Appointments are important — but they can’t protect institutions from political interference

Source: The post is based on the article “Appointments are important — but they can’t protect institutions from political interference” published in the Indian Express on 5th November 2022.

Syllabus: GS – 2 – Governance.

Relevance: About the independence of the institutions.

News: The Supreme Court’s interrogation regarding the appointments to the Election Commission has raised the issue of institutional independence.

What are the various types of institutions and their role in a democracy?

The role of most institutions in a democracy is to enforce not build political consensus. These institutions thus do not have an independent source of political power and rely instead on the backing from political intermediaries for their mandate.

Other institutions such as the judiciary and election commission may be required to adjudicate between competing claims in line with the existing normative consensus.

Some institutions like the RBI may be empowered for fixed functions like monetary policy and so on.

Read here: Why the judiciary may not be the best selector of election commissioners
What is the role of political intermediaries in the functioning of these institutions?

The institution and its role are an outcome of political consensus wherein political intermediaries have agreed to delineate some function of governance and endow it to this institution.

When the balance of power is equally distributed, these institutions have greater amplitude. However, if the balance of power tilts too far towards one faction, institutional independence starts to weaken.

In such situations, institutions will be able to maintain independence if the executive influence on appointments is limited.

How political power can hamper the independence of institutions?

Political power can manifest in an institution’s independence in multiple ways. For instance, at the individual level: Dissent can be neutralised through inducement, marginalisation, intimidation, blackmail, harassment, propaganda, transfers, forcing persons to exit on their own etc.

How to ensure an institution’s independence?

Re-establishing consensus: It can be done by arriving at a consensus by political parties and mobilising public opinion and organisation.

Increase public trust in institutions: Democracy is necessarily mediated through institutions and widespread institutional distrust can only pave the way for autocracy and populism. Hence, institutions should gain public trust.

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