K P Fabian

The defining feature of a democracy is the right of its citizens to question the government on its actions. But the moment this right is denied or under challenge—for one or the other reason—democracy goes in decline. Election is no guarantee that the wishes of people are always reflected in the proper way and at the right place. The very process of election could also be problematic in some cases. Eventually, what constitutes a good democracy is not the issue of numbers, but the possibility of strengthening people’s capabilities, transparency in election and the administration of justice.

Historically, India has a tradition of sustaining tolerance, sympathy for persecuted people, welcoming those who come from outside. Does this hold importance for the present-day India and what ails the system that needs to be seriously addressed?

These are some of the questions raised at Dr. K. Mathew Kurian Memorial Lecture-2022 delivered by veteran diplomat and commentator, Ambassador K.P. Fabian on the theme Where Is India Going?

The Lecture was organized by the Inter University Centre for Social Science Research and Extensions (IUCSSRE), Mahatma Gandhi University (MGU) in association with Dr Mathew Kurian Chair.

Ambassador K.P. Fabian said that “the largest democracy cannot be the best democracy unless it has alert intelligent voters.”  He said that “there cannot be a healthy and vibrant democracy in India if the level of public discourse does not improve.” Criticizing the proposal to hold simultaneous elections for states and the Lok Sabha, he said that “the level of discourse on television channels and even the print media left much to be desired. Obviously, one would expect a reasoned discussion from Niti Aayog on this issue, but the Niti Aayog just came out with a 36-page long paper before the 2019 general election.”

Amb. Fabian also pointed out that “even the Election Commission of India did not respond properly to the questions raised by citizens about the integrity of the voting system.” He said when a case emerged in the Supreme Court about the need to count more voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT), the Election Commission “gave unconvincing arguments and the apex court did not take into account genuineness of our arguments.” Calling VVPAT ‘a misnomer,’ Fabian said that “the voter should be able to verify if her vote has been recorded correctly. The present system does not allow for it.” He also reminded that “the German constitutional court had disallowed the use of electronic voting machine arguing that the recording process is not transparent.”

Amb. Fabian further said: “There should be a limit on what a party can spend on election in a constituency and the accounts of political parties should be audited by CAG or another agency appointed by the parties themselves headed by an independent expert. Defection should be banned and the member who wants to change party should resign and stand again on the ticket of the party she wants to join.” Amb. Fabian said “it was a shame to see legislators being transported to resorts and kept incommunicado.”

Appealing for improvement in public discourses concerning vital issues of democracy, Amb. Fabian said that “the Indian civilization, the area of which historically was much bigger than the partitioned India has a tradition of intellectual vitality, ability to look at pros and cons with an open mind pluralism, aversion to dogma, ability to welcome those who flee oppression.” He called it “the earliest instance of peaceful globalization.” Amb. Fabian also posed a question: “in the context of the cordial welcome India accorded to the Jews and the Zoroastrians fleeing persecution, how do we account for the hostile, ‘un-Indian’ manner we have responded to the Rohingyas from Myanmar fleeing persecution and death?  Is it because of their religion also?” Amb. Fabian said “we could have extended humane treatment to them without imperilling our security relationship with the Myanmar military.”

On questions of foreign policy, Amb. Fabian said that India is now caught in an emerging axis with China, Russia and Pakistan negotiating for obvious geopolitical leverage in Asia. “India now risks the two-front war and it is not so easy to handle it,” he warned. Amb. Fabian also said U.S. President Biden is not yet up to the expectations and he is only pushing China and Russia to come closer to each other without realizing its geopolitical fallout.

Amb. Fabian said that the proposal to amend the All-India Services (AIS) Rules for facilitating transfer of officers, according to the center’s interest, has serious implications insofar as it amounts to undermining the federal structure of the country, thereby spoiling healthy centre-state relations. Though the amendment proposal is put in place in the context of shortage of AIS officers in the central bureaucracy, the fact remains that these officers are not comfortable in taking up such assignments for want of integrity and less pressure in work, he pointed out.

Amb. Fabian said India’s economic development agenda should have a key element – employment component. Without this, the level of inequality will continue to be high. Though “India has registered immense progress since independence, with rising life expectancy, literacy, food grains production etc., there should be appropriate interventions to ensure real development, rather than remaining satisfied with billionaires’ production.’  It is not enough if enough food is produced. All Indians must have access to food in adequate measure. But that is not yet the case,” Amb. Fabian pointed out. He had drawn attention the latest data on the child wasting ratio. “With 17.3 per cent, India has the highest child wasting rate of all countries covered in the global hunger index,” Amb. Fabian noted.

Prof Michael Tharakan, Chairman, KCHR, Dr. Ravi Raman, member, State Planning Board, Dr Mathew V. Varghese, SIRP faculty, Prof V. Mathew Kurian, KN Raj Centre, Dr Abhilash Babu, Director, School of Social Sciences and others participated.

Prof Sabu Thomas, Vice Chancellor, MGU, delivered the Inaugural Address. Dr. P. Sanal Mohan, Dr. K. Mathew Kurian Chair Professor presided over the session.

The memorial lecture was organized in honour of Dr K. Mathew Kurian who was a former Member of the Rajya Sabha, the founder-Director of the Indian School of Social Sciences and the founder-Director of the Indian Institute of Regional Development Studies. Dr Mathew Kurian was the Economic Advisor and a member of the Kerala State Planning Board, when it was first constituted by the EMS Ministry in the late 1960. Dr. Mathew Kurian was also the founder-Editor of Social Scientist and State and Society.


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