Saturday, October 15, 2011

Let's Save Democracy from Political Parties

Hissar might become a milestone in the Indian Democracy for very peculiar reasons. The by-election on 13 October 2011 has been preceded by unique aggressive campaigning by a non-contesting, non-political civil society group that had no direct stake at the hustings. Anna Hazare had given a call to the electorate to ‘defeat Congress because the Party heading the UPA Government at the Centre is dithering on the Lokpal Bill’. Claiming to be wholly ‘apolitical’ and above party politics, Team Anna has avoided extending support to any of the contestants in the fray. If the Congress loses this election, the Team Anna tactics might emerge as a potent threat to party based polity because political parties have ceased to represent the people and turned into self-serving, domineering gangs.

Whereas there has been unanimity of views all through the 42 years debate on the desirability of having an effective Ombudsman (Lokpal), the political establishment has willy-nilly let eight bills lapse. The ninth attempt is now on in the Lok Sabha. Lots of lip service and no concrete action to have it enacted into a law has exposed the absence of political will in the ruling alliance and the Opposition alike. Whenever there had been a political will, bills were passed in exemplary swiftness without much debate like the MPs’ Salary Bill. This stance of the political parties has led to frustration among the masses. Anna’s call to rouse the people against the Congress should therefore be seen as a public response to political arrogance.

Questions are often asked whether it is democratic for the civil society groups to incite people to vote against a particular party, stage dharnas, fasts and Satyagraha with a view to ‘coercing’ the government to comply with their demands. The counter question, however, is how else will people make the unwilling government act to realise their aspirations and cherished national goals? The underlying problem is that democracy in India has been hijacked by a few families and groups who converted parties into their fiefdoms. Consequently, democracy has slowly dissipated giving way to Oligarchy. Here are the facts that prove this contention.

Dynastic Control. Except perhaps the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Leftist parties, almost all other political parties have a Family in control. The party functionaries in such parties are favourites of the ‘Family’ rather than ‘choice’ of the people they are ‘assigned to represent’. Come election season and we find aspiring sycophants jostling, quarrelling and crying over nomination and party tickets for the ensuing polls. Honest individuals rising on their own merit from grass roots are viewed as potential threats as, having strong mass backing, such individuals might not hesitate to question the party high command’s policies which is not acceptable to the all-powerful High Command used to reigning supreme in unquestioned environs as is so often experienced. If criticise you must, it would be okay to find faults with ministers and even the Prime Minister but who dare criticise Madam Supreme and Rahul Gandhi? This style of party-government functioning has destroyed constitutional institutions and reduced even the Prime Minister to a mere titular figure heard while the power centre in New Delhi has shifted from South Block or 7, Race Course Road to 10 Janpath. The absence of Mrs Sonia Gandhi from Delhi during Anna Hazare’s fast left the Indian Government so headless that decision-making process became a mockery bringing the country to a near chaotic situation.

‘Whip’ – an Undemocratic Diktat. It has become a routine practice for the political parties to issue ‘whip’, a mechanism devised to force their respective MPs to vote for or against a particular Bill. In the case of Lok Sabha where there are 543 MPs, issue of whip from the Party bosses of the major parties decides the fate of the Bill. This means there are only 3-4 persons deciding matters crucial in running the nation! Conscience of individual MPs or people’s demands has no standing. Their wisdom, opinion and mandate of the people they represent has no meaning in this farce of a democracy where the boss dictates how thou shalt vote. And what’s more, this voting culture runs against the constitutional grain of our democracy where citizen’s individual opinion is respected and guarded through secret ballot free from all influences. Why not follow the same principle inside the House of the People, the Lok Sabha?

Inner Party Autocracy. Constitutionally, the Chief Ministers of States are required to be elected by the elected MLAs of the majority party or single largest party. In practice, however, these ‘leaders of the legislative party’ are nominated by the party high commands in New Delhi. Likewise, ministers resigning should submit their resignations to the Chief Minister in the States and Prime Minister at the Centre; but a practice has gained currency in which they submit resignations to the Party President. A culture of sycophancy has thus mushroomed that has disoriented the democratic outlook of our polity in which favours and fears looming from the top overrun common public interests in utter disregard to people’s aspirations.

Opportunism killing Ethics: Very tempting manifestoes are publicised by all parties prior to general elections, which are hyped to display the Party’s pro-people dedication and resolve. Like marketing gimmicks, these manifestoes or promised programmes are dumped in trashcans the moment polling is over, never to be talked about for the next five years. Legislatures and governments thus are a consequence of lies and cheating. Parties that contest elections criticising the very philosophy, policies and ethos of opponent parties – often trading abuses and serious allegations on character and deeds of party leadership – show no qualms about making a sudden turnabout from their tirade and forming alliances and governments for mutual comfort and shared exploits. Coalitions formed on the basis of shared common minimum programmes prior to the elections are visible to the electorate who are led to believe or disbelieve in the joint philosophies of such alliances. Therefore, governments formed by pre-poll coalitions have the approval of the electorate. But post-poll coming together of the erstwhile bitter enemies would be plain betrayal of the voters’ mandate. Likewise mid-stream withdrawal from the coalition by member groups or parties would also betray this mandate. Therefore, there is a case for the Election Commission to examine and create a mechanism to fortify people’s mandate by treating post poll making or un-making of alliances as defection. Parties planning a shift in their pre-poll declared positions must seek a fresh mandate for their proposed plans.

High Offices – Prestige and Credibility Compromised. It is constitutionally mandatory that only non-partisan, apolitical personalities of high calibre, integrity and merit should be elected/nominated to hold high constitutional offices like President of India, Governors and other constitutional bodies. Wary of independent opinion and wisdom of meritorious citizens of eminence from ‘apolitical’ background, the political parties have systematically circumvented the constitutional mandate and established a convention whereby persons of negotiable integrity, low calibre and doubtful credentials have held high offices of national prestige including the Office of the President of India, governors and other institutions. Individuals who have been active members of political parties do not become ‘apolitical’ overnight just by resigning their party memberships. Every now and then we find State Governors getting involved in unseemly controversies involving their partisan behaviour, Gujarat and Karnataka being some of the most recent examples. What portrays the country’s highest Office in a pitiable form is that even The President of India cannot say ‘Yes’ or ‘NO’ on matters as simple as mercy petitions that keep lying for his/her consideration for years and decades. And this is when every such case has been thoroughly detailed, considered and passed through comprehensive legal process including review by the Supreme Court – country’s most revered ultimate legal Authority. One of the Presidents was so obsequious that he is on record having said that ‘I would sweep the room if Indira ji ever asked me to do so’. We need to restore the honour and dignity due to nation’s highest office. But how?

Interestingly, India’s Constitution does not specify the necessity of political parties and its founding fathers certainly did not dream of how Democracy would be devoured by Oligarchy centring on family controlled political parties. A question arises: Is it time for India to go for ‘Party less Democracy’?

No comments:

Post a Comment