By Vivek Pattanayak in Bhubaneswar, February 5, 2022: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, said Lord Acton. The history has shown that the monarch who enjoyed absolute power brought remonstrance from the nobility, the privileged class. When the aristocracy misused its power and privilege, it faced the confrontation from the large body of people.

As Aristotle famously stated the monarchy, when it is corrupt, becomes tyranny yielding place to aristocracy and when it in turn misuses power becomes oligarchy inviting the people to take power called polity or democracy. When democracy becomes corrupt it creates ochlocracy, mob rule. From this anarchic situation, once again one person takes power leading again to monarchy. This is the Aristotelian cycle of governments or exercise of power. No wonder power of the state has been distributed over the institutions since many centuries.

If one goes back in history, we see how religious body like Church influenced the governance of the state. In Europe struggle between Church and King was phenomenal leading to internecine wars and devastation. Only after the defiance of Henry VIII who was denied by Pope to divorce his wife having married to the widow of his brother, after eventual establishment of the Church of England outside the papal authority and subsequent religious wars causing dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire bringing the Treaty of Westphalia, power of Church got segregated from state and the supreme temporal power rested on monarch.

That religion had nothing to do with state become the ruling doctrine of the continent giving birth to the idea of secular state. The root of the modern concept of secularism can be traced to that time.

In UK, the monarchy after struggle with landed aristocracy, Parliament, and bloody civil war over six centuries having lost its power to prime minister and his council of ministers has become titular head after sharing power with Parliament,the legislature to whom the prime minister is responsible .The legislature has become bicameral distributingits authority.

While in UK the House of Lords, a hereditary body had its authority in the past, and now the House of Commons, peoples’ body exercises most of the legislative power.In USA, the Senate, the upper chamber also an elected body has legislative power, coequal to the House of Representatives and sometimes even more like power of ratification of some executive decisions . In India the upper house, the Rajya Sabha whose members are elected by the State legislatures can give an effective check on the Lok Sabha if the Opposition parties are numerically strong in comparison to the ruling party which forms the government.

The growth of judiciary has created another level of power as it can declare law unconstitutional as in USA . In India the basic structure doctrine gives authority to apex court even to declare a constitutional amendment invalid.

Bureaucracy shared power with political executive. Its growing authority needed curbing when Lord Acton called it ‘new despotism.’Institutions created by the constitution in India like UPSC, Election Commission and CAG have also sequestered state power.Statutory bodies in India like Information Commission, Human Rights Commission, Women’s Commission, and regulatory bodies like RBI, SEBI etc. have slice of power of the state. This shows lateral distribution of power .

Vertical distribution of power takes shape in federal system.In USA it is clear and categorical with States having their own constitution and under federal constitution. In India States enjoy power by virtue of the Constitution. Except in respect of erstwhile J&K State under previous Article 370 no other State had an independent constitution although special provisions are there for some States.

In India by special constitutional amendment further vertical distribution of power has taken place by creating Zilla Parishad at the District level, Panchayat Samity at the Bloc level and then Grama Panchayat consisting of a group of adjacent villages and finally Palli Sabha at the village level .

Right to vote, an elemental exercise of power, vests on adult population. In the ancient Greek city-states voting power was only with citizens not with slaves or even aliens. In the nineteenth century the right to vote was available based on property qualification in UK.It was also not available to women. In India universal suffrage has been there from the commencement of the constitution. Right to vote has been expanded to include those who have attained the age of eighteen from the age of twenty-one. In certain democracies in the elections of municipalities, residents even if they are aliens can vote.

Representation of people in the legislature or legislative institutions is also a form of exercise of power. Reservation of seats for ST and SC in the Parliament and State legislature also reflects how power has shifted to a certain segment of population who have been considered as marginalized people for historical reasons.

Similarly in the decentralized local governments seats have not only been reserved for ST and SC but also for women.There is on going demand for reservation of seats for women in the State legislature and Parliament.

Influence and power go hand in hand. Institutions who have exercised preponderance over the society, state, and government including bureaucracy and judiciary are media grown in last three centuries more in recent times with electronic platform and live transmission both visual and audio and of late with IT and social media, and also academia including scholars, thinkers, writers, poets, artists and scientists for a prolonged period in history.

In the recent times civil society whether national or international consisting of associations, think-tanks, research and philanthropic bodies have become vibrant having their impact on the state power. Oxfam, Transparency International, Red Cross, and Doctors’ Without Borders etc. have exerted influence over states based on their independent study, selfless work and operating in war torn territories sometimes held by terrorists and extremists.

In India we have witnessed how the Anna Hazare agitation shook the ruling dispensation and how the trade unions, association of government employees have in the past had their sway over state decisions and recently we saw the uninterrupted farmers’ agitation for a year which had its effect on withdrawal of farm laws.

With changed demographic composition in the population with number in X,Y,Z generation and millennial outweighing the elders and senior citizens the question arises why these people would be bound down by decisions, plans and programs, and policies of the those who have crossed the half century in age.

In the next quarter century, this young population will be affected by what has been decided by who are in fifties, sixties and seventies. How ethical it is? Should not this young population have a say in decision making? Should not the legislative bodies from grass-root to the national level proportionately have representation from this generation?

From the narration given above one can decipher how by evolutionary process power has been diluted over time and how further dilution is necessary.

It is needless to recount how miseries have befallen on human civilization with wanton misuse of power starting from the time of Pharos like Ramses I and Ramses II,the Egyptian Queen of the Macedonian origin, Cleopatra, Roman dictators like Caesar, the Greek king Alexander, the Persian monarch Darius ,the Corsican born Napoleon of France , and Austrian but the Nazi German Fuhrer Hitler, the Italian Il Duce, Mussolini, the mighty inscrutable Stalin from Georgia in Soviet Union,and ruthless Saddam Hussein who dreamt of being the modern day Nebuchadnezzar.

The list is endless. Even in the 21st century with all the glare of media whether live TV or social media there are potential tyrants, dictators, and despots some time under the fictious legitimacy of popular vote and in the garb of saviour of the nation, country, religion and culture sometime attempting to rewrite history and dividing peaceful people.

If power is ‘necessary evil’ its dilution should be inevitable goal.

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