PARTY SYSTEM, ELECTIONS AND
In search of good and right governance, various countries have made numerous experiments, as a result of which several forms and structures have come to be built up and served specific purposes, which have possibly provided useful aids with varying degrees of satisfaction. But since three ideals of progress came to be formulated during the French Revolution, namely, those of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, the world has witnessed the rise and development of representative forms of democracy, and it is in this context that party system has grown and developed.
The representative form of democracy got shaped in Great Britain as the parliamentary system on the model of which Indian Parliamentary system has been cast.
The parliamentary system in UK has served well for a long time, and it can be
regarded as a necessary step in the evolution of democracy. For without it the generalised faculty of considering and managing with least possible friction larger problems of politics, administration, economics, and legislation concerning aggregates of people cannot easily be developed. This has also been one of the successful means yet discovered of preventing the State Executive from suppressing the liberties of the individual and the minorities. Nations emerging into the modern form of the society are, therefore, naturally and rightly attracted to this instrument of government.
But it cannot be said that parliamentary democracy with the eventual rise of multiplicity of parties has proved itself to be an ideal form of governance. Moreover, application of the party system in India has thrown up a number of thorny problems for which it is difficult to find appropriate solutions.
There is a great difference between the conditions that obtain in the UK and those which obtain in India. While the population of the UK is limited to seven crore, India has
today a population that has gone beyond one billion. It is easy to conduct elections in the United Kingdom at a short notice of one or two months, if such a necessity arises; in India we can never conduct elections without giving adequate time, even if a quick election is necessitated. The UK has only language, India has numerous languages; UK has one predominant and almost uniformly accepted religion, whereas India is multi-religious; climatic conditions in India are vastly different in different parts of the country, which is not so in the UK. Keeping these and other facts such as level of literacy and of communication and transportation, India should have, after attaining independence, considered the question of evolving a new form of democracy, suitable to the conditions and goals and ideals that we cherish in India. Neglect of these problems has brought about in India an acute crisis, and it is appropriate that, at last now, we should look at this problem closely and obtain mature counsels which are available to us. The recent initiative taken by the Government to set up a Review Committee is a very important step in the right direction.
Speaking of the difficulties of parliamentary democracy in its practice, Sri Aurobindo wrote in his famous book – The Ideal of Human Unity – the following:
“But it has not yet been found possible to combine Parliamentarism and the modern trend towards a more democratic democracy; it has been always an instrument either of a modified aristocratic or of middle class rule. Besides, its method involves an immense waste of time and energy and a confused, swaying and uncertain action that “muddle out” in the end some tolerable result. This method accords ill with the more stringent ideas of efficient government and administration that are now growing in force and necessity and it might be fatal to efficiency in anything so complicated as the government of the affairs of the world. Parliamentarism means too, in practice, the rule and often the tyranny of a majority, even of a very small majority, and the modern mind attaches increasing importance to the rights of minorities. “
We have to be clear that while we are required to invent better methods of conducting democratic governance, we shall
not advocate abridgement of the democratic rights which have already accrued to humanity. What we shall advocate is a search of those means by which democracy can be strengthened into more and more enlightened democratic democracy.
Why is that democratic processes that we have devised so far tend to generate the evils of money-power, muscle-power and several other practices which breed injustice? First of all, we may note that where a large number of people are called upon to work together, there is bound to be formation of groups of individuals. These groups may be divided on differences of ideologies or charisma of individual leaders or of certain specific group interests. Since there are at least two major rival philosophies of social change, capitalism and socialism, two groupings are inevitable in the present circumstances. A third group may try to effect a compromise. In a country like India, individual leaders have played a major role in creating powerful groups centred on themselves, regional groups have also emerged, and there are many other groups which advocate interests of sections of society. As long as these groups are few, ideally too,
the democratic processes are easily manageable. But as soon as the groups multiply, party system begins to degenerate, and various combinations and permutations become possible and even inevitable. We witness in India today multiplicity of parties, which tends towards coalition, which can break down suddenly, causing tremendous anxieties and uncertainties in the country. To save coalition, corrupt means come to be employed and the importance of individuals or groups which are hardly representative of large interests of the people, exercise a decisive role and power.
Parties themselves are often non-democratic in their internal functioning, and even if they are democratic to some extent, party bosses play unjustifiably predominant role.
It is the party bosses who decide as to who should contest the election, and this tends to deprive the people of the right to choose those whom they believe to be their real representatives. People remain strangers to the entire electoral process, excepting that they have a right to cast their vote and choose willy-nilly from among those candidates with whom they have no relationship either of
leadership or even of the acquaintance.
Party tends to choose such candidates who can finance their own elections and who, in their turn, have amassed wealth in various ways, not necessarily legal or honest.
Party system also underlines the theme of opposition rather than that of cooperation. Conflict is thus ingrained in the very system of parties.
It is very well known that success of a party in an election depends upon power of wealth, — considering the immense expenditure that is required to be incurred in the election processes. Parties, therefore, tend to collect money both before the election and after the election, and with a vengeance, if they come to occupy seats of power in the government.
Elections also are rarely free from the process of violence; and great deal of muscle power is employed to win elections. Rigging in elections is also not a rare phenomenon, and rigging implies denial of democratic rights of the people.
This is a very rapid analysis of what is actually happening in India, and it can easily
be seen that what goes on in the name of democracy today is a deplorable comedy or tragedy that impels us to cry out altogether against the party system.
Some of the wise political counsellors have, therefore, advocated in recent times a party-less democracy. Some have advocated formation of national government, in which all parties are invited to be a part of the government. But these counsels have not yet succeeded. A deeper search is, therefore, required.
Ideally, our Constitution should be so designed that only those who combine in their character honesty and capability can occupy the position of governmental power. While most will admit that such should be the ideal, they would think that this ideal is too utopian and they would not even make an effort to enquire into a possibility of a solution in that direction. It is against this background that one would like to make an earnest effort to explore its possibility with seriousness and responsibility.
There are two very attractive suggestions which have emerged during the last few years.
The first set of suggestions relates to the evil of getting elected by minority of votes polled. On account of a large plurality of contestants, votes get so much divided that the winner has to his credit only a minority of votes polled. In other words, the majority of voters have disfavoured the candidate who is declared to have succeeded under the present rules. It is impossible to consider such winners to be representatives of the people.
It has been noted that seventy to eighty percent of all MLAs and Lok Sabha MPs are elected by minority of votes polled. In order to remedy this unacceptable situation, it has been suggested that a candidate, in order to win an election, should obtain of minimum of 50% plus of the votes polled. It has further been suggested that, if so required, the rules should provide for a second round when the contest should be between the two highest polling
candidates of the first round.
This set of suggestion seems to be perfectly justified and it needs to be accepted and implemented.
The second set of suggestions is related to the qualifications that need to be laid down
for contesting an election. At present, the qualification that has been laid down is regarding the minimum age. There are reasonable grounds for not laying down any educational qualifications. But what about qualifications that would relate to experience and record of the past services rendered to the society?
In this connection, it has been suggested that a candidate should have rendered services at the local, district and state level in the capacity of a member of a Panchayat, Zilla Parishad and/or State Assembly for getting qualified to contest in the election for the Lok Sabha. This seems to be a good suggestion, provided that we could also add an alternative of service of at least five years in public services at the national or State level, — governmental or non-governmental.
One may venture to make one more suggestion. This suggestion aims at securing among members of the Lok Sabha such individuals whose constituency is a wide as the whole country and who have attained national recognition for their services to the country, their self-sacrifice and professional
excellence, and who, at the time of nomination, do not belong to any political party.
The related procedure could possibly be conceived as follows:
(i) The total number of members of Parliament should be increased by 20% and this additional number should be reserved for the category of candidates that we are contemplating.
(ii) Every sitting Member of Parliament should have the right to nominate a set of five persons in order of preference on the list of candidates to be considered for the election. This list should remain under preparation during the entire period of a given Lok Sabha.
(iii) After the constitution of the next Lok Sabha, the above list will be placed before the members of that Lok Sabha as also the members of the then Rajya Sabha, and on a fixed day, each member will cast his/her vote in favour of one set of persons in order of preference from among those on the concerned list. Those who secure the
highest number of votes will become members of the Lok Sabha, provided that the number of such members will not exceed one hundred. If the number exceeds one hundred, there will be re-polls for the candidates who have won first preferential votes, until the number of the candidates that win the first preferential votes does not exceed one hundred.
(iv) The members of Lok Sabha under this category shall not join any political party during the tenure of their membership of the Lok Sabha, and they will have no right to vote on any motion of non-confidence, even though caretaker government, if any, will be composed by these members.
It is argued in favour of democracy that only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches, but as against this, it is argued that for making or repairing the shoe one goes to a good shoemaker. Both arguments have their validity, and the above suggestion aims at giving some concrete form to the truth of these arguments.
It is argued that in our country there is no
dearth of capable and efficient people. But many of them do not believe in putting forward themselves in competition where they have to argue that they are better than their competitors in the election, or else, they are prevented from the process of election on account of the current money-power and/or muscle-power, which have become so indispensable at present. The above suggestion aims at meeting this argument.
It is argued that our election is loaded in favour of all kinds of divisive forces to such an extent that we find very few real Indians coming up to occupy seats of power. The above suggestion is expected to meet this argument also.
It will be seen that under this suggestion, which is essentially meritocratic, the spirit is democratic, since those who will prepare the list of candidates will be representatives of the people, and those will vote to select from among them will also be representatives of the people.
We may now turn to the question of defections. Strictly from the moral point of
view, every individual should be free to change one’s point of view and one’s alliance with one group or another. But morality demands that the motive should be genuine and a change should not be opportunistic, and should not be motivated by temptation of power or money.
Voting under a whip of a party can often turn into oppression or even tyranny. It is also a sign that party has turned into a deity, and one of the evils of the party system is that party bosses come to behave like gods and demand allegiance to them and their views instead of to the truth.
It is argued that if one is elected on a party ticket, then deviation from party discipline should have a consequence, viz., resignation of the deviating member from the seat that he/she had won by virtue of the membership of the party. This is a legitimate argument, and it would be indisputable, provided that the differences among parties are strikingly ideological, and thus deviation or defection to another party implies a change in the ideology. But, in the Indian situation, differences among a number of parties are not ideological,
but they indicate differences of some special interest or personalities or a given emphasis. In these circumstances, deviation would be preferential in character rather than principled. And the question is whether the parties have any moral right to determine the personal preferences of their members.
Anti-defection law that has been enacted seems, therefore, morally flawed, and its flaw is greatly marked because it leaves a lot of scope for group defections. The arbitrariness of the law is quite evident.
Everybody in the party system likes and dislikes anti-defection law, depending upon opportunistic circumstances. The result is that in the present situation that obtains in India, defection has resulted in extensive horsetrading and political instability, and splits are deliberately engineered in quest of ministerial offices and the like.
Defection and anti-defection are both thorny; and there does not seem to be any satisfactory solution. Parties have to be strong enough and morally so competent that members freely choose not to defect. Indian
Polity has to develop intrinsic ethical solidarity; there is no other alternative. But, as long as party system continues to operate as it does today, and as long as one has accepted the party ticket to get into the Legislature, the sound rule should be that defection must entail resignation; such should be the anti-defection law, and not the present one which promotes group-defection and horse-trading.
It may be added that one salutary practice that can be recommended is that the Prime Minister should, as a matter of custom, choose in his Cabinet honest and capable colleagues, and not necessarily from his own ruling party or from the ruling coalition.