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Lessons on inner-party democracy from the American elections


ARINDAM CHAUDHURI | New Delhi, November 15, 2012 20:53
Tags : Scams in India | Arvind Kejriwal | IAC | Political Conturre | Gandhi Family | US Political system | Obama | Romney... |

Today, India is at a critical juncture with all socio-economic as well as political ills engulfing the nation from almost all possible directions. Starting from a series of bribery scams that are being exposed, to our plummeting ranks in almost all economic indicators – everything corroborates the hope for the rise of a fourth front (considering the third front still exists and is potent) in the form of Arvind Kejriwal’s political debut with India Against Corruption, along with an emerging coterie of social activists, who are gradually morphing the political landscape and are all collectively reshaping the political couture of the nation.

Without even an iota of apprehension, Kejriwal has been able to create a wave of passion and excitement among common Indians for a probable better political future. Through his campaign against political parties and leaders, he has been instrumental in giving a vent to the pent up anger of the public against the corrupt, inefficient and slothful political outfits. However, the top brass of such parties can get their feet wet and get away with it, because even today, there is a dearth of intra-party democracy in almost all political parties in India. This very opacity guards the elite big bosses of the parties, who thus can never be replaced from their esteemed chairs, which eventually provides an incubation environment to corruption, favouritism and intra-party dictatorship. The most potent example of such perceived bravado is the Indian National Congress’s obsession with the Nehru-Gandhi family, whose grip on the party is absolute. Therefore, despite the Congress party and their allies getting embroiled in one expose’ after another involving multibillion bucks, no eyebrows are raised and no fingers are pointed against its leadership from within. None of the Congress members have ever demanded explanations or enquires for the series of scams. The same is true for almost all political parties, except a few... in fact, except too few – which again is a temporary phenomenon. The dictatorial and dynastic rule of political parties is endemic to India; it is just the baton that gets passed from generation to generation.

The root cause for such a contest of attrition of democracy is that our Constitution does not enforce a structure for inner-party democracy and does not account for the fact that the electorate should have the right to choose the leader of every political party. This very loophole of our Constitution is undermined and exploited by almost every political party, who treat their fiefdom as a new business venture to stash up piles of cash and benefit their personal interest. Consequently, the recruitment and development of party members are not based on competencies but rather on loyalty and lobbying. The sycophancy syndrome is most potent with the INC, where they pamper the Gandhi family to the extent of shamelessness. Who can forget the former president Gyani Zail Singh who once said that if Indira Gandhi were to order him to sweep the floors, he would gladly do so with a broom! The same goes for most in the rank and file of the party. Their endless flaws are overlooked in return for their loyalty towards the Nehru-Gandhi family. While INC’s sycophancy is renowned, BJP is no saint either. The leadership at the top has had their lineup loyalists who have been tolerated, nurtured and profited by their respective leaders. Here, candidates are ‘selected’, not ‘elected’. One who is closer to the supreme leader of the party or adds to the party’s coffers is generally raised up the ladder, and not the one who is competent and liked by the party members or the electorate – clearly, a completely non-democratic way of choosing a party member to contest a so-called democratic election.

This is in sharp contrast to the US political system, where, in a transparent and prudent manner, the Presidential candidates are elected by the electorate based on their policies, agenda and brinkmanship. It spells out the continuance of the American dream and why Americans are proud of their democracy, which is par excellence compared to ours. Their election system of deciding on the right candidate is not only empowering the electorate, but also empowering the grassroots level workers, who are the torchbearers of both participatory and populist cultures. They can even discuss and influence party policies to an extent unheard of in India and most other developing nations. The three nationally televised debates between Obama and Romney shaped the final public perception towards them; and such a debate is indubitably the most democratic way of laying one’s claim towards presidency – and giving in to the public to cast their final choice.

It is difficult to understand why such a level playing ground is not created in India’s political structure! Sometimes, even the prime ministerial candidate is not announced before the elections, keeping the electorate in the dark! The eulogy of Obama’s victory notwithstanding, India has every reason to learn a thing or two from America about how partisan battles are fought in a country’s election. Comprehending the importance of party-transparency, China (a country infamous for its non-democratic setup) has adopted an open-cadre system for selecting party members and is promoting intra-party democracy since the last one decade. Similarly, the electoral process is quite transparent and clean in Europe, with corruption, scams and scandals even lower than those in US! That’s because in the peaceful, prosperous and impeccably literate European nations, the electorate will not tolerate tainted and crooked leaders to run the show, quite unlike India.

India is not Europe; it differs substantially in terms of size, population density, demographics, education and income levels. Here, the political elite remain in power as long as they want; and thus, more is the chance of oligarchic strains appearing with time. For example, Jawaharlal Nehru ruled for 17 years and Indira Gandhi for 11 years. A Constitutional curb to the tenure of the President/Prime Minister – similar to the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution, which limits the number of years (to eight) that a single person can hold the Presidential post – would halt this phenomenon and drive a leader genuinely towards working for the public. Too much power in the hands of one or two individuals can upset the balance of power and set the ball rolling towards the Great Indian Loot – as has been the case for India, which has been mired by one after the other deals involving union ministers, bureaucrats and big businesses. That is why most countries of the world – even those including the banana republics in Africa and Asia (like Burundi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan) – have enacted tenure limits in their respective constitutions. While Burundi and Sierra Leone have a cap of two five-year terms, Rwanda has a cap of two seven-year terms. The new democracies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, post scrapping their Soviet era political systems, too have restrictions in the tenures of their heads of state.

If that is the norm, and justifiably so, then the lack of a term limit in India is indeed standing in the way of a very efficient and challenge-free democracy in India. The tenure limit should be clubbed with an age cap as well – so that young, energetic and idealist leaders with fresh ideas can chip in and make a mark, similar to the expectations that surround the likes of Arvind Kejriwal. Those like Atal Bihari Vajpayee or even Jyoti Basu of West Bengal were almost bedridden in their final days in office. That is a liability for any government and for the country as a whole! The benchmark should be the likes of John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton or even Barack Obama who infused fresh verve into the social, economic and political system of America with their respective doses of great leadership. For a nation to steer towards real democracy, this very dichotomy of incubating a non-democratic party setup in a democratic system must be instantly and constitutionally erased. Or else, the electorate of the nation would keep electing parties and not visionaries!

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Posted By: Krishna Baalu | Hyderabad | November 24th 2012 | 17:11
Excellent! but who will tie the bell now! India at this dilemma now! Where to commence, where to chip? When the so called 4th Estate, supposed to be the crusader of evils in the Governing system in the administration, is hand in glove with this corrupt ruling clan? Even slowly the Judiciary being influenced, allured with post retirement coveted posts! At this bad state of affairs of India, with unending scams, corruption, unethical immoral patronage of politicians at the cost of public money, health and lively hood, we are in need of a PM with a valor like Napoleon, a thinker like Mahatma, with a heart like Gauthama, with a brain like Adi Shankara? Any hope?
Posted By: biswajit malik | Kolkata | November 24th 2012 | 14:11
It's do or die situation for India. We should all unite and work together to wipe out corruption from the country.
Posted By: monira akhter mitu | Khulna,bangladesh | November 22nd 2012 | 20:11
Sir I agree with your opinion....
Posted By: mamatha | Hyderabad | November 22nd 2012 | 16:11
A very illuminating article, but a point worth adding is the way electoral polls run in India. Even today, there are some key factors that drive the winning candidate in elections. Some of them being religion, caste and regional differences. While in some places in our country, voters are biased based on caste and religion, in some places they are biased based on the regional leader. Even today, in most of the villages in India(we cannot deny that major voting population still lies in villages), voters are divided among two or three local leaders among whom one stands as a winner. There are many instances when the winner pulls ahead irrespective of which political party he stands for or his moral and ethical values. And even till date cost of each vote in these villages can be declared to anything between Rs. 500 to Rs.2000. So, winning of the candidate is based on his budget and based on how much his party is capable of stashing out during polls . And these parties who are smiling successfully even after all these scams getting exposed can stash that money to bury the scam now and can stash that money out during polls, they can obviously win even in the next polls. Even if Kejriwal forms a 4th front, how much does it matter, how many of the villages where in higher percentage of votes come from are even listening to Kejriwal. Even if he reaches out to them, this part of population is unlike tax-payers in cities and metros, finally what matters to them is their daily bread, farms and the small bribe they are offered during polls. This worst fact in our country cannot be denied.
Posted By: Udaibhanu Yen | Visakhapatnam | November 22nd 2012 | 09:11
Indian electorate should not be underestimated. Although reluctantly Rajiv Gandhi gave a good direction with the help of visionary people. Alleged scams not only spoiled the image of politicians but the country's investment climate also. What is wrong with a family rule as long as there is progress? India need not imitate America/ China/ or so called banana republics. Change is eminent and it is taking place. Indian democracy is vibrant. We should learn to respect our systems and allow the time for a change.
Posted By: Raj Kumar | Walled city Delhi | November 21st 2012 | 19:11
A well articulated article but a point if worth adding can be India should have a mathematical type model showing how to create a regime in which son of professional should not be able to pursue the same profession this should include politicians also, this will give absolutely new era in our country,on the face value it will finish many of the hereditary malpractices.
Posted By: Mansoor Ahmed | Pune | November 21st 2012 | 18:11
Although I agree with most of the analysis and recommendations, I have reservations on the setting up of an age bar for candidates; leadership is not just with age and energy, it's also with the intellect, wisdom, and character, without which a younger blood will not be able to achieve much meaningful in a long lasting way.
Posted By: Pratap | Mumbai | November 21st 2012 | 16:11
Qudos, well written article. It's High time we call for national level debate on the changes to be made in our constitution, on issues such as 1. Maximum Terms for election of President, Prime minister and Ministers for election. 2. Maximum Age, 3.Minimum Education, 4.Declaration of Assets before election and after election on each term. 5.Perks of each of the elected
Posted By: A K Nigam | Delhi | November 21st 2012 | 12:11
India is a society divided along caste/subcaste and majority/minority mindset. The Politicians are too cunning and exploit this weakness of the Indian Society by way of 'Social Engineering'. The Minorities tend to vote enbloc for even the most evil, most corrupt and antinational candidate as long as he/she can keep an honest and upright candidate of BJP at bay. The Majority Community is so bitterly fragmented that they can never be made to understand the dirty tricks of these politicians. Congress has ruled India for 55 years out of the 65 years of It’s independence, by utilizing these techniques, scare the Minorities, create a fear psychosis so that their vote share gets secured. In 1976 after emergency It was first time that the Govt. of the opposition Parties came into power. That was also because the Minorities voted against the Congress, first time in the History of this country, as they were against compulsory sterilization as it was against their religion. Mulayam Singh, Communist and and the Socialists, have all donned the robes of pseudo secularism pandering to the welfare of only these communities as they are the ones who can tilt the balance of power in their favour. The SP and the BSP are archrivals but cannot dare to go against UPA as this would give the Minorities a message that these parties are serving the interest of BJP and this could bring the wrath of minorities. Nobody is bothered about the Majority Community as they simply don’t matter. Even if American System of Presidential form of Govt. is introduced in India, the underlying principles are not going to change unless the mindset of the Majority Community is changed.
Posted By: Dr.Ravi Baraskar | Amravati MS | November 21st 2012 | 11:11
Kudos that Arvind Kejriwal has exposed lot many scams but the resultant action on the culprits is insignificant. Even some have been rewarded eg. promotion of Salman Khurshid. With the corrupt images of all political parties exposed, who should rule INDIA? The big void has created negative responce on Indian mind. Process of changeover should be gradual, systematic, well planned and transparent.
Posted By: Sanjiv Rana | Greater Noida | November 21st 2012 | 11:11
We are a paper democracy. Here girl gets picked up by police for posting her feeling on Face Book and Vadra gets NOC without any investigation.
Posted By: C.G.MANOHAR | Anupuram | November 20th 2012 | 16:11
When a reporter asked a street hawker in UP as to whom he would vote for, he replied that He is a Yadav and as such he would vote for Mulayam singh as he is also Yadav. ONLY GOD CAN SAVE THIS COUNTRY.
Posted By: Prasanta Sharma | Kolkata | November 20th 2012 | 13:11
Can we use our intelligence to look for solutions rather than to being intelligentsia to figure out others problem. If someone entered into my house forcefully, will I start blaming or start reacting. I agree that each one of us having our own participation as per the society segmentation, but pathetically we have more and more doctors without knowledge of medicine. Man with authorized gun will not use and if a commoner tries to do he becomes a criminal.
Posted By: Manish Nadkar | Kolhapur | November 20th 2012 | 13:11
The article throws up ideas which have been before the country for quite some time. But what the country lacks is a apolitical statutory forum on which such ideas can be aired and circulated for getting response from the citizenry. In absence of such a forum good ideas will not get converted into amendments in the system. As, regards the criticism of current political parties we need to introspect as all the critics stay away from political processes considering it an exercise in futility. The author himself is not a member of any party. I confess I also do not consider joining a political party a sane option. We the members of the middle class have always contributed to the mire by adopting double standards. The article also highlights the double standards of the political parties. These are the same groups who wear idealism and morality on their sleeves but only pay lip service to these moral standards. In the present scenario no way out is apparent as the so called fourth front is already showing signs of high handedness. God help us all.
Posted By: A.D.Pareek | Jaipur | November 20th 2012 | 12:11
In USA the winning and losing candidates assure people to co-operate with the counter part for betterment of the nation and citizenry. Our leaders blame the other parties or leaders. Here those contesting elections after the results blame the other for rigging or misuse of man, muscle and money. Very reluctantly they accept the people's verdict. In thanks speech Romney and Obama praised each other and assured co-operation. In India we can never expect such speeches.
Posted By: Brigadier Ajay Kalia | New Delhi | November 20th 2012 | 11:11
In India majority of the uneducated electorate and substantial part of the educated electorate votes for parties and not individuals. Within parties also caste based politics is rampant. Thus till we as citizens of this Country rise abobe caste and start voting for individuals and not political parties, candidate selection will remain linked to monetary potential of the candidate and he will treat it as an investment to be recouped at the earliest after successful election.
Posted By: AASHEISH | New Delhi | November 19th 2012 | 22:11
The Indian man is not sycophantic like Americans who have a much broaden divide line.
Posted By: Rajendra Goyal | Bharatpur | November 19th 2012 | 18:11
Arindham, you always write wonderfully. The point is - why a person like you is not in politics or on road with Arvind Kejriwal? The bigger question is - why I am not in politics or on road with Arvind. All we the intellectuals have been doing is-educating those whose personal interest dominate any kind of preaching. Those who wish to bring the change they desire, will have to tread the path of Gandhi.Unless we go to our common, uneducated, poor, deprived masses and win their heart and mind to turn them into informed citizen; things will not yield desired results.
Posted By: Navita Dudeja | Khanna | November 19th 2012 | 17:11
Thanks for this article. Actually, I had got a large no. of new and interesting vocab, it's really very helping!
Posted By: Rajiv Kumar Agarwal | Jhansi | November 19th 2012 | 13:11
Today it has become order of the day to criticize Govt. and become famous. No doubt the Govt. has failed in checking the problem but they are also creating the problems. India is not America nor Europe where various castes, religions, regions are always vital irrespective of education. We Bengali, Marathi, South Indian, North Indian factors play their roles in offices and politics. So nothing can be done whosoever comes in politics and no body can eradicate corruption because this bacteria has entered in the blood of all the Indians.
Posted By: Anjan Sarmah | Pune | November 20th 2012 | 13:11
I agree with you. It has become a fad of the urban semi literate who consider themselves the intelligentsia to rant at everything. They fail to take into account the inherent complications in the system unlike perhaps no other country. Add to it the unprecendented times of information democratization.
Posted By: Neeraj | Lucknow | November 18th 2012 | 08:11
I appreciate your thoughts on the subject and agree to your idea of pitting a limit on the top posts but fail to understand how this will affect intra-party democracy. Most parties are family run and their selection can change into election without any fuss. Have a look at the regional parties in the country, which make the scenario absolutely clear.
Posted By: Nimit K Patel | Vadodara | November 17th 2012 | 19:11
Experience is always better than a pointless energy. So Vajpayeeji was old but still his policies for infra, social and many more were great. Because he has worked at ground levels.
Posted By: Ruhi | Bhopal | November 17th 2012 | 00:11
I agree with the point of fair selection according to US Political system, but the question arises - whenever we see any debate on news channels, our so called politicians create fish market over there, they don't want to listen any thing, they just want to put across their point. It is just impossible to have such clean and clear political system in India. Until and unless more of "Kejriwals" decide to enter politics.
Posted By: Baldev raj thukral | Pune,Maharashtra | November 19th 2012 | 22:11
Time is not for away when young and honest people like Kejriwal will take the reins of the political system and make the country so as to be followed by the USA and Europe.
Posted By: SUDHIR BISHT | NEW DELHI | November 20th 2012 | 14:11
Yes of course I agree.
Posted By: Jacob kurian | Navi mumbai | November 23rd 2012 | 09:11
Go ahead

Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017