Thursday, February 05, 2009

Bipartisan and non-partisan appointments for democratic institutions

Whatever might be the implications for the individuals involved in the current controversy over the Election Commission, the CEC's second letter to the President raises a very important point. Under the current scheme of things under Article 324 of the Constitution, CECs and ECs are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. We have come a long way from that idea. Almost every body of importance established in recent times (like the National Human Rights Commission, Central Vigilance Commission, Central Information Commission etc) has a bipartisan (or even non-partisan) appointment committee. Let the controversy bring out one good, in that the Constitution is amended to ensure appointments to the Election Commission are made by a committee comprising at least of the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.

On a related matter, this report says that the government is planning to establish a permanent regulatory committee (National Textbook Council) to examine school text books, to make sure they do not preach values against the spirit of the constitution. It appears to be a move to preempt another textbook controversy if the BJP comes to power after the next general election. The completely depoliticised composition of the Committee is rather interesting to note:

'The NTC will ... be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court nominated by the Chief Justice of India. It will have six member - officials picked from the Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL), IITs, reputed social science research institutes, and academics from the fields of languages, science and mathematics, social sciences and humanities. Two of the members will be women.'

The idea of an impartial regulatory watchdog making sure that our schools do not teach hate may be a useful one. However, we need to be wary of it becoming a body which kills imagination by overzealous censorship of all 'offensive' ideas.
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