(Second and last part)
It is time political parties recall that they exist to facilitate a representative form of govt. as trustees for a govt. of, by and for the people. It was with such a premise they were recognised at the outset by the Election Commission of India.(ECI). The Republic survives and sustains to the extent political parties uphold the basic premise of “we, the people.” But over these seventy years political parties have gone much beyond as if they are an end in themselves without coming under any specific jurisdiction and checks and balances framework.
This was what Mahatma Gandhi envisioned and suggested that the Congress party better convert itself into a service organisation rather than continuing as a party with command and control outlook. Instead of taking cognisance of Gandhi’s wisdom we have come a long way and ended up with more political parties taking to super power culture and becoming the final arbitrators of the priorities and future of the country.
It is time for political parties to rediscover themselves and reposition in such a way that Republic gets rejuvenated and “we, the people” becomes the prime mover of the nation. That should become the outlook and approach of political parties, instead of a control and command preoccupation. In 2000, the eleven member Constitution Review Commission with justice MN Venkatachaliah recommended that political parties be brought under a checks and balances regime. Realising the ambiguity about role of parties, even the Law Commission had suggested bringing political parties under legal jurisdiction.
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Parties too are a pillar
I have been advocating for some years that the state should be viewed as of six pillars instead of consists of three (judiciary, executive and legeslative). While the media is already viewed as the forth pillar for long, we now need to view the civil society as the fifth and the political parties as the sixth. And an equilibrium between these six pillars is what should constitute the State, each with responsibilities and accountabilities. But political parties, without coming under any such regime, have acquired command over every other systems and institutions.
Also Read : We, the parties…
Bring party Constitution to centre stage
Despite constitutional silence, political parties have become super power centers and final arbiters of public policies, priorities and futures and dictating the model of representation as it suits them. It is high time that all such suggestions are heeded and taken cognizance of. More specifically, political parties should take a relook at their own party constitution submitted to ECI years ago and resubmit with updates. ECI should call for that and give time for this until end 2021. Party functionaries should thereafter confine to that document submitted to ECI.
Partyless polls for local bodies
Political parties should come together and liberate local governance from party based elections with symbols even if the contestants at that level have party affiliations. Work together culture of political parties is even more essential at local levels. And party based elections cannot assure such culture.
Why continue with the whip
Whip system has outlived in legislatures. Without limiting its relevance representative form cannot be retrieved. Those elected to legislative bodies take oath as individual members, not as affiliates of any political party. At the most whip could prevail in contexts of survival of govts. Change of party on whose symbol the member got elected should forthwith disqualify the member for the rest of the period of that House.
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Why political parties should deprive themselves from benefiting from a wonder they had themselves come up with two decades ago. That is the Right to Information Act (RTI). Contrary to apprehensions, RTI could help parties to revive themselves. They could exempt from the Act certain functions to do with electoral strategies. It is time for them to reassess pros and cons of transparency specific to their consolidation and future prospects. Sue motto information and initiatives should become hallmark of parties, including on funding of the party. And declaration of any conflict of interest should be fundamental to contest in an election.
Abide by the model codes
Election codes are devised by political parties themselves with an understaffing to abide by. They could modify when any particular provision of the code becomes a stumbling block to the fundamentals of free, fair and transparency in elections. Parties and their nominated candidates should adhere to codes as a compulsion. And parties should indicate rational for nomination of their candidates.
It is time to give up poll symbols
Poll symbols had helped the electoral democracy take roots. But it is time now to reconsider their relevance. Symbols perpetuate the grip of political parties on the electorate at the cost of merit of individual contestants and interests of individual constituencies. Also, as we gear up for e-voting, we should give up symbols. The country has come a long way.
Should support elected govt
Once a party is elected the bills passed should be supported by all other parties until the next election is declared. Or, at least should not come in the way of their explicit initiatives. But the elected party and its leaders should not go on pointing or raking up the predecessor in power as responsible for all kinds of situations to cover up its own performance or shortcomings.
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Parties should work together
Political parties and leaders should demonstrate that they can work together even during poll campaign and after the elections by way of consultation, coordination and cooperation. It is time to revive bipartisanship and make it evident in the legislatures and outside. If they continue opposing each other all through and on all matters of governance and development, how can they be inclusive. And how can the country ever achieve cherished goals for which parties exist with promises of all kinds.
Elected representatives are not employees
Political parties should think as to why should elected representatives who are volunteers to serve for a term or tenure be on “a monthly salary” like any “employees”. And keep demanding and increasing their entitlements? They should, of course, be reimbursed for the expenses, extended all facilities to serve the people, all the people, of the constituency.
Good precedents will go a long way
The incumbent, the party in power, will not remain so for ever and is bound to become a predecessor sooner or later. Leaders in power should be concerned about and compete in setting good examples to the successors for higher deeds. The incumbent should restrain from meddling with ECI appointments. Only confident and futuristic leaders could afford such a challenging course.
Think Beyond polls
Political parties exist not only to fight elections but to do something good for the country. And to people, all the people. But today they are solely preoccupied and engaged in contesting elections as if that is means and end in itself. They consider winning somehow and at any cost. But parties should be known for a cause, a mission, and difference they made or making, much beyond control and command tactics.
Elections should become routine
Today the countries which are rated high on democracy, development and governance and on happiness indicators are the ones which go to national elections far more frequently and where the governments change more often and yet they kept up with their lead on global standing. That is because they take elections “as a matter of routine” and view them as come and go and forget the differences once a poll is over. This is not impossible in India without restoring independence of the ECI and its stature and that is in the interest of every party. It is difficult to transit to such higher levels, but a popular leader like Prime Minister Narendra Modi could take the country to newer path. That is what, in fact, he has been talking about.
Modi could take nation to newer heights
Prime Minister Modi has a better grip of the country today than his predecessors. And could afford to take many more initiatives than his predecessors ever did, and in a more lasting way. He can take far more challenging and fundamental changes to put the country on a firm footing. He can do that If only he goes beyond compulsions and constraints of a political party and elections.
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Think beyond populism and polarization
Political parties and leaders should take the country beyond populism
and a divisive course. Instead of relying on such a course, they should focus on implementation and impact aspects of their initiative. Only a strong and visionary leader, who wants to be remembered irrespective of how long he is in power, can afford to take such challenging course.
Reboot party for a lasting difference
Political parties should reboot their potential to make a lasting difference in accomplishing the cherished goals of the Constitution makers. This is not possible without repositioning themselves under a checks and balances regime. The people cannot expect to get over the problems sustainably without political parties being truly inclusive, democratic, decentralised and transparent. All that is not possible without political parties giving up “solo view” of themselves all through and the electoral process becoming free and fair and the incumbent party eschews control and command strategies.
The recent panel that the Vice President of India has formed to rejuvenate the functioning of the parliamentary bodies is timely and should seize these aspects too.
(The first article on parties appeared in primepost.in on 24 January 2021 with the headline, “Is our Republic of “we, the people” or of “we, the parties?”)
Dr. N. Bhaskara Rao is author of over a dozen books on elections, democracy, and good governance over the last 50 years. His latest forthcoming is ‘Rejuvenating the Republic.’
His mail id: [email protected]