It’s the easiest thing to run down a system. Often there’s enough reason to. There’s usually enough reason not to as well. India is not on the verge of breakdown, as Pakistan seems to be. India is not a sophisticated version of slavery, as China tends to be.
India is not a plutocracy, as the US comes across as. India is a diverse collection of too many people who live by self-will. By its very nature this is a process of chaos that eventually throws up principles that a majority agrees on.
Imperfections abound in India, as they do everywhere. A day when a mission to Mars is to take off is, however, a good moment to take stock of what works. Here are five institutions that help India keep its head high. They are not without blemish – a flawless organisation doesn’t exist on earth – but they are blessings too.
More often than we care to acknowledge.
1. The Election Commission
This magnificent institution is the most sought after export from India. From all corners of the globe come officials in search of knowhow on conducting elections. Two other nations, the US and the UK, also have functioning and thriving democracies but they are not templates the world wishes to follow.
The US is on a perpetual cycle of elections, sustained by big business. The UK has a strange system of lords, commoners and monarchy that is flawed in its DNA. India, on the other hand, offers a genuine form of democracy.
Whoever you may be, you have a shot; at least in principle. Monarchies like Bhutan and the Gulf countries, dictatorships [former] like Libya, weak democracies like Russia, or coming-of-age nations like South Africa – they all come to the Election Commission of India to learn how to conduct free and fair elections.
Without the Election Commission and its army of anonymous hardworking observers, we wouldn’t be who we are. With all constraints they still manage to keep a check on rampant Indian political parties.
In recent years the EC has even had to keep track of drugs. Punjab was the first ever instance where the Commission found narcotics being supplied for votes.
2. The Supreme Court
It isn’t easy to be the repository of wisdom and justice in India. In a nation where trust is scarce the Supreme Court [and lower courts] tends to be flooded with disputes. The backlog of cases is embarrassing but when they get down to it, the judges of the Supreme Court often get it right.
From a clean-up of Indian politics [still in the works] to cleaning up the air [with the life-altering Delhi CNG judgment], the Supreme Court virtually runs the country. There have been dubious moments [like during Emergency] but that comes with the territory.
Nothing important seems to happen in India without the Supreme Court presiding over it. You’d get a sense of how India has changed from the strength of the Supreme Court.
The Founding Fathers thought seven judges and a Chief Justice with superior status [total eight] would be enough. This has been amended to 30 judges and a Chief Justice [total 31]. It may still not be enough.
The role of Indians in clogging and corrupting the justice system is not often understood. The Supreme Court is not divine. It is human; and a reason to mostly feel proud.
3. The National Disaster Management Authority
It’s not even ten years old but already the National Disaster Management Authority [NDMA] is beginning to get its act together. The NDMA ought to be the first institution to consult when planning anything – roads, ports, airports, towns, cities.
It almost never is; which makes us scramble around after disaster strikes.Therefore the scale of the Uttarakhand floods disaster earlier this year. Months later, with a wee bit of advance warning, the NDMA oversaw a spectacular response to Cyclone Phailin.
The super cyclone caused much structural damage but cost to life was astoundingly minimal.
Many Indian states – mostly in the north – tend to be vulnerable to natural disasters. [The whole of India is vulnerable to manmade tragedy, but that’s a different story.] Disasters can set nations back several years. The NDMA, as it gets fitter and faster, would be a key component of India’s safety. Their policy and guidelines would be part of the curriculum in every school.
They might not get it right each time. But even if they do it well half the time, we’ll be a better nation. Odisha and Phailin was an example.
4. The CAG
A caged auditor is a dead auditor. India, fortunately, has a supreme auditor who can roam free and fearless. Almost each time, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India causes a government irritation and the Opposition elation. It is a sure sign that the CAG is functional.
The nature of the job is such that the CAG has to be the hawk. Not a rupee of unexplained or inappropriate expenditure can get past the CAG. Since all accounting will throw up questions, we must bask in the CAG’s work. When there’s outright wrongdoing, we should look for closure with appropriate penalty [political and/or financial].
A CAG can’t work with a negative approach. Neither can we the people of India. Parties in governance and the opposition change, as do their positions on the CAG. We should know better than to be swayed by what politicians say.
India’s CAG has global prestige. It usually is objective, skillful, transparent and reliable. At times it may not be. A pillar it always is.
5. The ISRO
At 1438 hours today India’s first mission to Mars, the Mars Orbiter Mission, took off. It is to take a long, elliptical journey to Mars – almost 300+ days. Such things don’t come free. They are expensive and that is why we are expected to pay taxes.
The money for India’s space initiatives and poverty reduction is mutually exclusive. We can’t sit back and watch the rest of the world manage to collect the finances and the skills to study space.
The Indian Space Research Organisation [ISRO] is only a little over 50 years in existence. We have INSAT and our own launch capabilities. We ought to be able to sell our PSLVs and GSLVs to other nations more and more.
There will be better launch vehicles in future. There will be missions to the moon and the sun. We’ll take Indians to tour space. And so on. ISRO has been a holy cow for India. Its activities are not entirely open to the public.
This can cause the occasional dirty story. But in future, when Indians think of settling on the moon, we’ll be proud of ISRO even more. These are just five sterling institutions that the Indian system has sustained. There are more of course.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes the world to raise a country. We’re on our way, irrespective of what happens with today’s Mars mission.
More from the author:
Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com.
He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.
Vijay blogs here and may be cont acted at firstname.lastname@example.org.