canals on the Pakistan side flowing full and whether they did not run the risk, the minister had no answer. A few days later I chanced to meet a senior minister. I asked him whether the deputy ministers explanation was correct. He replied that it was totally baseless and the deputy minister was entirely ignorant of such matters.
This is how representatives who know nothing of their jobs come to occupy pivotal positions of responsibilities in those fields. And those who are actually in the know of things-the technical experts-will be helpless in such matters. They will have to only carry out the orders from "above". In Bihar, as everyone knows, floods play havoc every year. I asked a railway engineer, who was an authority on bridges, whether the fact of flooding of rivers flowing from the mountains had been taken into account while deciding the number and the length of railway bridges. He confessed that it was not. He also pleaded that in such matters decisions were often based on political and other considerations rather than on the opinion of the experts.
"Territorial" Plus "Functional"
This is one of the major obstacles, which the present system of elections has thrown up. What is the way out? One way could be to couple both types of representation: one, the territorial, on the population basis, as at present; and the other, functional, i.e., representatives elected from the various professions and avocations. The latter should include representatives from each important field of national life, the agricultural community being represented by an agriculturist, and so on. This will help, to a certain extent, to correct the imbalance and make the elected group capable of representing all the functions and needs of the society.
Panchayat the Cornerstone
It is this system which has been in vogue in our country since ancient times. Gram Panchayats have been the cornerstones of our socio-economic system. It is these Panchayats which through widening circles of elections, finally elected the Ashta Pradhan Samitis, the eight-member cabinet which acted as the advisory council to the king. These Panchayats were functional in their character. Of course, in those days life was not so complicated as at present. There were, mainly, four functional groups at that time. The first group comprised those devoted to study and teaching of material and spiritual sciences; the second, those entrusted with the running of administration. The third were the traders, and the fourth, those engaged in agriculture and allied handicrafts. There was a fifth group also residing in forests and living on hunting and forest produce. This fifth group was called the Nishada. Representatives of all these five together were taken so as to represent the interests of the society as a whole.
How to Correct
These days the slogan of Panchayat-raj is often heard. But the whole system has become perverted. Groupism and casteism have displaced the functional scheme. Notorious goondas often get elected to the Panchayats. Appeal to casteism, lure of money, threats, physical assaults have become the deciding factors; functional expertise has been thrown to winds. However, these distortions will have to be corrected. Well meaning and socially conscious persons in each field should be encouraged to come together and exert their influence so as to give a clean and effective rural base to the entire national edifice. Stipulating that elections to Panchayats shall be unanimous, or that there shall be no elections at all, would be a very useful step in this direction. Electoral rolls and rules of elections may be suitably modified so as to ensure such a healthy and purposeful structure at the base. If need be, the Constitution also may be suitably amended. This could help foster a spirit of greater co-operation among the various groups and harmonise their needs and interests. Of course, this approach is not all smooth sailing and does entail several obstacles. But this is an experiment worth trying and is likely to yield beneficial results and minimise the harmful effects of the present system.
Why Slavery to Words?
About the structuring of national economy also we have our traditional thought which lays emphasis not merely on the monetary aspect. We have called the Artha Shastra as Neeti Shastra. Today this neeti is limited to Rajneeti-Politics-only. But in our ancient view, both politics and economics came under that one word.
Today, economics has become the more important factor out of the two. And socialism is often held as an ideal in this regard. But there are so many brands of socialism that it has become well-nigh impossible to understand what exactly is its real nature and content. Guild Socialism, Anarchism, Syndicalism, Communism are all described as various forms of Socialism. Whatever it is, why should we become slaves to such words? It is best that we start afresh basing our thinking on the original concepts reflecting the genius of our own soil. Of course, if there are any positive elements, which we could usefully take up from other thoughts, we must necessarily do so.
Retreat of Over-Centralisation
The basic principle of socialism, for example, is decentralisation of economic power. Socialism also emphasises that this decentralisation should be just and equitable. So far, there can be no difference of opinion. But the differences start the moment the question crops up as to who should be empowered to see that the decentralisation is just and proper. Which is the agency? These days the trend is gaining ground, that for carrying out decentralisation, centralisation is necessary; that in place of many centres of economic power the State alone should concentrate all the powers in its hands; that political power should alone be the effective centre and that it alone should have the monopoly on all means of production.
Under such a state of affairs, political authority become all-powerful and the entire society is reduced to slavery to the political masters. Only that much of power, which is doled out by the State, will come to the lot of the people. The quantity, the timing, the nature of doling out will all be decided by the rulers. The people will have to be content with playing a second fiddle to the all-powerful State.
However, the various experiments carried out in foreign countries in this direction have failed to deliver the goods. In the first flush of experimentation they went so far as to plan community cooking and feeding in place of individual homes. They had also experimented with the idea that the children too belonged to the community and not to the individual parents. The infants would be fed and looked after en-masse. At regular intervals, the mother would go and feed her child. But where is the guarantee that the mother would find her own child in that multitude and at so short a time? There is no need even for that. She could feed the child, which she chanced to meet.
However, after all these experiments they have begun to learn, from bitter experience, that man is not a machine. Each individual has his own special characteristics, his own aptitudes and tastes. When this basic feature of human life was ignored and all were sought to be treated as parts of a lifeless machine, discontent grew. Conflicts ensued. Efficiency fell. And as a result they had to give up such experiments. No doubt, we can admire their spirit of exploration and experimentation. But it does not mean that we too should indulge in the same kind of the futile experiments!
Will Trusteeship Work?
We shall now independently and in the light of our own genius ponder over the problem of how best to bring into practice the basic principle of ensuring the just and proper decentralisation of economic power. Mahatma Gandhi has propounded the theory of trusteeship in the light of his perception of the tradition and life-philosophy of this land. In that concept, the human incentive for production is not crippled. He is urged to produce as much as possible. But he is not to look upon himself as the owner of all that wealth; it essentially belongs to the community. He is only to look upon himself as the trustee of that property in order to ensure its proper utilisation in the service of society.
No doubt this approach is in consonance with our ancient Hindu thought. But there is a serious handicap in this. In the present age, the human mind has been so much confused and twisted out of shape that man is unable to muster his will and capacity for work where he is not able to secure profit for himself. We have to take into consideration this factor also. Take for example income tax. The Government has taxed so high that after a certain slab is crossed the man who produces will be able to retain hardly Rs.2.50 out of 100. Under such conditions the producer would naturally feel that there is no use in producing to that pitch and that a much lesser production would save money for him. Which means he will either begin to put in less effort or indulge in evasion of tax. This has been the experience not only in our country, but elsewhere also.
The opposite example of West Germany is often quoted. After the Second World War its economy had almost collapsed. And so the economic experts there decided to do away with all the curbs on the incentive for production. All controls were removed. As a result, there was a phenomenal economic growth. Then, they also planned how best to decentralise the wealth. It has been reported that this method has helped West Germany stabilise its economy and march ahead. The experience in industries all over the world is also not different. The labourers lose the incentive for work if they feel that they are not able to get suitable recompense.
Striking a Balance
So, we have to strike a balance in which the individuals incentive is kept alive and at the same time decentralisation of the produced wealth is also brought about. For this purpose some restraints will have to be placed on the individual. The concept of personal freedom cannot be so narrowly construed as to harm the interests of the community at large. Freedom of the individual to amass and enjoy the wealth has to be kept within certain limits so as to ensure freedom for all others in the society to have same opportunities for leading a happy and prosperous material life.
Herein comes the genius of the Hindu viewpoint, which prepares the individuals mind for this adjustment. He is educated and enlightened with regard to the true nature of happiness: the goal that is kept before him is not merely of physical enjoyment; that is not going to give him lasting happiness. For that he has to rise beyond his dependence on the physical objects, plunge into the depths of his own being and discover that eternal and boundless ocean of joy and bliss. He will then realise that the people around him are also manifestations of the same Spirit and that the enjoyment of the fruits of his labour by them is equivalent to his own enjoyment.
It is against the background of this life-attitude that a balance could be achieved. The individual could be assured of his right to property, which would enable him to meet the needs and responsibilities with regard to himself and his family. There should be some limited right to property (coupled with a ceiling on personal income) i.e., scope for fulfilling his desires for enjoyment to a limited degree, while at the same time stipulating his contribution towards fulfilling the needs of the other members of the community. Well, these could from the broad outlines for a pattern of economy, which could, in the present circumstances, ensure both the individual incentive and a just system of decentralisation.
Basis of Success
However, basic to the success of this system is the proper moulding of human attitudes. People should be imbued with the right philosophy of life. They should be able to check their self-centred propensities and be able to identify themselves with the joys and sorrows of their fellow beings. The spirit of self-discipline which alone will bring about this harmonious adjustment and co-operative effort for the all-round development of national prosperity is also to be inculcated. Thus, the building up of such a social structure in which the individuals are imbued with the right perspective regarding the supreme goal of their life, with love and affinity for the entire society and spirit of self-discipline, becomes the one great mission of every son and daughter of this soil.