IS THIS DEMOCRACY?
Past few weeks were marked with many events that demonstrate the ugly side of India's political system. A General Secretary of Congress alleged that party tickets for Karnataka Legislative Assembly elections were sold. Uma Bharti, National President of Bharatiya Jan Shakti, slapped an office bearer of her party in public and later kissed him to calm matters. In Uttar Pradesh, a woman who is well known as a close friend of a top leader was given party nomination for Rajya Sabha. In Bhopal, a close confidante of a top woman leader of BJP was given party ticket for Assembly election ignoring claim of many old-timers.
All the above events show the highhanded manner in which party bosses in India are behaving. They seem to be above all morals and norms. They need to justify their acts to no one. Constitution of India gives them unlimited powers to issue whips and select candidates for elections without placing any obligations on them.
It will not be an exaggeration to say that political parties in India are run like fiefdoms without even a pretension of being democratic. Membership rolls are a joke. Almost all political parties have large number of bogus members that make any election a sham. Party constitutions are decorative documents that are filed with Election Commission to gather dust in the Commission's office. There is no system to ensure implementation of party constitutions. So, in almost all parties, the feudal system of "King's words are the law" is in force.
Just as Kings used to have their coterie of yes-men, their modern avatars (party high commands) have bodies like Executive Committee, Working Committee, Office bearers, Election Committee etc. Insiders know that none of these bodies has any significant power or role in decision making. These august bodies are filled with men and women who specialize in understanding every small whim and fancy of the King (or Queen) and presenting it as their own considered opinion. Anyone who has even an iota of independent thought is considered a threat by the party high command and is thrown out of the durbar as soon as possible. The challenge that durbar men and women face is to quickly realign their thoughts based on changing ideas of the high command. When socialism was the buzzword in Indira Gandhi's times, all Congress men swore by it. When socialism became less fashionable and liberalization / globalization were mouthed by Congress bosses, Congressmen were fast to pick up the new words and dump the old.
But this is not just a peculiarity of Congress alone. A few days ago, I met a RSS pracharak (official, who devotes his life for RSS, working for the organization without marrying) who tried to teach me how Jinnah was the greatest leader of India before independence. Sure enough, this gentleman has got bored of Spartan life of RSS and is hoping to enjoy a life of luxury by getting into BJP. Convincing me about Jinnah's greatness would not have directly got him into the coterie of LK Advani. He was only sharpening his skills. The fact is that sycophancy is not easy and one has to keep practicing every moment and at every opportunity to kill any trace of independent thought from one's head. The process is called in political circles as "becoming a disciplined soldier of the party".
The problem is that even among sycophants or so-called disciplined soldiers, there is huge competition. Every political party, small or big, has people queuing up to please the bosses. If the bosses are pleased, there can be innumerable direct and indirect benefits. Direct benefits are seats of power for oneself or for one's kith and kin. Indirect benefits include rights / ability to bully local police and bureaucracy, thus building up businesses based on crime.
The battle for the benefits is not fought only by sycophants and their relatives. There are many others who pitch in. Women willing to provide sexual favours to climb the political ladder are turning to political parties in droves. Reservation for women in municipal and village bodies along with the talk of reservation for women in legislative assemblies and parliament has helped. If one 'close friend' of a national leader can get into Parliament, state leaders can surely get their concubines into state assemblies or municipal / village bodies. Less influential women are happy to just get small mercies.
Sexual favors and influences is not a prerogative of only women. There are tales in corridors of political parties about rise of some male politicians by obliging political bosses (male) who have a 'different' taste in their bedroom. A state-level official in Madhya Pradesh, who has now risen to national level, was in the habit of visiting a junior political office-bearer's quarter for getting 'massage'. As he progressed through the ranks, his 'massager' has also risen through the hierarchy bagging a nomination to Rajya Sabha and becoming a national level office-bearer.
Sex, sycophancy and relations of blood can get one to climb the political ladder with double-quick speed. But there is another ability that can get one to the top of the ladder. This is the ability to arrange money and to act as middleman worthy of trust in illegal transactions. Every party has its version(s) of Amar Singh and Pramod Mahajan (Late) who help the party bosses coordinate with big money-bags. Of course, someone who comes with cash to throw does not need to act as a broker. Doors of political parties are always open for such moneyed individuals.
Brokers, sexual favour providers, sycophants, money bags and relatives of political bosses / sycophants - this just about sums up the political parties of India today. A few words here about criminals - no political party seeks criminals. It is just that they are not bothered about criminality. As long as other qualities (sycophancy, easy availability of money in hands, command of blindly-obedient team) are ensured, how does it matter if the person has committed a couple of murders and rapes?
Some of the political parties, especially the large ones, do get a handful of suave, polished, smooth-talking, quick witted persons to masquerade as intellectual faces of the party on TV debates. These photogenic faces are often referred to as "think-tank" of the party. Let this not fool anyone. These faces command no power in the internal working of the king's coterie. They are external to the party and contribute only on rare occasions to the party's thought process.
Democracy is supposed to be founded on debate, deliberations and discussions. Can there be debate, deliberations and discussions among political parties who have no intellectuals and are only congregations of sycophants, brokers, sexual favour providers, criminals and their relatives? Democracy is surely not about 'managing elections' and winning elections at all costs. That is fascism. Hitler and Nazis did win elections. Does this make them democratic in any way?
A time has come when we must ask ourselves whether there is a need to disband all political parties. In a democracy, political parties are meant to provide the first forum for discussions and debate. There can be no excuse for permitting the existence of organizations that function as mafia companies. We must also question the powers that political party bosses have under Constitution of India for issuing whips and enforcing them. No other democratic country in the world gives such wide powers to political party bosses.
Let me conclude by quoting a friend. The other day, he told me that if one wanted to pick up a prostitute for a night, the best place is always around the state office of one or the other political party. My friend may have been joking. But if such jokes can even be cracked about our political parties, we need to ask serious questions about our political system. The most important question - Is This Democracy?
13 November 2008
Please write to me your comments about the above article.
ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer (and now a lawyer too) by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.
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