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29 October, 2012

INDIA: The placebo cabinet

The following is a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, on the Indian Cabinet reshuffle:

The cabinet reshuffle in India has concluded. New Delhi has witnessed the usual exit and entry of old and new faces. While speculating, reporting and allegedly analysing the event, the Indian media liberally used words like "new blood", "team Manmohan" and "fresh faces." These terms wrongly suggested that something new is introduced into an alleged team that the Prime Minister leads.

The present government neither works as a team in discharging its constitutional mandate, nor was anything fresh brought into the administration. In fact the teamwork is visible between the ruling and opposition benches in the parliament, that today, together they resist everything that is elementary to bring a real new phase in administration.

The country's political leadership is united in preventing fundamental reforms that are required to end corruption; to restructure and revive the administration of justice; and above all, to end impunity for criminal acts committed by those having access to the political elite, and by the political leadership itself. In fact some of the new faces that were "elevated to the ministry" to "serve the people" have no qualification other than their relation to a political heavyweight.

These "dynasty preserving" exercises are incompatible with the very essence of a democratic republic and better fits a monarchy. Equally unfitting is entrenched corruption that negates the basic structure of the constitution.

Myriad forms of violence are committed daily with impunity against the people in India. The widespread practice of custodial torture and the unwillingness of the government to deal with it, at least to the extent of drafting an effective law, negate the premises of fair trial. Despicable delays in adjudication, judicial corruption and ineptitude renders the concept of judicial process a farce.

Extra-judicial executions and arbitrary punishments vitiate the basic notion of presumption of innocence. Denial of livelihood options; malnutrition; deaths from starvation; and gender, caste and religion based discrimination challenges the notion of human dignity and individual freedom, fundamental premises required to guarantee the basic structure of the constitutional architecture.

The singular impediment in effectively dealing with these evils is the absence of resolve by the political elite in India. No political party in the country is an exception to this. Dealing with these vices is not the unique liability of the civil society. It is on the contrary the government's responsibility.

Unfortunately it is the tools to discharge this responsibility that the government lacks. Reshuffling the cabinet will be only useful in identifying these tools required for change, if those who are introduced into the ministry are there to do exactly this. Unfortunately the fact is, it is not.

For information and comments: Bijo Francis, South Asia Desk, AHRC. Telephone: + 852 - 26986 339, Email:

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