ON POLITICAL PARTIES AND
When the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) was appointed by the Prime Minister Sri A. B. Vajpayee, a genuine hope was generated in the country that the Commission would come up with some radical recommendations, which when implemented, would give rise to a new polity in our country that would be conducive not only to good governance but also to provide a better framework to realise great aspirations that were manifested during the Freedom Struggle. Our Nationalist Movement had envisaged free India to evolve, not an imitative polity, but a polity that would reconcile the needs of individual freedom and national integration; and national prosperity that would benefit all citizens of the country equitably. That the Westminster model of party system and governance is not suitable to India was acknowledged, and even though this acknowledgement is being reiterated, no
radical propositions have been effectively proposed or effectively considered.
It is regrettable but true that NCRWC has failed to sustain the hope that its birth had aroused, and the recommendations that it made, particularly regarding the party systems and electoral processes, are not radical enough, and one feels that the country has missed one great opportunity.
The Westminster model of elections had justification at the time when it grew up in the United Kingdom, since it presupposed for its success a two major party system. That model also presupposed smaller constituencies where interaction with the people could be more close and much more informed. In India, we have complex pluralistic society; some political parties have a vested interest in perpetuating narrower and narrowing loyalties. In such a situation, we need to develop a system whereby a casteless and classless society could be impelled in its growth and development. A very important suggestion that had come up before the NCRWC; but it did not unfortunately receive that kind of support that it deserved. The
proposal was to create a system of runoff context electing the representative winning on the basis of 50 percent plus one vote polled, as against the first-past-the-post system. The NCRWC had an excellent opportunity to insist on the creation of this new system, considering the fact that this would oblige every candidate to seek the support from his or her constituency of a much larger section than what is now enjoyed by a political party. This would have obliged every candidate to transcend narrower interests and narrow ideologies or narrow caste affiliations. Every candidate would have been required to serve wider purposes of national goals, and this would have enabled our polity to grow into an ideal system of equity, justice and service of the larger and larger sections of the society.
What the Commission did was simply to recognise the beneficial potential of the proposed new system, and instead of examining the issue in all its aspects; it recommended that it should be examined by the Government and the Election Commission of India. This recommendation is disappointing. If this proposal requires consultation with various political parties, it would have been done more impartially by the
Commission itself. Can we sincerely believe that this proposition would have received the attention of the Government and the Election Commission of India in an atmosphere of impartiality which was available to the Commission?
Many other recommendations of the NCRWC in regard to the electoral processes and political parties are important, but, even if they are implemented, they are not likely to lead the country forward to the creation of an innovative system that can save us from imitativeness. Even then, it should be said that several recommendations need to be highlighted and we should press for their adoption and even for their legislative support, wherever necessary.
For example, the provision for a foolproof voter ID card needs to be implemented without delay. The recommendations, which have been made in regard to the disqualification for contesting elections, seem to be well formulated, and they should be rigorously followed up by the amendments in the Representation of the People Act. Similarly, the recommendations that should govern the
individual candidates in regard to the declaration of assets and liabilities should also be enforced. The question of State funding of elections appears to have received close examination at the hands of the Commission, but it is somewhat disappointing that the Commission has advised that the proposal for State funding be deferred till some regulatory funding recommendations are formulated.
The subject of defection also received attention in the Report of the NCRWC. In particular, in the recommendation made in para 4.18.2 deserves to be implemented without delay. For it suggests an amendment to the 10th Schedule of the Constitution so as to provide that all persons defecting – whether individually or in groups – from the party or the alliance of parties, on whose tickets they had been elected, must resign from their Parliamentary or Assembly seat and must contest fresh election. It is true that the 91st Amendment takes away the protection that was provided to groups defection on the ground of party’s splits and one third members of the party defection. But the other group defection under the merger clause still continues to be protected under the amended law. This means
that if a group of two third of the members of the legislative party decide to defect to topple a Government, for whatever lure of benefits, they can be saved from disqualification by claiming to have decided to merge their party with some other party. It is hoped that the 91st Constitutional Amendment will be further amended so that what has been recommended by the Commission is laid down unambiguously without any provisos and exceptions.
Much thought requires to be paid to the question of political parties in our country and the way in which they are conducting their own affairs. What has been suggested by the Commission under paras 4.13 is all very good, and it is hoped that the relevant recommendations will be enforced through a comprehensive law with the aim of regulating the registration and functioning of political parties or alliances of parties. Similarly, the recommendations made under paras 4.35 and 4.36 in regard to the contributions received by political parties towards election expenses should also be implemented through a comprehensive legislation.
But the important question is whether
these measures are sufficient to move towards party-less polity which was wisely advocated at one time by some eminent leaders of our country. It may be argued that political groupings are inevitable, wherever there is freedom of thought and expression. Indeed, this argument can be readily conceded, but the question is whether the relationship among the political parties should necessarily be that of opposition and confrontation. At a deeper level, the question is as to whether a new ethos can be created in the country so that political parties can collaborate among themselves for achieving national goals. It is, for example, observed that honest and capable legislators are to be found in all political parties which differ from each other. Should there not be, therefore, a custom or practice that would permit or encourage recognition of all such individuals who combine both honesty and efficiency to participate in the Government? It seems essential that measures should be evolved in our country to enable Prime Minister/Chief Ministers to admit in the Council of Ministers individual of merits, instead of on the basis of affiliation to the ruling party.
Closely connected with this question is the idea of finding a place in the Parliament for individuals, who do not nurse any particular constituency through political means, but nurse the entire country through their professional and meritorious services to the country as a whole. Experience shows that such individuals can hardly find a place in the Parliament under the existing procedure of election and electoral processes, where apart from anything else; the contestants require a huge amount of money for a successful electoral contest. How to bring those who are devoted to the nation as a whole and yet are not in the political field into the Parliament and even in positions of ministerial responsibilities? It may be urged that this matter deserves serious consideration by all those who are devoted, not to party politics, but to the promotion of the nation as a whole.