Friday, July 08, 2011

Anna and pre-legislative scrutiny

Given that this blog has discussed the Hazare campaign in detail, readers may be interested in my EPW article on the legislative reform lessons we should learn from it. I have made similar arguments in a more succinct form in this op-ed published by the New Indian Express. Some excerpts follow:

... the flawed institutional set-up of the NAC entails the same twin dangers as extra-institutional interventions like those of the Anna and Ramdev: the danger from selection and the danger from competing representation. To the question ‘Who should make laws?’ the founders of our constitution rightly answered, ‘The people, through their directly elected representatives’. The question we are asking now is: ‘Who should be consulted while making laws?’ The answer to this question is: Those who will be affected by these laws, and experts who have special knowledge of the issues involved. Unlike direct elections, however, there isn’t any impartial selection process which helps us identify those affected and those with expertise. Allowing power to make this selection may facilitate the elite, corporate and sectarian capture of the state.
To guard against the danger from selection, participation in the law-making process must be transparent, universal, deliberative and institutionalised.
The danger from competitive representation is equally pernicious. When Ramdev claims to live in the hearts of millions of citizens, he is claiming representative legitimacy without having demonstrated it in the only constitutionally recognised manner: winning an election. Similarly, a body like the NAC which presents itself as an interface between the state and civil society will inevitably begin to compete with Parliament for representative legitimacy. If our democracy is to survive, elected legislatures alone should be able to claim representative legitimacy. So long as politics — through the universal right to stand for elections — is open to everyone, there should not be any compromise on this principle. Admittedly, there is a strong case for dismantling the barriers of money, muscle and ménage that currently prevent ordinary citizens from entering politics.
The solution, clearly, lies in strengthening Parliament by augmenting its democratic credentials, rather than weakening it by extending legitimacy to competitive claimants of popular representation.
It is in this context that one must welcome the decision taken by the NAC last month to ask its working group on transparency to ‘evolve a policy on pre-legislative consultative process’. Ironic though it is, the most important contribution of the NAC to Indian politics will be to chart the path to its own irrelevance. As it scripts its suicide note, we should wish it the very best.
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