Over the last sixty years, India has reduced the scope and definition of democracy to such an extent that it has now become synonymous only with general elections held every five years. Most Indians, when asked what democracy is, would now quickly respond, ‘elections’. Elections, held every five years, have therefore become the only event when the common man of India gets to feel that he plays some role in forming the government. He feels empowered only on that day, and that day alone. Once that day passes, the common man is forgotten, and he doesn’t figure in the later workings of the government. The elected leaders become the rulers, who are in turn ruled by their party bosses.
The common malaise of Indian political system is that the elected leaders are not accountable to the common man. They shun him. They refuse to meet him. They refuse to mingle with them. They refuse to consider his participation. Many elected leaders in India do not have offices in their constituencies. Instead they live and reside in the capital city close to the party bosses, showing their true allegiance.
This has led to an extremely grotesque give-and-take equation between the politician and the common man. Though thoroughly disillusioned with the way the elected leader treats him, the common man waits for election-day to exact his price in return. Before the elections, the candidates form a beeline to impress upon the common man to cast his vote in their favor. They shower him with gifts, like TV sets or gold rings, treat him like a king giving him liquor, and bribe them with loads of cash. This is the only day when the common man gets anything for his participation in Indian democracy. He is all ready to milk the politician. Therefore, we have an unsettling understanding between the ruler and the common man. The politician gets to ignore common man and do what he wants for five years and earn as much as possible through hook-and-crook methods, while the common man waits every five years to get his share of the loot.
No wonder, there is no faith in Indian democracy. Some urban educated Indians go the extra length to aver that India should abandon democracy and instead invite a benevolent dictator to set the system right. Other section of Indians believes that corruption is the root cause of all problems; and therefore has taken up kludges to root it out of Indian system.
An elected leader is supposed to become accountable to the people in a democracy, and yet that doesn’t seem to happen in Indian democracy. Why is it so? Though the common man gets the right to cast his vote, he has no role to play in selecting the candidate. Therefore, he is given an array of political parties whose candidates are chosen by the party bosses. All these candidates are selected only because they have expressed their loyalty to the party boss, and because they have shown the capability to contribute loads of money to the party fund. When the candidate wins, he is thankful to the party boss, not the people who elected him. If he continues to win the trust of the party boss, he knows that he will have his way in the current term, and more importantly, he will be given the party ticket for the next elections. The party bosses expect only two things, loyalty and funds. They expect the candidate to touch their feet, show extreme devotion, and of course earn lots of money to contribute to the party fund.
In the whole set of equations, there is no requirement for the candidate to show any accountability towards the people of his constituency. Getting the ticket is more important because the political party is far more important than the candidate. While the candidates come and go, and show no clout to actually do anything for the constituency, it is the political party which is permanent. Therefore, people of India have come to equate general elections as a contest of political parties and not a contest of candidates. Many Indians do not know who the candidate is. They just know the symbol of the political party and they cast their vote. Therefore, the party boss becomes supreme in Indian democracy, even if he doesn’t contest the elections.
People have no way of expressing their desire to choose the candidate of their choice to be represented by their favorite political party. If indeed their approval for a particular candidate is very high, that candidate could only become an independent candidate. But the history of Indian democracy shows that independents have no clout unless the government formation is hung due to coalition politics. Even then, the independent rides the wave of importance only for few days after which he is absorbed into a political party.
Therefore, it is clear that a party may field a candidate who is not the most desired by the people of that constituency. Now, the people are in a dilemma, should they reject a party just because of the candidate? Most often, they choose the party because only the parties seem to have some kind of power in the legislative bodies – either as ruling party or opposition party. Political parties tend to become powerful entities in running a democracy.
Though India is a democracy, its political parties are not. Their party membership, their election of leaders, and selection of candidates is not transparent and not democratic. How can a nation become democratic when its political parties are not democratic in its composition?
How can a political party which is not democratic in its composition and election be entrusted to run a democracy? It is easily conceivable and almost natural that without enforcing internal democracy within the political parties, the leaders who win the elections democratically can run the government and the country autocratically.
Right now there is no method or means to elect the candidate democratically to represent a constituency. Instead, the candidates are appointed by the party boss thereby completely diluting the very means by which democracy can be established in a country.
Indian political parties are the key reason that completely negates the benefits of a democracy. The fact that people have no choice in selecting the candidate of their choice completely undermines the spirit of democracy.
By not enforcing internal democracy within the political parties, we have paid a big price. Today most of the ills of our country can be explained through the lack of internal party democracy. Unless we enforce intra-party democracy, our political system will continue to be the same where the common man has no role to play.