Is our Republic of “We, the people” or of “We, the political parties”?
Recent developments in the country make me wonder where we are heading as a Republic of India. What do we make out of Political party leaders threatening the standing of the judiciary, political parties dictating the character of legislatures without inner party democracy, political parties committing the country with long term implications without coming under any accountability laws, news media of the country coming under increasing domination of political leaders? Are political parties above the law and overlords of the state much beyond the designated institutes without having any standing under the constitution? Have we ever debated this thickening dilemma? Or, it too is being pushed under carpet in the weight of “conflict of interest” of political leaders? More often one gets doubt these days whether political parties have forgotten that their registration and recognition is on condition of their adherence to the constitution of India. Some could even say that the way the parties are indulging in is no less than a betrayal of the constitution. Can we expect to accomplish the objectives of the Republic without reforming the political parties? Mahatma Gandhi envisioned perils of party dominated democracy seventy years ago–before the parties proliferated and penetrated.
Sukumar Sen’s initiative
Political parties should be thankful to Sukumar Sen, the first Election Commissioner of India. Despite that Constitution of India has not even referred or specified any role for political Parties, it was his initiative that gave certain recognition to political parties. But that was based on parties submitting a constitution of their own for the functioning of the party, including procedure of electing the party functionaries. This, the ECI could do as it was constitutionally empowered to conduct free and fair elections for a representative form of govt. for the Union and at the States of India. For that Sukumar Sen recognised the political parties for allocating symbols for those parties who had registered along with a constitution of their own and obligation to confine to ECI rules and regulations for conducting the party affairs with in the frame of that Constitution. This Constitution of the party is expected to indicate the specifics on internal democracy. That includes the frequency and modalities of organising the political party. And yet how many political parties are adhering to whatever their party constitution had indicated about electing the functionaries of the party. In fact, there are parties even 135 year old ones, postponing inner party (organisational) elections again and again and reducing the party one of nominated all across and of a single family and yet dictating priorities and policies. Many office holding functionaries in parties today do not even know that their party has a constitution and what it claimed as its objectives when registered with ECI.
Balwant Rai Mehta’s suggestion ignored
And yet elections to other than Legislative bodies are also being conducted on the basis of political party affiliations and endorsements despite these were not expected to be on party lines. In fact, that was what the Balwant Rai Mehta committee in 1957 had suggested. The consequences of having elections at these other levels and other bodies, like cooperatives, school and temple committees too on party basis, have lead to a decline in democracy, participative development and in inclusiveness of governance in the country. In the process, Political parties have become power grabbers or seekers rather than integrators and for public service. The distinction between political parties has become blurred or is no longer distinct. They are at the most viewed as “leftist” or “rightist” without larger public knowing what that meant. Political parties are no longer healers. Some even argue that parties today expedite divisive course. It is because of political parties the elections have become primary source for sustaining and multiplying the problems of the country. They have become stumbling blocks more than achieving the cherished goals of the Republic. The rise of political parties has been at the cost of the constitutionally provided institutions and to ensure checks and balances. in that pursuit citizen has been reduced as a dependent with doles that parties thrust upon unconcerned of the consequences.
Full of those with ‘deviant record’
Everyone knows now how the Assemblies and the Parliament are full of those with “deviant record” and riddled in conflict of interest. Their number has been on increase, not on decline. The sole responsibility for such a disgusting trend is that of political parties themselves. Officially there are around 4000 recent past and present legislators against whom court cases are pending for long,including on charges of murder, rape,etc. And when the Supreme Court takes initiative to expedite these long pending court cases the leaders gang up to scuttle or side-line the process. If so many with criminal background and on bail are nominated by the parties to contest each round of elections, how can we expect to get out of this cycle. Instead of going for a “checks and balances” system, the parties checkmate, ensure and demolish balance of power between pillars of the state in favour of a “majoritarian rule” as if that ensures a better form of the government? Parties are constantly engaged in blatant criss-crossing of the elected reps from one party to another as and when the situation suited them despite anti-defection laws. And the incumbent party keeps accusing the predecessors for failures even after being midway in power. By multiplying political parties, votes are being split leading to minority governance. Nor the representative character of our legislatures has shown any signal for citizen concerns and agenda. On the contrary, declining trends are too obvious, threatening the very fundamentals.
Control & Command
The Modus operandi of political parties has been control and command rather than consult, coordinate and cooperate. And by reducing citizens as passive in the name of “welfare,” the empowerment and entitlements are reduced to by party affiliations as if the rights of citizens are at the ‘marzee’ (or mercy) of the party in power. Good governance remains a distant dream because of political leaders. political parties have reduced the span of public concern and priorities specific to an election. Political parties have forgotten that elections are for a tenure, contestants are voluntary for serving all the people inclusively and set good precedents for the successors. But what we witness today is just the opposite.
Can we expect to rejuvenate the trajectory of democracy, development and governance without a rationale in the functioning and a responsible role of political parties. The story of a political leader called Donald Trump should save India from disgracing to such low levels.
Dr N Bhaskara Rao is a New Delhi based long standing public policy analyst.
He would write a second article on parties with specific initiatives required rather urgently to sustain the Republic, if he receives at least ten responses to this.