Undermining India's institutions: How the Modi regime ran one red light after another

From the corruption watchdog to universities and even the Army, the government's meddling habits are wrecking democracy.

An institution is a framework of values, a structure of ritual tied to a vision marked by accountability and responsibility. An institution is a tradition of performance that anchors governance and democracy. An organisation is an act of doing, an instrumental activity around a specific set of goals. An organisation becomes an institution when it acquires an equality of values. A commitment to the normative becomes an essential part of institution-building. Without norms and values, an organisation is merely an impoverished institution.

One begins with this little lecture in civics and governance because one often senses that an urge for decisiveness or an image of efficiency subverts the value frames of the Narendra Modi regime. Modi mouthed all the right sentiments before he came to power. He, however, feels that his majoritarian government has a right to cut corners, to violate principles, to achieve what he personally dubs as national goals. It is like watching a policeman, who is supposed to be the traffic custodian, drive gleefully and indifferently through a series of red lights, making a mockery of law and order.

The institutional red lights in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government have been many. First, he did not take the appointment of the lokayukta regime seriously, here or in Gujarat. He quickly saw the anti-corruption watchdog as an institutional impediment and decided he did not want speed breakers to his regime. There was a complete shamelessness to his disregard for the lokayukta, which should have triggered warning bells. Instead, Lutyens’ Delhi welcomed him as a new epic hero.

Modi’s contempt for the institution of the lokayukta was direct. He pretended to be dead to the idea of the ombudsman. But his contamination of other institutions has sometimes been carried out by his more than enthusiastic colleagues. Former Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani and the corruption of the university comes next to mind.

Playing with education

One realises the sense of a spoilt system even in India. When a regime comes to power, it offers its loyalists and their lackeys plum appointments. The Modi government was open about slotting its people at the helm of the Nehru museum, University Grants Commission, and Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, signalling an ideological shift. But its attempt to alter university syllabi contaminated the few wisps of pluralism that remained, especially with its harassment of dissenting academics in the name of sedition. This attack on the academe was in line with the government’s critique and dismantling of environmentalist groups, literally stating that history and development should flow the way the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party wanted.

The continuous use of the idea of security undermined free thought and violated both the spirit of civil society and the university. The battles over Jawaharlal Nehru University and the University of Hyderabad were blatant attempts to deinstitutionalise the university. Modi’s bully boy tactics led to a surprising resistance, creating heroes out of students such as the late Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula and former JNU student body president Kanhaiya Kumar. The transfer of Irani to the textile ministry in July was an admission that the government’s attempt to tamper with the university was not as successful as it intended. It also revealed that India has academics still committed to the pluralistic idea of the university.

The university has been more defined than the scientific establishment in challenging the diktats of the regime. Modi’s dreams of big science in space and nuclear energy have found few open critics. The slow whittling down of a wide variety of scientific projects has attracted little debate in scientific institutions. In fact, some of the leaders of space research have openly wooed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, making one wonder what happened to the grand traditions that Satish Dhawan and Vikram Sarabhai had set. One must add that the BJP’s wooing of former president and scientist APJ Abdul Kalam might have turned the scientific establishment into a soft target.

The Army approach 

More embarrassing than the treatment of the university and the scientific establishment is the regime’s engagement with the Army. Part of it lies in the bumbling or intransigence of that sector of the bureaucracy. But part of it is a policy narcissism that the regime knows best.

Its choice last week of General Bipin Rawat as the next Army chief, superseding two senior officers, has urged people to ask whether the government still wants political neutrality in the Army echelons. Rawat’s continuous forays at his colleagues, questioning their competence, made the Army seem like a faction-ridden cabal. Finally, the Army’s decision to violate protocol and the government’s decision to violate protocol and seniority to appoint a junior general in command raised protest from the Army itself.

In all these instances, the Modi regime was ham-handed, convinced that some institutions are made for meddling. These decisions invoked no ritual of transparency. The BJP behaves like a dentist when it comes to certain institutions, riding rough-shod over the pain and confusion that inflicts.

Meddling habit

The only institution the regime has been wary about is the Supreme Court. While the controversy over judicial overactivism continuous, the party has been more than respectful of the judiciary, sensing that the court is more tricky about its autonomy than other institutions. But even here, the regime has taken to delaying judicial appointments.

Surveying the record, one senses the regime has been happy contaminating institutions. What it fails to understand is that institutional pollution, like river pollution, increases toxicity. Once an institution is damaged, it may be almost impossible to repair it. One wonders whether political parties ever realise that damaging institutions is the surest way to devastating democracy in the long run. Sadly, the realisation might come long after the damage is done. Early warning signals seem effete in the institutional darkness of today.

Shiv Visvanathan is social science nomad.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

Home, a space that is entirely ours, holds together our entire world. Where our children grow-up, parents grow old and we collect a lifetime of memories, home is a feeling as much as it’s a place. So, what do you do when your home is eyed by miscreants who prowl the neighbourhood night and day, plotting to break in? Here are a few pre-emptive measures you can take to make your home safe from burglars:

1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.


2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.