Lessons on inner-party democracy from US polls

Published: 18th November 2012 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th November 2012 11:32 PM   |  A+A-

In India, the top brass of scam-stained parties can get away easily with it all, because even today, there is a dearth of intra-party democracy in almost all political parties. And this occurs because 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 loophole of our Constitution is exploited by almost every 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 Congress, where they pamper the Gandhi family to the extent of shamelessness. Who can forget 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. While Congress’s sycophancy is renowned, BJP is no saint either. The leadership at the top has had their line-up loyalists who have been tolerated, nurtured and profited by their respective leaders. And similar is the case with almost all other parties.

This is in sharp contrast to the US political system, where, in a transparent manner, the presidential candidates are elected by the electorate based on their policies, agenda and brinkmanship. The three nationally televised debates between Obama and Romney shaped the final public perception towards them; and such debates are indubitably the most democratic method of laying one’s claim towards presidency. Comprehending the importance of party-transparency, even 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 decade. Similarly, the electoral process is quite transparent in Europe, with corruption and scams even lower than those in the US.

But 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 towards working for the public. Too much power in the hands of one or two individuals can and has upset the balance of power in India and set the ball rolling towards the Great Indian Loot. 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) and most East European nations too—have enforced tenure limits in their respective constitutions.

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 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 Obama who infused fresh verve into the social, economic and political system of the US with their respective doses of great leadership. For a nation to steer towards real democracy, this dichotomy of incubating a non-democratic party setup in a democratic system must be constitutionally erased. Or else, the electorate of the nation would keep electing parties, and not visionaries.

Chaudhuri is a management guru and honorary director of IIPM think tank

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