"As the people of the Middle East struggle for their first taste of democracy, Indians are working overtime to degrade the democratic institutions that their forebears built and which have now seen us through 65 testing years of independence," historian Ramachandra Guha writes in a compelling essay for the donation-worthy India Together web site.
So far this term, legislators have paralyzed the parliament, not with debate, but with chaotic tantrums. In an effort to embarrass Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress party, however, they've accomplished something much more dire -- they've shown that the institutions of India's government are themselves not worthy of respect, that rules are there only to be flouted, and that arbitrariness is to be valued above all. How else can you explain the arrogant willingness to achieve nothing but waste time, when India has so many compelling problems?
As this column goes to press, Parliament has been stalled for a whole week. And this is nothing new. Fully 22 per cent of the time of the 14th Lok Sabha was lost due to disruptions. Newspaper reports often flag the short-term financial costs - .17 DAYS OF PARLIAMENT DEADLOCK COST THE NATION Rs 132 CRORES. ran one headline in 2010 -but there are more serious long-term effects. These consist in the delay of the passing of bills crucial to the better functioning of government, to faster and more inclusive economic growth, and to enhancing the provision of social services.
The culprit is unrestrained partisanism, in which the various political parties (and outside players, too) will stop at nothing -- even derailing the nation and its institutions -- for their own short-term gains. Hence, the BJP shuts down the government because the Congress has dared to implement a policy that the BJP itself sought to implement when it was last in government. Or the Congress excludes even a single Opposition member from talks about arguably the most important bill of recent years -- the anti-corruption ombudsman suggested by Anna Hazare.
The question is, can India's political parties pull back from the brink, and again take up the business of running the nation? Or will they continue to see only to party business?