Web Exclusive | Separation of Powers

Web Exclusive | Separation of Powers
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First Published: Thu, Dec 27 2007. 09 36 AM IST

Raj Liberhan, director, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
Raj Liberhan, director, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
Updated: Thu, Dec 27 2007. 09 36 AM IST
New Delhi: Legislative apathy, executive extortion, and judicial overreach are shaking all the time tested paradigms of governance which had been so carefully crafted by a centuries old collective compact of mankind, and arrived at after a long struggle of competing philosophies.
Raj Liberhan, director, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
The dialogue and the idiom of social and political concerns seem to be challenging every boundary thought to have been settled long ago. Once again, India is in the lead. We seem to have, with our native panache turned the laws of natural justice, of liberty, equality and fraternity around, and put the law of might being right, as superior to everything else.
Very simply put, the progress of civilization is predicated on a priceless formula, “Mind your own business”. It works with both private conduct and public. By all current evidence, this simple code of conduct seems to have missed a large part of our agents of governance.
Apathy, extortion and overreach were certainly not the kind of characteristics identified by the French Philosopher, considered to be the author of the political idiom for the governors of any State, much less the states of the Asian sub-continent.
Nor could he have foreseen the prominence of the fourth chamber of wisdom, the media, that has become an arbiter to inform and on which the pillar of governance leans into the other’s jurisdiction.
They have acquired a vested prerogative to oversee all the wings of the state. Not to be left out, the rise of the fifth columnists’ generally seen against everybody bar none and they advocate mankind’s return to nature sans power, sans transport, sans concrete buildings, and sans dams. Indeed, they appear to be sans everything. They are the non-governmental organizations in an extreme activist mode, with critical emissions, sometimes of intellectual and sometimes of the carbon kind.
There we have it, a governance paradigm which has taken on a very complex nature in this millennium. No wonder, the equilibrium so delicately envisaged by Montesquieu, the French political philosopher, has been hit by severe turbulence from the five straws in the wind in our own homeland.
What is it about our countrymen that makes us natural transgressors of each others’ domain? While it is only a trifle irksome or at best annoying at the personal level, the consequences are alarming at the state level.
The different ministries need to work in concert, the wings of services have to be in partnership, and the law makers need to bring the aspirations of the people into what can be termed as national pride.
There is space, volume and need for everybody but certainly not at the expense of each other. The time has, therefore come, to create a new paradigm. On the face of it, not so much as to create a new one, rather to restore, respect and harness a transformation from separation of powers to a healthy and respectful collaboration of powers.
Afterall, are they not all working for the same country, the same people and the same nationally desirable objectives? It beats one’s best intelligence estimates, as to why there is so much cross purpose volleying between the legislature, executive and judiciary. One must create equitable laws, the other must implement them compassionately and the third must deliver justice. Instead, what we see is a plethora of archaic laws implemented selectively and at the end there is very little justice done.
The three touch-me-not fortresses have so far only sought unquestioned supremacy for their individual bastions. The legislature demands supremacy as it represents the will of the people. The executive seeks to ride on the shoulders of the legislature, demanding insulation from all accountability so that it can ostensibly create policy without fear or favour. And for preserving the sanctity of the legislature, you have to have a completely independent judiciary, independent of the executive and the legislature and occasionally independent of itself too.
How can an ancient civilization completely forget that only a harmonium can produce pleasant resonance while pandemonium produces just the opposite? Everything about good governance revolves around harmony and only bad governance comes out of a tug of war.
A provocative book was published in 1998 titled Rs.Can Asians Think’? The author Kishore Mahbubani was led to ask this fundamental question because of his dismay with the Asian societies who have slipped behind the western ones, despite being ahead at the turn of the last millennium. For, what one sees all around would tend to reinforce the doubts embedded in the question, Rs.Can Asians think well, we do think, but do we really think through?’
Optimists, who are in a minority, anyway, say that we are strong enough and also sensible enough to take entire cross currents, social and political streams, in our stride. Besides, a provocative debate of these issues shows the vibrancy of our thinking rather than the lack of it.
Pessimists would like us to be wary of the consequences of a seemingly heated dialogue because it is provocation that will kill all debate and lead to impositions of an unwelcome kind. Who wants the three wings of the state to be at war when they have to be at peace for our prosperity Surely, in our country we need this more than anything else.
Raj Liberhan is Director of the India Habitat Centre at New Delhi. Send your reactions to socionomics@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Dec 27 2007. 09 36 AM IST