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Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

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"Governance of India"

16th P.C.Lal Memorial Lecture by Shri I.K. Gujral, former Prime Minister of India in New Delhi,India on February 23, 1999.

Air Chief Marshal S.K. Sareen,
Distinguished members of the Air Force Association,

Ladies & Gentlemen

I am thankful to you for asking me to deliver the 16th P.C.Lal Memorial Lecture today.

Before I come to the subject, let me take this opportunity to pay my homage to memory of Air Chief Marshal P.C.Lal, whose friendship I had the privilege of enjoying. As this distinguished gathering would recall Air Chief Marshal P.C.Lal was a distinguished scholar and a leader whose contribution in building the valiant Air Force of our nation will always be remembered with gratitude. I recall discussing with him on several occasions various political and strategic issues on the eve of 1971 war when I was Minister in Mrs.Gandhi’s Government. These discussions left a mark on my mind and enriched me intellectually. Many of you, who were his professional colleagues would have experienced the warmth of his personality and his enlightened vision & the dedication with which he built the legacy of this great service.

As we stand at the door step of a new millennium, whose first light is now a few months away, I reflect on the half century of our Republic that has weathered many a storm. Exactly fifty years ago, people of free India gave to themselves a democratic constitution, dedicated to building a "SOVERIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all citizens:

  • JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
  • LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
  • EQUALITY of status and of opportunity,
  • and to promote among them all
  • FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation"

These were lofty ideals that required a new structure and style of governance different from the one that we had experienced under the alien rule. For the purposes of a background, it may be useful to recall that freedom of the South Asian subcontinent had triggered off liberation of nearly hundred countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. But as we look around, we see that only our Republic of nearly one billion people now has been able to preserve the legacy bequeathed by our constitution. A few will deny that the face of democratic India has been radically transformed in these fifty years. It is true that much more could have been achieved than has been, but my purpose here is not to list a catalogue of our successes and failures. The root question, may I pose, is this: How is it that India, despite the many burdens and misfortunes that have steadfastly dogged her since her birth, and why is it that this poor, by and large still unlettered, land has remained a free, democratic and law-based society while most others amongst our fellow travellers have fallen by the wayside? What is it about us, what great quality or heavenly favour that allows India’s one billion people today to enjoy the luxury of taking freedom and democracy for granted?

To what do we owe this unique and enviable situation? This is a question to which there can be no unambiguous or categorical answer. This subject, by its very nature, is as much a matter of personal interpretation and conviction as it is of clinical, scientific analysis. Yet, if we want to discuss the character, roots and future of democratic India, this question is a basic one, addressing as it does the very foundations of our nationhood; it is a question which many of us in India have been reflecting upon, particularly while looking at our achievements and short-falls during the Golden Jubilee year of our Republic.

May I share with you my conviction that the strength and durability of India’s democracy has much to do with the principles which steered our freedom struggle and the ideals we followed on the road to our independence. Those of my generation who were privileged enough to participate in it, fondly remember how Gandhiji’s inspiration transformed a fight against colonial domination unto something much larger than a mere political struggle - we felt ourselves drawn into the current of a profound moral crusade whose aim really was to reinstate that timeless and universal justice which is each and every human’s due.

Under Gandhiji’s stewardship, the Indian freedom struggle became part and parcel of a wider social reform movement directed at redressing the cruel injustices of our traditional social order. How could we deny dignity and social justice to millions of our own fellow countrymen, torment our lower castes and inflict cruelty upon cruelty upon our womenfolk, how could we perpetrate the vilest injustice upon our own people and still pretend to seek dignity and equality for ourselves? In whose name after all were we fighting for freedom? Could we ever hope to overthrow the external tyranny while all these internal tyrannies remained untouched? Mahatma Gandhi provided the answers. And so the battle of freedom was joined, not for the sake of the elites, but in the name of the poorest and most deprived of India’s downtrodden masses.

So it was that Independence Day, 1947, brought us something much more than a transient, technical freedom. We learnt, or rather I should say re-learnt, the way of peace, to shun violence, to have regard for the peaceful approach and to keep faith in peaceful means. We learnt that equity in society was a moral imperative and our own enlightened self-interest demanded that we practice socio-political equality and have special consideration towards the poor and underprivileged.

Such a society, one which may act in defence of its weakest, which values equity, which adopts non-violence as a way of life, a society which upholds the truth and which acknowledges the supremacy of moral force, such a society will always be blessed as a liberated, open democratic society.

This is the answer to the question that I posed myself. India has made a success of its democracy since we hitched our wagon to the star of natural justice and let it take us where it would. It took us, as it always does, to liberation. As long as we in India keep in mind the lessons of our freedom struggle, the wisdom we learnt at the footsteps of Gandhi and Nehru, as long as we hold true to this high tradition, our India will remain a free democratic society.

In order to preserve our secular unity and our democratic order, it is important that we understand the importance of good governance. What would be the key elements of this "good governance"? I think a few can quite clearly be identified.

Good governance lies firstly in the rule of Law. If I were asked to identify what element, more than anything else, makes up the inner core of democracy, the central feature that distinguishes a progressive, modern-minded society from a backward, medieval society, I would say quite categorically that it is the rule of Law. Here, the essential principle is that the basic law of society vests not in some human diktat, but on natural, or divinely ordained wisdom which some call natural justice, others Truth, others Morality. Cicero, the great philosopher of Republican Rome had said, "The Law is not a product of human thought, nor is it an enactment of some peoples, but something universal which rules the whole world by its wisdom in command and prohibition."

It is this basic Law, whatever name one might give it, that is the best guarantee for the common good and the welfare of the nation, and so has it been since the beginning of history. Some two thousand five hundred years ago, Mahabharata, the great Indian epic of state-craft said, "Governance is rooted in Truth, and the people are rooted in Governance".

It is the impartial workings of the rule of Law which give dignity to the weak and justice to the powerless. It is the rule of Law that ensures the separation of powers and stands guard against the arbitrariness of absolute rule. It is the rule of Law which protects individual freedoms and civil liberties, and frees the human spirit to search for excellence. Without protection of the rule of Law, a democracy can quickly descend from majority rule to mob rule. There are enough examples, even in today’s world, to warn us that a society that lacks rule of the Law, will eventually have the Law of the jungle, where might is right and those with the guns set the rules.


May I say, it is the duty of civil society to ensure that the rule of Law is maintained, that power is not unduly concentrated and that all civil liberties and human rights are given the fullest of protection. Those who wield executive power have particular responsibility to uphold the rule of Law and the civil institutions and liberties that go hand in hand with them. The subversion of the law, by those charged with maintaining the law are the very anathema of civilized conduct in a democracy. This, I would like to emphasize is true not only nationally, within nations, but internationally, amongst nations, as well.

Codes of conduct can only be maintained by the example and encouragement of those vested with power and authority. When those who have been vested with this power and authority act in brash arrogance and in cavalier disregard to the spirit of Law or against the public sentiment, then this only creates a climate of general lawlessness which in the long run creates more problems than it solves.

The second feature of good governance is to have special regards for the disadvantaged and the weak. There is no democratic society that does not go out of its way to protect its weaker, more disadvantaged members. Ultimately if there is a yardstick to assess the strength and durability of a civilization it is not in the arms and armaments that it possesses, but in the courtesy and compassion with which it treats its most disadvantaged and powerless citizens. This is one of the more enduring lessons of history, the fact that every great society, throughout history, has been built upon the bedrock of basic human rights and values. These include civil and political rights such as the right to life, liberty and security, to hold property, the right not to be discriminated against, the right to vote, to freedom of speech and freedom of press, protection of arbitrary invasion of privacy, family or home, etc. In the contemporary world it has also come to be recognised that the scope of human rights cannot exclude crucial social, economic and cultural rights, including most prominently the right to development, and the rights of minority and disadvantaged groups, such as religious or linguistic minorities, women, children and tribal folk.

Thirdly, good governance implies tolerance, the broadmindedness which allows us to accept and embrace diversity and to see the essential unity of the Universe in the rainbow colours of contrasting truths and beliefs. Those who practice tolerance show the courage and conviction of their own essential beliefs for as, Mahatma Gandhi had said, " If we want to cultivate the true spirit of democracy we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays a lack of faith in one’s cause". Just as tolerance and democracy go hand-in-hand, so are tolerance and openness essential for progress.


It may sound odd but a curious and constant feature of history is the fact that heretics have made far larger contribution to the progress of the world than those who stuck to the comfortable groove of narrow conformity. Today’s heresy often turns out to be tomorrow’s truth. Shutting the door to dissent is foolhardiness for it amounts to closing one of the main avenues of innovation and improvement.

As this distinguished gathering would recall, if dissent had been shut out, we would still be believing that the earth was flat and that it was the sun that circled around the earth. This is not exactly a recipe for great socio-economic progress, and the tendency to close our minds to new ideas and hard truth is a failing that developing countries particularly must constantly be on guard against.

Good governance also means self-reliance. I mean self-reliance not in the sense of a political slogan but self-reliance in the sense of an assertive self-confidence that is inculcated in the hearts and minds of each and every citizen. Self-reliance means essentially to have belief in oneself individually and also collectively as a nation. This self-confidence is not a synonym of conceit or arrogance. It is a quest to find the means to one’s own growth within oneself without seeking props and short cuts such as the charity of others or the support of the State.

Finally, I would say a participatory democracy encourages openness that facilitates acquisition of new ideas and new influences and the winds of change. No society has grown to greatness behind closed doors. Jawaharlal Nehru, the chief architect of modern India had called it ‘scientific temper’ a mind that rejects conformity and is always curious and enquiring.

It is these five principles that I think constitute the essence of "good governance". And if these measures can become a part and parcel in the daily governance of our societies, I think we would have made up for a good part of the institutional weakness that inhibit our social development and growth.

But ‘good governance’ is just the beginning. We have also to modify our developmental models that may have partly succeeded and instead evolve a new paradigm of development. It is acknowledged that the most valuable resource of any society are, its people. Far more important than its material or natural resources are a society’s human resources. Its wealth and prosperity will generally depend upon how effectively it uses their human resource. A developed society is one that has successfully nurtured and made the best use of its given endowment of human talents, skills and resources. Under-development, conversely represents negations or wastage of a nation’s human resources, an injury which not only weakens the nation, but also diminishes the collective capability. It is the human spirit that has somehow to be harnessed and the focus of our national development efforts has to be focused upon ways and means of best realising and our productively utilizing the abundant human energies, resources and talents, which for a variety of reasons, lie dormant and suppressed at the present time.

So, therefore, may I say that good governance is part of the answer. The other part of the answer would stem from imparting education, training and skills on demand to the young and upcoming citizens. Human development, in other words has to be the core of our efforts and the most effective means of realizing this goal is to redouble our efforts in the fields of literacy, education and training.


The more I consider this matter, the more I am convinced that it is education and learning that offers solutions for the future. We have recently experienced that some States of India where illiteracy has been eliminated and where primary education has been universalised, even the expansion of population has been stopped. Let me cite the example of Kerala where dramatically the rate of population growth 1.7 is at par with that of U.K. and 0.2 lesser than that of China. And all this because women have been literate. The fact of the matter also is that in today’s world, commodities and materials are in abundant supply. Whether one considers steel or oil or automobiles or ships or computer chips or telecom lines, are often in over supply. On the other hand, the item that is in perpetual scarcity and short supply is human learning and ingenuity, in particular, the skills and talents of well-educated and trained professionals. Whether it is computer programmers or systems analysts, whether it is designers or engineers or surgeons or doctors, professionals with any degree or skill and competence in their respective fields command a significant scarcity value and their earnings and remuneration levels are increasingly reflecting these scarcities. In India, we have, of late begun to benefit from the development of our human resources. Young Indians who are trained in new areas such as software programming, computer sciences, the medical or engineering fields or other similar high-tech areas have done themselves and India proud by excelling in their chosen fields. Today, the single largest foreign exchange earner for India are the earnings of her skilled people.

Mr.Chairman, distinguished friends,

This far I have been presenting to you the paradigms of good governance. Let me now spell out to you the paradoxes that our polity confronts. In these fateful years, we have been debating how to cure the serious ailments that have invaded our bodypolitik. An abundance of political and journalistic literature now focuses on the crises of the Indian State. The debate has been joined in by virtually all classes of our people. With the introduction of the new economic policy of liberalisation and globalisation, India’s problems of governance have been attracting global attention too.

The new economic policy has itself contributed to the crises of governance. Large flows of foreign money into the economy, despite our limited opening to the world outside, have had at least four negative impacts on the Indian society. They have created new inequalities and sharpened the traditional ones thereby lending new edges to social and political turmoil and disorder. Secondly, they have enlarged the width and depth of corruption. Thirdly, they have brought into being a flood of narcissist self-indulgence by a relatively small but not insignificant affluent consumer middle-class whose glittering lifestyle has immensely sharpened the age-old, unresolved social contradictions in India. Finally, they have expanded people’s expectations and aspirations for the glitters of good living without generating either enough national resource or enough national will to rapidly develop our vast depressed human resources, exposing to national and international limelight the gaping faultiness in our chosen models and pathways of development.

Hardly any thinking Indian is now unaware of the great decline in the quality of governance that has occurred in India in the last fifteen to twenty years. A plethora of remedies have been prescribed, more by intellectuals than by political actors, and more by individual political actors than by political party leaderships. Indeed, I find to my deep regret that political parties have generally failed to break out of their long-calibrated framework of thinking when it comes to finding remedies for the systemic sickness that has overtaken our political life.

It is now universally recognized that our electoral system calls for radical changes. The debate has been going on for some time now but we have not yet been able to evolve a nation wide consensus and the entire agenda gets put off from one session of the Parliament to the next. In the meantime, the nexus between politics, crime and money is acquiring diabolical dimensions. The Members of Parliament have been realising the need of keeping the temple of democracy clean of crime and criminality but no efforts in this direction are manifest.

The Election Commission and the Law Commission have pleaded for State-funding of elections. This remains out of sight. It is equally important that political parties be required to function democratically in accordance with their respective constitutions and submit to the Election Commission audited accounts of their funds and expenditures. It is extremely important to make political actors accountable to the people and governance as transparent as possible. The paradox remains that the parties that are not themselves democratic internally, are called upon to run a democratic system.

The system of rendering quick justice is loudly begging for reforms. Millions of cases are pending before the courts, sometime for decades because of the practice of frequent adjournments of cases and trials by small installments. We need to discard these colonial styles and adopt modern systems such as those prevailing in Britain and the US, i.e., continuous hearing of cases leading to their expeditious disposals. If justice delayed is justice denied, the lawlessness prevails and people lose faith in the system thus leading to interventions by criminals and hoodlums.

It is important that our Courts are adequately manned and the laws regarding transfers and appointments are modified. The need for setting up an independent autonomous commission is urgent since the current practices are attracting adverse comments. Paradoxically, the Courts do find time to expeditiously attend to issues that may not be strictly within their domain. Ways and means must be found to correct this distortion.

I am not imparting any value judgement but the experience of the last 20 years has a message for our political actors, which they hear but do not listen to. Whether we like it or not, the age of single party rule has gone, and we have entered the age of coalitions. Our diversities, the emergence from centuries of stupor of huge masses of people to political and social awareness, the clangs and clashes of diverse ethnic identities; all these are tell-tale early warnings that we have to govern ourselves only through collaborative forms of government, both at the national level and at the level of the states.

In the last one decade, we have experienced some tragedies: assassination of two duly elected prime ministers and in these momentous ten years leading to the close of this century, there have been four Lok Sabha elections, each producing a hung Parliament leading to formation of five coalition governments, but the tenure of all of them has been brief and full of uncertainties. Here again, I am not assigning any value judgement. The realism being that the electorate, for a variety of reasons, have not favoured any single party. How do we deal with this situation? Surely, it is no one’s case that we should discard the democratic order and take the nation in an authoritarian direction. Unfortunately, these early warnings are being ignored by our political parties. The experience of the coalitions tried in New Delhi so far does not cheer our hearts since we did not learn how to work together. In a democracy, power can be held only if it is shared with others. We have to learn how to make coalitions work. I have already outlined some of the measures which, if taken, will stabilise our party system and remove from the electoral process the viruses that threaten to eat into its vitals. Coalitions must be built before elections so that the partners can fight the polls together and form coalition governments after the poll without much difficulty. I am aware of the problems in this regard. Parties cannot work together at the national level because they are rivals at the state level and down below at the Panchayat level. Like-minded parties have to learn how to work together at all the levels. In order to run smoothly a coalition system, it will be important for the coalescing partners to share powers at various levels.

The management of coalition governments, it will be appreciated, is qualitatively different than that of a single party. The role of Prime Minister of a coalition set up is to constantly evolve a consensus amongst those who sit on his Cabinet table and also those who may be supporting his government from outside. The process of such consensus building, particularly in context of basic policies has to be further broadened. While I do not intend to comment on the functioning of the present government, except saying that the process of consensus that is so essential in present context, is fractured. Departures from this tested style of functioning would not adequately serve the nation’s interest at this crucial time. It would expose governmental weaknesses and neutralise its initiatives. The Prime Minister’s role in this new scenario is radically different, as I said. Unlike the earlier years, he is no more a prima donna but a first amongst the equals. His success is co-related to his capacity to make his programmes and policies appeal across the floor of the House.

To conclude, may I say that the nation is presently confronted with a series of paradoxes, some of which I have tried to project. While correcting our fault lines, it is important that we resolve the ailments of democracy through added democracy and not by its reduction. This is the golden principle of good governance that could take us helpfully into the next century.

Thank you very much.

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Bio-Profile :
Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

Bio-Profile :
Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

Selected Speeches

Latest Articles