Monday, February 9, 2015

For the sake of true democracy

Political parties and the current system of 
representative democracy must undergo reforms

Pankaj Sharma
9 February 2015, New Delhi

It is evident that the political system in our country faces a number of challenges. Political parties have weakened their ideological orientation and commitment to the welfare of the masses. Recent electoral campaigns in different states have shown that power is concentrated within the hands of a few in some parties.  As a result, many are not hesitant about promoting factionalism within their own parties. Many leaders, across the political spectrum, are affected by communalism, caste, community or religious biases, besides possessing close links to criminal elements.

Changing one’s party is endemic to almost all the political organisations. Even those leaders, who’ve benefitted immensely from a certain party, are willing to defect at the drop of a hat. Parties make and break political alliances to maintain their influence within the party and government, with the sole aim of keeping rivals out. Most factional groups posses no ideology and have no vision for the greater good of the people.

Most parties face organisational issues, especially those related to maintenance of discipline, defections, elections within parties, and factions. Raising adequate funds for political parties by legitimate means and their appropriate and effective utilisation during non-election and election season is a perennial concern.  Criminalisation of politics and the maintenance of public ethics is another area of concern with respect to party functioning.

Some areas of reform in the political system should be of immediate concern. Institutionalisation of political parties is one such area. There is a need for a comprehensive legislation to regulate party activities. Less focus on structural and organisational reforms in various parties at national, state and local levels has already done a lot of harm to Indian political system. We must now understand the need for regular inner-party elections, recruitment of party cadres, socialisation, development and training, research and policy planning activities within parties to strengthen intra-party democracy.  Problems’ surrounding funding to political parties is also a serious area of concern and it needs strong legislation. Maintenance of regular accounts and auditing should not be a mere formality. 

Unless these audited accounts are available for public scrutiny, we will not be able to live up to our reputation as the world’s largest democracy.  

Are democratically elected governments the real representatives of our people? Most often, they’re not. Our electoral system has produced a government at the Centre with a clear majority after a quarter of a century, despite the fact that more than two-thirds of India’s voters rejected the ruling party. Isn’t it the time that we gave serious thought about electoral reforms, since they could pave the way for the establishment of a true representative democracy? Do we need to change the system of single member constituencies to a mixed system or proportional method of representation, along with the simple majority system?

There is a strong need to check the criminalisation of political parties and take steps to curb the role of caste and religion. There is also the need to address the problem of the proliferation of independent candidates and strengthen anti-defection measures. Restoration of values and morality in public life is another area that requires remedy. A number of academic and research institutions, political observers and analysts, committees and commissions appointed by the Government of India from time to time have made many proposals to reform the political party system in India. Despite these suggestions, very little progress has been made.

Some proposals, given from time to time, have suggested that our democracy adopt the German model of preferential voting to insure proportionate representation of parties in Parliament. Since most political parties work in tandem with unscrupulous business lobbies and criminal elements or use state power to determine poll outcomes, another proposal has been to check these trends for better governance. Political parties should have bare minimum principles for forming a coalition government rather than forge alliances only to be in government.  Unprincipled political alignments should be discouraged by law, urging political parties to be more homogenous in their endeavour of running a coalition government. Support to any government from the “outside” should be legally barred.  Only a party that possesses at least 25 per cent of seats in the Lower House of Parliament or Assembly should have a chance at forming the government.

Some proposals have also suggested that no government should be removed from office, if those involved in toppling it fail to come out with a clear alternative arrangement. The kind of coalition arrangements that parties make should be clear before they form the government.  Developments so far show that the big parties themselves prefer to play second fiddle to regional and smaller parties, whose immediate interests are determined by ‘regional and parochial’ issues rather than long term national interests. Parties need to strengthen their managerial and crisis management capacity.  If party organisations are better managed and democratised, their efficiency would increase.  More autonomy to all layers and greater inner-party democracy would help circulate leaders on the basis of their qualities.  The criterion of achievement rather than ascription should be accepted by all parties.  Unless these parties are broad based in accommodating all segments of society, they will continue to be status-quoist, exclusivist, regional and sectarian. 

It is true that we live in a world, where politics has replaced philosophy. Ignoring the underlying philosophy of politics, however, might take India to a direction that might prove disastrous. We still have time to collectively give these issues the required focus.

Author is editor and CEO of News Views India

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