Our political culture has reached its nadir. What is worse, no one feels any compunction about it. It is treated as a usual occurrence of no concern. Apart from the corruption and criminalisation of political life, we are today treated to open defections of elected representatives for pelf and power, a phenomenon which combines blatant corruption, moral depravity, lack of character, unprincipled public and private conduct, open defiance of the electorate and poses a challenge to our democratic political system. It is also acclaimed as the “Chanakya Neeti” in some quarters.
The herding of elected representatives in some resort in order to protect them against poaching is yet another contribution we have made to democracy.
The evil practice which started in this country some years ago was ridiculed as “aya Ram and gaya Ram” and had aroused the conscience of the people and Parliament, leading to the enactment of the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution in 1985. The enactment, among others, made two important provisions. One was that unless there is a split in a political party and at least one-third of the members in the party in the legislature constitute a separate group, the defecting members will be disqualified from the House. The second was that for a merger with another party or to form a new political party, at least two-thirds of the members of the party were necessary. The Tenth Schedule was later amended in 2004 to omit paragraph 3 dealing with the split. The Tenth Schedule, no doubt was enacted to deal with the malpractice of defection. However, it has now led to mass defections, the remedy proving to be worse than the disease.
Modern states have been compelled to resort to representative democracy because it is no longer possible to have direct democracy of the kind in the Greek city-states because of vast territories and populations. However, the unseen wall created between the people and governance by representatives does not take away the sovereignty of the people. The people elect representatives to govern the state on their behalf. The representatives are, for all political purposes, their agents. Following the emergence of political parties first in the loose form in the second half of the 18th century, at the initiative of Edmund Burke, the English politician, and thereafter systematised between 1882 to 1884 by Charles Powell, the Irish politician, all modern democracies have political parties with particular ideologies, policies and programmes as permanent organisations. In India, The Representation Of The People Act requires that political parties are registered with the Election Commission. It is the parties which nominate candidates for elections, and the contest is largely between the candidates of different parties, with some independent candidates in the ring. People vote for candidates as the nominees of particular parties. The elected candidates are bound by the manifesto and the policy and programme of the party during their tenure. If in the midst of the tenure, they change their views and dissociate from the party, they owe it both to the party and electorate to resign their seats and contest elections afresh. Not to do so is to betray and deprive both the party and the electorate of a representative of their choice. That is against the grain of democracy.
If the present open and free market horse-trading is to be stopped, and our democracy is to be saved from the ridicule of the world, the Tenth Schedule must be amended to require every defector to resign his or her seat and contest elections afresh. This will end the farce to which the elections have been reduced. The electorate is no longer sure that the party and the candidate whom it has voted to office will abide by the mandate. Toppling the governments and nullifying the verdict of the people, because of the lure of individual gains, has become normal practice. It may bring joy to those who are out to destroy democracy, but is a matter of grave concern for those who want to save democracy and the Constitution.
This article first appeared in the print edition on August 12 under the title “Only by the people”. The writer is a former judge of the Supreme Court and former chairman, Press Council of India