Today, India is at a critical juncture with all socio-economic as well as political ills engulfing the nation from almost all possible directions. Starting from a series of bribery scams that are being exposed, to our plummeting ranks in almost all economic indicators – everything corroborates the hope for the rise of a fourth front (considering the third front still exists and is potent) in the form of Arvind Kejriwal’s political debut with India Against Corruption, along with an emerging coterie of social activists, who are gradually morphing the political landscape and are all collectively reshaping the political couture of the nation.
Without even an iota of apprehension, Kejriwal has been able to create a wave of passion and excitement among common Indians for a probable better political future. Through his campaign against political parties and leaders, he has been instrumental in giving a vent to the pent up anger of the public against the corrupt, inefficient and slothful political outfits. However, the top brass of such parties can get their feet wet and get away with it, because even today, there is a dearth of intra-party democracy in almost all political parties in India. This very opacity guards the elite big bosses of the parties, who thus can never be replaced from their esteemed chairs, which eventually provides an incubation environment to corruption, favouritism and intra-party dictatorship. The most potent example of such perceived bravado is the Indian National Congress’s obsession with the Nehru-Gandhi family, whose grip on the party is absolute. Therefore, despite the Congress party and their allies getting embroiled in one expose’ after another involving multibillion bucks, no eyebrows are raised and no fingers are pointed against its leadership from within. None of the Congress members have ever demanded explanations or enquires for the series of scams. The same is true for almost all political parties, except a few... in fact, except too few – which again is a temporary phenomenon. The dictatorial and dynastic rule of political parties is endemic to India; it is just the baton that gets passed from generation to generation.
The root cause for such a contest of attrition of democracy is that our Constitution does not enforce a structure for inner-party democracy and does not account for the fact that the electorate should have the right to choose the leader of every political party. This very loophole of our Constitution is undermined and exploited by almost every political party, who treat their fiefdom as a new business venture to stash up piles of cash and benefit their personal interest. Consequently, the recruitment and development of party members are not based on competencies but rather on loyalty and lobbying. Read more....

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I was too young then to really remember it all; but I have heard from many people that the mass protests generated by the arrest of Anna Hazare are similar to the uprising called Total Revolution led by the late Jaiprakash Narayan in the early 1970s. In fact, it was the Total Revolution and the chaos that followed – and a historic blunder by Indira Gandhi – that led to the imposition of the Emergency in India in 1975. Many people are comparing today’s situation to the Emergency days.

The people of India are so fed up and so disgusted with corruption and our rotten and corrupt system that the wave of protests we see is hardly surprising. I have often publicly called India not a democracy but a demonocracy where crooked politicians and their criminal cohorts are openly plundering the nation; well aware that a dysfunctional judicial system will allow them to get away. In almost all cases, they have actually got away and have hence acquired the arrogance and swagger of pirates who know they are above and beyond the law. To that extent, the waves of protests, demonstrations, candle lit vigils and passionate slogans that are being witnessed across the nation were inevitable. And there is little doubt that the simplicity and stark clarity of the message being delivered by Anna Hazare has convinced thousands and thousands of Indians that Anna Hazare is a modern day messiah. I still remember the Jantar Mantar fast of April when even I was moved to write very strongly in favour of Anna Hazare and even bring out a special supplement on the power of civil society protests. I still think that there is enormous power and truth in the anti-corruption message that Anna Hazare is delivering.


And yet, I must confess that I do find some things a little disturbing. I know, passions and emotions are running so high at the moment that I run the risk of being vilified as a government stooge if I dare criticize Anna Hazare and his methods (Anyone who has been reading my editorials and columns over the years will, I am sure, laugh at the suggestion that I am a pro-establishment man!) . But just as I have often gone against the tide and slammed the government for many policies and actions, I feel strongly enough about this issue to point out to all passionate and emotionally charged Indians some basic home truths about this controversy.

Across India, people young and old are lambasting the government for being arrogant as well as adamant. Often rightly, they are accusing the government of not even bothering to listen to other viewpoints. There is no doubt that some highly irresponsible and uncalled for statements by senior leaders of the ruling alliance have strengthened this perception and further fuelled anger amongst people already fed up with corruption. And yet, if the government is guilty of being adamant and arrogant, is not Anna Hazare guilty of being the same? Anna Hazare and his supporters accuse the government of being intolerant and insensitive because it is refusing to accept their version of the Lok Pal Bill. But are they not displaying similar intolerance and insensitivity when they routinely brand anyone who expresses doubts about their version of the Lok Pal Bill as a traitor and a stooge? How can Anna and his team declare so confidently that it is only their version of the Lok Pal Bill that is perfect and no one else can say anything critical about it? If the government is hiding behind the fig leaf of a ‘popular mandate’ and the supreme authority of the Parliament, isn’t Team Anna guilty of hiding behind the fig leaf of sanctimoniousness? I fully support the right of Anna and his team to criticize the ham-handed manner in which the government is treating the Lok Pal Bill. But I also fully support the right of any Indian to criticize the draft prepared by Team Anna. Surely, not blindly agreeing to whatever Anna says doesn’t make a traitor out of an Indian? Quite frankly, over the last few months, both the government and Team Anna have been guilty of being intolerant, inflexible and insensitive. So many thousands of Indians are genuinely angry because some Congress leaders have publicly abused Anna and his team and accused them of being corrupt. But what has Team Anna been doing since April, if not publicly abusing the Prime Minister, the Parliament, Indian elections and even Indian democracy? And yes, I do agree that many should be abused in the government; but at the end of the day, there has to be a democratic way to it. It can’t be imposed through the dictatorial will of one group just because they are able to rake up popular frenzy. There is a Constitution; there is a court; there is an elected Parliament, and things have to happen as per its guidelines. Anna must protest. But he can’t be adamant about imposing it. Protests have their own effect and change does happen. But it can’t happen without the support of our Constitution and democratic machinery.

 
 
ONLY THEN WOULD WE KEEP GETTING GOVERNMENTS TRULY FOR THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE AND OF THE PEOPLE

Last December, the state assembly of Gujarat passed a bill to make voting mandatory – that bill is still to see a nod from the Governor. Revisiting the issue, L K Advani and Narendra Modi both recently echoed the viewpoint again and asked the legislation to make voting compulsory in the state, especially after a low turnout rate in the recent civic elections. On an average, the voter turnout rate in Gujarat has been around 50 per cent, while a month back Bihar saw a turnout rate of 43-45 per cent! The recent developments with respect to compulsory voting remind me of an editorial of mine that I wrote way back in 2007 – on allowing voting through SMS! Although I never advocate mandatory voting in a democracy, as that is not logical, what is essential is a larger engagement of the electorate which has been diminishing by the day. In fact, this larger engagement need not be just for a few constituencies, but it should be applicable for the whole nation!

Obviously, there is practically no better way to rationalize the electoral process than by making the electorate wider with a singular objective of universal suffrage. Given the current voter turnout rates that hardly touch a mark of 50 per cent these days, the election results fail to reflect the actual mandate, as a major proportion of the electorate chooses not to exercise their franchise! And the most unfortunate part is that a majority of people who abstain from voting are the youth and the educated class. They feel completely disengaged from the election process on account of the process itself (which till recently was full of rigging and other forms of malpractices), the quality of candidates, and the political system as a whole. But then, what most do not realize is that their not voting not only leads to the selection of an incapable person (who is a criminal 25 per cent of the time) but, for that matter, also questions the duties attached to our fundamental rights. This also reminds me of those horror years when India saw the repercussions of low voters’ turnout rate – where the government lasted for few days to few weeks (twice in 1996 and then in 1998) costing the nation massively! The situation has been so bad that the last 13 general elections have seen an average turnout rate of 59.63 per cent (least being 33 per cent and maximum being 61.97 per cent).

The issue of a larger engagement gets more pertinent as conducting of elections are a huge expense to the nation. As per the official reports, India invested a staggering sum of Rs 100 billion – or Rs 10,000 crore – in the last general elections. A trend analysis on the expenditure over the last 30 years indicates that every year the expenditures on Lok Sabha elections increase by nothing less than 40-45 per cent. Over and above the official expenditure, even the political parties indulge in huge expenditures in their respective campaigns and to lure the voters. In 2004, in the much hyped about ‘India Shining’ campaign, the BJP had frittered over Rs 75-100 crore, while the last election saw Congress and BJP spending more than Rs 250 crore each.

Moreover, the idea of a larger engagement in voting is not discreet but is well present across the world. Countries like Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Fiji, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Nauru, Peru, Singapore, Turkey, Uruguay et al, witness an average of 90-95 per cent voting, thus bringing to power those governments that are truly people’s representatives – all thanks to the systems they practice!

As I wrote back in 2007, along with making voting broadbased, it’s important to make it accessible – more mobile polling booths and voting through mobiles/Internet could assure high turnout. And further, along with this, there should be the final choice that many in India have been fighting for. The choice to vote for ‘None of the above’! Democracy might take a new form then. We might have a result that looks like – ‘Congress’ 24%, ‘BJP’ 24%, ‘Others’ 1% and ‘None of the Above’ 51%! The seats in every Parliament should also be distributed in the ratio of votes polled as it should be in a true democracy. While democracy then will replace the existing DEMON-OCRACY in India, politicians will know that the only way to stay in power is by hard work for the people; and they will start doing that, instead of indulging in criminal activities. And whenever there is a new scam, mobile companies can make some more money by having a snap opinion poll asking voters to comment on whether they still want the government in power. Such opinion polls can’t go wrong, nor can they be debated. 3

We might finally end up getting governments truly for the people, by the people and of the people!


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