apart, we have an unusual combination of a President and
a Prime Minister in Dr Abdul Kalam and Dr Manmohan Singh.
Both are immensely popular and highly respected. Their competence,
commitment and integrity make them universally acceptable.
What is more, both are not seen as politicians by most citizens,
and this enhances their appeal immensely! That not being
a politician is a great qualification is an unmistakable
sign of the crisis of legitimacy afflicting our democracy.
more worrisome is the fact that neither the President nor
the Prime Minister is 'electable' in our political system!
President Kalam never contested for legislative office,
and Dr Manmohan Singh lost from one of India's most sophisticated
and wealthy constituencies the one time he contested. This
is no reflection on them; it is a sad commentary on a perverted
electoral system and political process in which the most
widely respected, acceptable and decent citizens cannot
survive. Clearly, something is seriously wrong.
there are several competent and honest people elected to
the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. But there are many more
such immensely suitable persons who do not stand a chance
in our electoral process which in general favours a Taslimuddin
over a Manmohan Singh. Happily, there are a few young and
competent persons elected to the Lok Sabha. But if truth
be told, most of them are there because of their pedigree,
not proven competence. True, pedigree is no disqualification
in politics. Nor is wealth. But if pedigree and money power
become the chief qualifications, then democracy is derailed.
And if criminality and muscle power are regarded as positive
attributes in politics, then alarm bells should ring. Let
us face it - these distortions make us all feel uncomfortable,
no matter which party or combine is in power.
the state level, politics is even murkier. Large amounts
of money are believed to change hands for striking a political
deal - to form a government or unseat one. If the recent
election taught us one lesson, it is that most people are
vexed with what is happening, or not happening in the states.
we conclude from this that politicians at state level are
somehow more venal and corrupt, that will be a complete
distortion of reality. The things that matter to people
directly health care, education, justice delivery, rule
of law, basic amenities, natural resources development are
all dealt with at the state level. The gulf between promise
and performance is therefore much greater in states. As
real power is exercised in states, there is greater contention
for power, and much greater propensity to abuse it. Transfers
and postings, contracts and tenders, and crime investigation
are the playthings of power brokers in states.
if recent events demonstrate anything, it is that political
parties have become private estates and pocket-boroughs
of individuals and families. This is true at both the national
and state levels. The party bosses hold the monopoly of
power and distribute political patronage including party
nominations for legislative office at will.
victory means winning most seats in constituencies, micro
management of elections becomes critical. And since victory
in a constituency is defined as winning the marginal vote
which puts the candidate ahead of rivals, those who can
somehow get that marginal vote become candidates. If there
is a feeling of 'sweep' in favour of a party, it is loyalists
of a leader who get the nod. Usually the election is perceived
to be 'tight' before the polls, and therefore along with
loyalty, money-power (to buy vote, or at least neutralise
the opponent), muscle-power (to browbeat opponents and get
false votes cast), caste (depending on local demography)
or pedigree become all-important. Once candidates are nominated
and elected in that manner, the future is sealed. That is
why Abdul Kalam and Manmohan Singh are generally 'unelectable'
and even if a decent person heads the government, his room
for manoeuvre is very limited. After all, the legislators
invested a lot in most cases, and they demand their pound
are two paradoxes we face. First, every election is a promise
for change, and yet the very process of election in our
system ensures that no real change can come about. Only
the beneficiaries of plunder and power games change. Second,
real change of governance is necessary at the state level,
but the states are not in control of levers of change. This
is because the electoral system can only be changed by Parliament.
Union government today came to office on a platform of change.
That change must result in better service delivery for the
poor. But that is possible only with decentralisation (which
state legislators oppose because they lose patronage), and
improved electoral system which makes the likes of Kalam
and Manmohan electable. Happily, the Left parties are committed
to proportional representation which gives space for decent
and honest elements to be elected without deploying abnormal
money-power and muscle. The Constitution allows multi-number
constituencies and elections based on proportional system.
All it needs is a change of law by a simple majority in
Parliament. This, combined with selection of party nominees
for legislative office by members or their elected delegates
through secret ballot will break the vicious cycle we find
ourselves in. The political process will break out of the
inertia and actually usher in real changes. Will Dr Manmohan
Singh and the Left parties act quickly?