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In the name of the family

Parties that have become family fiefs foster corruption and sabotage democracy

Written by Shahid Siddiqui | Published: August 17, 2012 3:57:38 am

Not so long ago,political scientist Rajni Kothari coined the phrase “one-party dominant system” to describe the political reality of that time. It is a sad commentary on our political life that this “one-party dominant system” has evolved into what I would describe as “one-family dominated system”,where the Gandhi family and their close associates call the shots. Unfortunately,this fate is shared by other parties across the political spectrum. They all swear by the name of democracy,but do not respect democratic values in their own backyard. It took a lot of time and energy for someone like former Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan to instill the fear of God in the hearts of political satraps,who till then rigged elections,ruled at their own free will and used caste politics to browbeat the masses into accepting their version of democracy. With the Election Commission asserting its authority after Seshan,things began to improve and we successfully established a good,well-functioning electoral system.

While the first phase of democracy was strengthened by a strong electoral system that ensured independent and transparent elections,we have failed to deliver in the second phase of democratic reform. Our political parties have become more autocratic and family interests took precedence over the larger political interests. Like an inexperienced doctor who administers medicine which treats an illness but causes more undiagnosed and unrelated side effects,the Tenth Schedule controlled defections and brought stability but,at the same time,made it impossible for political leaders and activists to discuss,debate and express their thoughts freely and without fear. It opened the gates for a situation wherein political bosses had a complete iron grip over their parties and the democratic space within parties became more and more constricted. It was no longer possible for political parties to tolerate a young Turk like Chandra Shekhar of the 1960s and the 1970s.

Post Tenth Schedule and post Sonia Gandhi’s entry into politics,regional and smaller parties have become more brazen in their assertion of family dominance in party affairs,such as the DMK,Akali Dal,SP,RJD,NCP,etc. Others,without family dominance,have developed strong authoritarian leadership styles like the BSP of Mayawati,Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee,AIADMK of Jayalalithaa. This authoritarian style of political leadership does not tolerate even a whisper of democratic debate,forget criticism. As a result,intra-party elections have become a sham and all forms of debate within the party have collapsed. The elections within the parties are a hoax of the worst kind,perpetuated by those who have sabotaged the functioning of democracy.

My comments,pointing to the defects and problems of the anti-defection law from a well-respected academic platform,led to my expulsion from the BSP. I was not given the slightest chance to explain myself — and this was,ironically,done by those who swear by the name of the architect of the Indian Constitution,B.R. Ambedkar. Even tall leaders like Jnaneshwar Mishra and Mohan Singh of the Samajwadi Party were in the past made to shut up for expressing any view not to the liking of the Yadav parivar. My expulsion from the SP,for simply interviewing Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for Nai Duniya,which I have been editing for a long time,is symptomatic of this growing intolerance within political parties. The interview conducted by me was one of the most detailed ones given to any newspaper and asked hard-hitting questions. Again,history repeated itself,and like the Mayawati episode,I was once more not given any chance to speak or explain my position.

This issue of corruption is deeply linked to the type of family-oriented politics visible in India today. These undemocratic practices within the organisational setup of political parties are a breeding ground for corruption. It would not be an exaggeration to say that parties often come to power to perpetuate their own form of dynastic rule and to make their family’s future secure. Family members of the political elite know that even if they commit colossal mistakes and indulge in outright corrupt practices,they will never be punished or questioned within their parties,unlike others. Mayawati may take action against the elected representatives of her party,but will not rein in her most trusted lieutenants like Nasimuddin Siddiqui.

This smug attitude of political leaders has only given the impression that parties are turning into personal fiefdoms where family members and close associates live by different rules,shielded from all forms of criticism and cushioned by the backing of the party president. It is time political bosses introduced an open culture of discussion and debate within parties — before it is too late. Better governance cannot come with only Anna Hazare-type solutions. The Anna movement’s focus on Lokpal is only a cosmetic treatment of the disease. The real remedy lies in forcing political parties to democratise themselves so that they can become arenas for healthy debate and discussion. Our political class must focus on this aspect of democracy,otherwise,we will let our hard-earned democracy go down the drain. We will have all the democratic trappings,but the democratic values and ideals will wither away.

The writer,a former Rajya Sabha MP,is editor,‘Nai Duniya’

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