Political parties are not private properties
Election Commission must supervise the party elections
The recent “re-election” of Sonia Gandhi as the President of the Congress party was much elaborately reported in the press. Print media played up the issue ,it seemed to demonstrate how the power structure, the sociology of power, is shaping the perceptions of those in power and the perceptions of those who are participants and the beneficiaries in the `spoils’ of power. A leading conservative newspaper of the South carried, as if on cue, an edit-page six column length article on the assumption it is “statecraft” with the very same caption!
May be it is great statecraft, as the newspaper like to state it. But for those who are political insiders and also the outsiders cant but see that this is a great deception game sought to camaouflage the farce of a near dictatorship of peace time politics in an open democracy like India.
Though there were enough fun in the article in between the lines that the “election” was a caricature. The “election” was a less than perfect exercise among the mass of workers who otherwise are time servers and fortune seekers in the on-going politics of favours dispensation and favours seekers. The “leader” was again caricatured, as it was in fact an extension of the reality on the ground. There exists the arrangement, perfectly among those whose consent is not sought or rather the consent is taken for granted and thus the whole exercise of election is an internal activity, as if the party is a private property and no one has any business to question the morality or the legitimacy. Now, is the modern day political party or parties in a modern day democracy private affairs? Political parties are private properties of individuals? Or, as one should legitimately ask: are not the modern day political parties are public institutions?
After all, the party or parties which win in a general election or after a general election is finished when the parties gather to submit as list of the supporters for a leader declare their intentions the electors and the general public expect those parties who would form the government they would reasonably choose the right persons for the right jobs? If these assumptions have some moral and political reasonableness then, what we have got from the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, there are serious undemocratic outcomes. First, the parties gave in writing to support Sonia Gandhi as the Prime Minister. There were also parties who are now in the government, that gave letters that made it clear they were not supporting a foreigner as the Prime Minister. For instance, the DMK, one of the dominant allies stated, as per newspaper reports that they wont support a foreigner as Prime Minister. Also, the DMK said that in case the government is formed, as it did under the nomination of Dr.Manmohan Singh, they would remain outside and support the government. However, after persuasion, the DMK chose to join the government as some other parties.
The point is that it is a matter of public concern and immense public interest for the people to know why Sonia Gandhi was not invited by the President of India to form the government. There are so many versions by so many and one day the real truth might be exposed. So, also, why some parties first hesitated and then negotiated for particular portfolios and much more serious question is: why some defeated persons were chosen by the “Prime Minister” and given weighty portfolios?
Sonia Gandhi has been President of the Congress party since March 1998. Was she elected or selected. Nominated or taken over? As everyone knows she was brought in replacing Sitaram Kesri who himself found himself put in that place by a sort a combination of consensus and conspiracy.
Congress party ‘s internal party affairs, ever since Mrs.Indira Gandhi split the party in 1969, had been an undemocratic and even autocratic affair! There is always an outward consensus and an inward, secret conspiracy. This mechanism is subtly carried out by cultivating, rather carefully, by a coterie, family loyalties and retainers and of course a rich crop of fortune seekers who come and go, as the opportunities emerge and opportunities denied! Thus, one can see in the present party hierarchy old face fade out, migrate to government and new faces crop up. On the whole those who are now close to Mrs.Sonia Gandhi had come from many parties, after seeking pastures themselves at one time or other. Two or three names come at once. Mrs.Ambika Sonia herself had been once with Sharad Pawar’s NCP. Even the most consistent family loyalist Mani Shankar Ayer himself once migrated to Mamatha Banerji and then came back. Even the brightest of the lot ,P.Chidambaram floated his own outfit and became a minister and only afterwards ,still not made clear position of wounding up his outfit and again not clear whether he had joined Mrs.Gandhi, not openly her party!
The point is that political parties in India, may be elsewhere too attract and repel politically minded persons for various reasons.
The growing undemocratic structures of the political parties in India is not peculiar to the Congress alone. The CPI(M) party is now said to possess worth Rs.4,000 crores, as revealed by ET and P.Chidambaram himself. This no secret for those who know the ‘business’ enterprises of the Kerala CPI(M) which runs a popular TV channel besides planning amusement parks etc.! As for other parties. The Dravidian parties stand up as models of all play-acting. The DMK is the richest, ADMK follows, so too other casteist older and newer parties there. Mayawati is known for her assets and so too Mulayam’s party. The point is that the time is ripe for a thorough new study and remedial action to introduce some inner party democracy, by identifying the membership drives, also funds raising drives and the public accountability for the constitution and functioning of parties.
Just now I was reading through the new introduction written by Sunil Khilani, the political scientist who had written a new introduction to Nehru’s old book, A Bunch of Old Letters. It brings out clearly how in the pre Independence days the Congress leaders were evolving, often disagreeing on ideological formulations and at the same time agreeing to work together in the party. Gandhi-Nehru had vehemently disagreed on fundamental principles. On political beliefs, economics and much else. Nehru and Jinnah also agreed and also disagreed. With Ambedkhar there was fierce arguments between Gandhi and the leader and also between Nehru and Baba Shaheb. Between Nehru and Netaji, there were open, even personal attacks. Congress party was a great party. Today, the political parties have become one person parties and there is much corruption, personal corruption, there is a crisis of character.
Even in the West, in mature democracies, there are internal issues for parties. In the USA, the funds raising is a big legal issue. One has to make elaborate accounting for raising funds, the sources of funds. In the UK, the Conservatives and the Labour have such media scrutiny and exposure. Politicians in the UK cant live in peace for any time, there is always the danger of media exposure.
In France too the media exposure, the sources of party funs could cost leader. Even the great Chirac is faced with this problem! In Germany, the Social Democratic party, a great party with a great pedigeree, is now faced with a possible defeat because of the victory of the Christian Democratic party.
The point that even within India, Sonia Gandhi shouldn’t become complacent with her re-election. She has a great moral responsibility to conduct the party affairs with a sense of openness and much transparency. The lessons from the past are so fresh! With all her great capabilities, Mrs.Indira Gandhi couldn’t save her family from disasters. Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Mrs.Gandhi herself had to pay heavy prices for remaining in politics. Yes, the rather cheap talk of building a family dynasty is altogether out of place in a mature democracy in India. The challenges for the next generation leaders would be more, rather less. So, let the young Rahul Gandhi learn to go about cautiously and let no one encourage him to rush where angels fear to tread.
The point is that the Congress party must have a strong elective element built into its working for everybody’s good! The charae of constituting the CWC, Parliamentary Party and the Parliamentary Board all be done with a degree of legitimacy. Otherwise, the natural forces would operate. See Karunakaran’s revolt in Kerala. Earlier the revolt of Sharad Pawar. Also in every state now there is pentup forces of great frustration within the Congress circles and also outside about the Congress oppressive cosy arrangements.
Lalu Prasad Yadav and Karunanidhi are adventurers and opportunists and such people will always be there in any politics. But major parties and some minor, small parties can be ideologically cohesive. Chandrababu Naidu and Deve Gowda are the new examples, the JD(U) and even some Left outfits could set standards of public conduct and also might steal the major agenda from the Congress. The BJP, with all its present internal turmoils, is still a well-knit, ideologically driven party an could pose a real challenge to the now ideologically unclear Congress. It is not ideology alone. It is personalities too matter. So, one should be prepared that new personalities could emerge on the political horizon and challenge the lacklusture faces! The Congress party doesn’t belong to the present crop of time servers! There could be older families that might feel constrained to throw challenges. Dark horses in politics is always there. So, do miracles also occur in politics!
These are not internal matters for a political party or parties. Also, the illegitimacy of defeated persons getting nominated as weighty ministers is not simply a vague, in reality a bogus, exercise of the Prime Minister’s prerogative. The Prime Minister’s propagative is a weighty Constitutional right and duty and one can seriously argue in any public forum, why even in future in a court of law, whether the PM’s prerogative is exercised by the application of the mind on the part of the Prime Minister or is it exercised by some “extra-Constitutional” authority?
These questions would agitate any thinking mind and I am sure it does agitate quite a few minds, now or likely in the future.
Now, can’t we say: a political party is a public institution? Yes it is. If so, then there is a need for defining some norms or codes by which the political parties must function, from the day of its registration with the EC. After all the EC’s registration itself defines the basic norms. Once the norms are adhered then it follows the functioning of the parties need further refinements, more and more in the emerging context of much irregularities, violence, illegalities of all kinds in elections, collection and spending of party funds and also the entry of large number of undesirable candidates with lots of criminal records.
The very fact the EC had suggested for new legislation to regulate the conduct of general elections, it is also imperative we examine the need for regulating the conduct of party elections with some degree of legitimacy for “elective” features. As it is ,political parties remain outside the legal scrutiny. Only the EC has some, still not defined fully, leverage over the parties and this needs much more clarification. There is a need for transparent mechanism that doesn’t offend the democratic sentiments. The sources of the funds of political parties are also becoming questionable more and more. The recent elections showed in a way, some leading industrial houses were openly funding parties and individuals and now there is even some suspicion that the budget making is attuned to cater to the demands of some corporate houses. With all its noises of the current budget over this or that tax, there is a distinctive uneasiness that this is the first time a budget is too long in public memory for so many irritants.
The very efficiency of the functioning of the present Cabinet is reflective of the faulty selection of individuals who were first defeated in the open elections, secondly, they are seen as being there not for their demonstratable qualifications but for their loyalty to the leader. How far they are loyal or remain loyal when the chips are down is another matter!
Much more damaging to the polity is the conduct of other regional parties. Some as in UP, Bihar and TN, to cite a few examples, are run like family properties. The funds are generated by a wide variety of methods, some openly questionable, funds are diverted to business activities, some are used or misused to openly bribe the rivals, bribe the rival media etc. The sort of brain-washing now indulged by the paid media scribes need to be investigated by a new Press Commission! The TV channels in some languages are run against the norms of public interest. Rival channels owned by rival political parties effectively have shut the opportunities for neutral, public interest broadcasting.
One of the undesirable outcome of the political parties going unsupervised by a neutral body like the EC is the choice of candidates is effectively made by the party supremo who is a dictator for all purposes, He or she chooses plain goondas and minor film actors or plainly corrupt elements who would be duds in Parliament. One reason why Parliament lately had become a very uninteresting unproductive body is the fact that most members haven’t really fought an election. It was favours from their party supremos. So, they come to Delhi with no definite purposes. The very fact the current deterioration had made Parliament largely ineffective had contributed to a multiplicity of problems. Many things a Parliament could do is left to the Supreme Court. Many things government resolve is left unresolved. In sum, the very office of the Prime Minister today stands devalued. Devalued grievously. The implications for this outcome, for this process is going to be a heavy price we, the electors, pay. One critical element for this outcome is the wayward manner in which political parties conduct their affairs.
Now, the Congress party under the dictator-type supremo has other hierarchies. The CWC has 24 members of which 12 are said to be elected members. In fact ,they are not. Sonia Gandhi owe it to the nation that she at least bring back some semblance of an internal democracy. Let her own the party for all practical purposes, let her have her own son into the hierarchy. All that is forgiven for the present. But as head of the oldest party she has some duty towards the country. The party even under Mahatma Gandhi had a semblance of election. Till Mrs.Indira Gandhi declared the internal emergency. The party had some shape. It was only after the defeat of the party in the hands of the Janata party the Congress party became obsessively dictatorial and the Congress party in the states became totally ineffective. Now, we see in UP and TN, again the party is going to have the nomination process. This would further make the respective PCCs totally irrelevant and would only contribute to the rise of more undesirable elements from other parties. One Lalu is an indication of how far the parties can deteriorate.
Now, the EC has to do something. I am not aware what the Constitution amendment commission set up under the Vajpayee regime says on the issue of political parties. The Constitution doesn’t say anything. Now, the rise of too many caste based parties, too many extremist parties etc. make the exercise of a supervisory mechanism a worthwhile pursuit.