India is voting in a new leader. Wait, India is voting in a new party. Well, India is voting in new governance. No, wait, India is voting out the wrong party and voting in the right leader. That doesn’t make any sense. India is voting out the wrong party and voting in the right party. That doesn’t make sense either. Well, what is India voting in actually? Who do we want to see at the epicenter of our political network? Are we rooting for a party or for an individual? Are the party and individual the same? Are they synonymous? Are they emanations of each other? Do they span the entire gamut from the grass root level to the apex? Am I as a voter expecting things to change for me in my street and neighborhood first, and then for the change to spiral up to the country, or am I expecting changes to begin at the country level and then percolate down to me? Is the future premier of this country seamlessly connected to me via a chain of leaders that all speak in a unified, mature, and comprehensible language that I, as the commoner at the bottom-most rung of the ladder, can identify with and derive hope from?
If these are not questions that we have answers for, then there is something amiss about the institution of parliamentary democracy in our country, and we are remiss in defining the political fabric in our country and in going about electing the right candidate that could show us the way.
A problem that everyone knows and grapples with during elections is the fact that we either like someone at the top and are forced to elect nincompoops and comprehensive misfits in the intermediate hierarchies, or the other way round, where we know that the candidate at the grass root level (from my neighborhood for instance) is terrific, but the party that he or she represents is terrible, and the party’s projected prime ministerial candidate is hopeless. Another problem, and a really substantial one that generally never gets talked about, is that we don’t get to elect the hierarchy; we only elect the leader. But the hierarchy is decided by the party and not by the leader (maybe the leader makes recommendations). This then raises another pertinent question: What is the proximity between the leader and the populace? When the leader makes decisions, how much of the pulse of the people has he or she felt? What is the visibility that the leader has to the common man’s problems? What is the guarantee that the brain at the top and the limbs at the bottom are in consonance with each other? When questions like these are not satisfactorily answered, we find a dichotomy where people elect either in favor of local change or in favor of national change, and this divergent branching then leads to lack of majorities both locally and at the centre. Parties then go about negotiating and settling alliances, which again is a defeat of the common man’s intentions: I might vote for party A, but party A would then form an alliance with party X, which might not be palatable to me, but there is nothing I can do about it because I was only allowed to elect leader Z from party A. These are some serious concerns with the electoral and parliamentary system in our country.
Consider the government system of France. The people elect a president, who then makes executive decisions in consultation with his council of ministers. He first selects a prime minister, who then co-opts other members to be a part of the council of ministers. The other ministers are not unilaterally elected by the prime minister, but rather in consultation with the president. The extent to which the president and prime minister collaborate in selecting the council of ministers depends upon the good judgment of the president in selecting the prime minister, which in turn depends on the good judgment of the people in electing the president. So, this forms a nice chain of responsibility pattern that starts with the people and mirrors the people’s hopes and psyche in principle. The president is also the executive chief of all the armed forces. Come to think of it, are there not some parallels between this system and the ancient emperor/king system in India? The king was the monarch (supposed to be a benevolent dictator – but sometimes was a ruthless one – freaks can’t be avoided sometimes), and he appointed the prime minister, who carefully chose other ministers and military leaders, often in consultation with the king. The king had the final say in affairs, but almost always, the responsibility of making evaluations and informed recommendations often devolved upon the prime minister and the other members of the council. The king was not allowed to have unquestioned autocracy, as there were always wise men in his council to reign in arrogance, ignorance, injustice, or malfeasance on the king’s part. The king was not probably elected by the people, unlike the case of the president who is born out of adult suffrage, but if you remove this element of modern democracy (which distinguishes monarchy from presidential democracy) from the king system, they almost mirror each other in the tenets (maybe not in the implementation details).
This concept of choosing a leader and trusting him to select the right people for the job has been a part of the Indian psyche for ages. The system of parliamentary democracy was alien to this land, and was introduced by the British for administration, not for governance. I think there is a big difference in the two mindsets. I am by no means an expert in polity to be pontificating on what should be followed in India, but I do think that the India psyche is more in tune with electing an executive leader and letting the leader evolve a governance system that suits our needs, rather than having to take a circuitous route of voting in a party and then hoping that the party would be prudent enough to nominate the ideal candidate for the prime minister’s job. Of course, the party system was introduced keeping in mind the vast diversity in this country in terms of attitudes, cultures, languages, aspirations etc, but then going by those parameters, India should not have been one country, but rather a confederation of individual states, separate countries. We chose to be one country, but our regional identities needed to have sufficient representation under the umbrella, due to which regional parties that bore affiliations to bigger national parties were born. However, many times, we see a non-reciprocal interest flowing out from the national parties to the local ones, and so, there is unequal priority distribution among the states, which leads to unrest, and in worst case, secession. Choosing a leader and having a solid council spread across parties and maybe having representation even outside of parties, like from bureaucracy, industry etc would perhaps be more pragmatic and more inclusive as a viable option to keep things fused together cordially.
Even during our independence struggle, we did have parties, but our inspirations were our leaders – individuals with foresight, resilience, who carried with them the people’s aspirations and confidence, and who could exhort people to unite in a momentous cause, casting aside their prejudices and the differences in religion, regionalism, race, and color. People did not line up like sheep behind Gandhi or Jinnah because they were from some specific parties, but because these gentlemen connected with people in some way and their magnetism swayed the people. Of course, it is debatable whether these leaders did more good or more damage, but it has been proven historically that parties have no identity without resplendent individuals, and individuals do not have to seek affiliations to parties in order to articulate their ideals and visions. A group of like-minded people united in a common cause like upliftment of the masses or progress of the country do not have to be members of any particular party; they could be part of a governing council that is elastic and ductile enough to improvise and govern, depending upon the times and circumstances.
What we have today is a conglomeration of parties that themselves exist either due to history or due to factionalism, and these parties have scores of members and workers who don’t even have the bare minimum qualifications to be involved in politics. Over a period of time, some of these members become ministers at the state or nation level, and there is nothing that stops of questions them. Not the ombudsman or the electoral commissions, who, as of today, either don’t exist, or don’t have that kind of questioning authority. The philosophy and implementation within parties too have become incongruous and internecine. We see this conflict in the current elections too, where leaders defy party orders and speak in unrelated tangents or blatant opposites, where party members fight for leadership posts in public, where the public statements given by party members and the party’s manifesto contravene each other, and where parties spend more time finding faults with other parties than articulating what their own plans are. In between all of this chaos, the common man (you and I) is looking at promising individuals and going ‘I really like this guy, but I am not so sure about his party’, or ‘this party is very promising, but why have they nominated that idiot for the prime minister post’, or ‘the party and that guy are both awful crooks’. Individuals matter a lot. Parties are purely incidental. We have both lauded and ridiculed individuals in our political system; we have never really cared about their parties. In fact, even if the praiseworthy individuals were to be part of other parties or be independent, we would give our vote to them for their charisma and their abilities, and not for their affiliations.
Hence, I think we should dream of a more participative democracy where we elect leaders individually based on their experience and the solidity of their stature. After all, governments have to be elected and they have to run based on trust. I would trust an individual more than a clique. We should together design a system where the people and the leaders work together like an interwoven fabric, and this can only happen if the people and the leadership are directly talking to each other without other levels of abstraction in between. We often ask for changes in constitution in this country. Won’t this be a good candidate for it?
I may or may not be right in my thoughts. I follow the thoughts of Sri Aurobindo, and I see him as a personage of immense foresight and acumen. I find relevance and currency in his political thoughts and have expressed them in my own way here. I normally do not ask for my posts to be chained or forwarded, but if you have read this and found this to have at least a smattering of political sense, please do forward it to people and ask them to read. Not for what I wrote, but for where we are and where we can get. Thank you.