Our Autocratic Parties
By Poonam I Kaushish
It’s been a week of mea culpa, home truth and tutorials. Of ghisi-piti real politik whereby the old order changed yielding place to new, yet underscoring that nothing has changed. Centralisation of power among Parties national leadership calling the shots when Chief Ministers are changed at will is symptomatic of a ‘High Command’ culture, resulting in withering of internal democracy within.
The anointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as Punjab’s Chief Minister is the latest satrapi-as-local branches showcasing Congress trio of Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka are ‘alive and kicking.’ Notwithstanding, that their sudden rise from a state of meaningless nothingness to an elevated orbit of meaningful nothingness has Party leaders nervous.
Even the much touted and much disciplined BJP has gladly chosen to get “Congressised”. In the last seven months the Modi-Shah combine have changed Chief Ministers four times in three States. Twice in Uttarakhand March and July, Karnataka in July and Gujarat last week. Thereby, showcasing that Prime Minister Modi is numero uno and calls the shots.
Less said the better of our regional satraps who believe internal democracy comes after hereditary feudalism wherein politics is parivar business with the family reigning supreme. Be it Samajwadi where reins have shifted from patriarch Mulayam to aankhoin ka tara Akhilesh, RJD’s Lalu-Rabri ladla Tejashvi, DMK bhai-behan Stalin-Kanimozhi.
BSP’s Mayawati, Trinimool’s Mamata with bhatija Abhishek, Abdullah’s National Conference, Chautala’s INLD, Akali Dal’s Badal family of beta-bahu Sukhbir-Harsimrat, LJP’s Paswan ghar ka Chirag, RLD Ajit Singh’s beta Jayant Chaudhary, Pawar’s NCP putri prem Supriya et al! Certainly, the dadagiri of dynastic politics is robust, exposing the deep decay in our political system.
In a milieu where principles, value-based politics and internal debate and discussions are conveniently overlooked and unceremoniously buried, all Parties parrot the same hackineyed diatribe: Only “High Command” can provide a Government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Sprinkled liberally with loads of desh bhakti and balidaan. Hoping that a billion plus vassals will be mesmerized to shower their choicest blessing. What is material is not whether those foisted ‘from above’ are deserving but that they are “made deserving”, by virtue of their being ‘the chosen one.’
Welcome to Incredible India which boasts of being the world’s largest democracy. But, if truth be told, we are shamelessly ‘jo hokum’ in our outlook and thought process. Worse, most elected leaders prefer to function in the style of old feudal lords. Party tickets are distributed not on the basis of merit, but connections. If you want reprieve from law, seek the blessings of the mai baap or undaata. If you want alms, go to the Master. Only the Master matters – and counts.
Confirming that India’s parliamentary democracy has degenerated into a mindset. Only the outward trappings are democratic – naam ke waste. Indeed, the incredible foisting of a Chief Ministers, Ministers, MPs, MLAs and leaders by the ‘High Command’ at the cost of long-serving party workers is a highly disturbing trend fraught with grave consequences.
Arguably, if Indian democracy rests on the one-man-one vote principle and parachuting leaders is the antithesis of electoral politics, the obverse holds true. What is material is not whether the candidates are ‘deserving’, but that they are “made deserving” by virtue of they being the chosen one. All merrily banking on the right connection to ensure a continuing bond. It’s all about bhaichara.
Undeniably, there is a increasing tendency in Parties towards the concentration of power in one or a few leaders at the top. Primarily, as personal loyalty to the leader becomes most important. Two, Parties shy from conducting free and fair internal elections regularly or hold organisational meetings. Three, ordinary members do not get sufficient information about Party happenings. Four, members do not have the means or connections needed to influence decisions. Five, Parties do not keep membership registers. Six, there is a questionable procedure of distributing party tickets.
All Parties conveniently forget the Constitution envisages Governments be run by collective authority or collective wisdom. Yet, the opposite holds true as Parties have found a lacuna in the Constitution which is silent on Parties or guidelines for regulating the conduct of Parties, their nature and qualification for putting up candidates for election to legislative bodies.
Pertinently, only Section 29 (A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 mandates the registration of Parties. The Election Commission is also not equipped to regulate their functioning. The Supreme Court in 2002 held that the EC cannot take punitive action against registered political Parties for violating the principles of inner-party democracy which makes regulation of the conduct and functioning of Parties extremely difficult, reducing chances of their democratic working.
It might not have been in the contemplation of the Constitution-makers that though the form of Government both at the Centre and States was fashioned after the British Westminster style but Parties would be run on the US Presidential basis with a single person or a few persons exercising real authority.
Importantly, the lack of democratic functioning of Parties is mainly manifested in two fundamental aspects. First, procedure for determining its leadership and composition are not open and inclusive which adversely impacts the Constitutional right of citizens to equal political opportunity to participate in politics and contest elections.
Second, a Party’s centralised mode of functioning alongside the stringent Anti-Defection Law which deters Party legislators from voting in national and State legislatures according to their individual preferences, instead elected representatives have to strictly follow the Party whip during voting. Failure of do so results in disqualification from the legislature.
Moreover, leadership is mostly decided by a coterie of Party functionaries who holds sway over the Party administration. Even when elections take place in which the members of the national organisational or decision-making body of the Party participate, the pre-determined choice of the Party elite is merely supported by the other members. Most of the times, the elections to leadership positions are uncontested and unanimously decided. Besides, in many instances, the ceremonial rubber stamp organisational elections are also held after long intervals with serious irregularities.
According to a study by Research Foundation for Governance in India on internal democracy in Parties recently, it adhered that it is very difficult to remove Party leaders; there is little discussion or consultation with ordinary members when setting the Party agenda; young politicians find it difficult to climb ranks and influence of family connections remains powerful.
Clearly, the lack of transparency and accountability in the inner functioning of Parties has serious consequences for the functioning of Parliamentary democracy. A democratic process as envisaged by the Constitution cannot be meaningful without Parties participating and embracing the democratic ethos.
Democracy requires more than just political Parties. It requires strong political will emanating from irrefutable electoral demands for inner-party democracy to lead India towards the process of democratising its Parties. It requires that individuals encourage substantial debate and seek compromise rather than abuse power.
The time has come to uphold true democracy, democratize Parties and improve politics. Or else continue to wallow in the political High Command cesspool and say goodbye to democracy? Choice is yours! — INFA