when it comes to the important question of choosing their
party leaders, the hard-working and dedicated grass root
party worker has absolutely no role to play. This only symbolizes
the lack of internal democracy among political parties in
the early years of the American republic, presidential nominees
were chosen by the political party's national legislators.
Let us call it the American Party Democracy (Version 1.0)
- 'the debut edition'. The whole process used to take place
behind closed-door meetings called 'caucuses'. Once each
party's nominee was thus chosen, the voters were forced
to vote for one among those two (rarely, three) during the
presidential elections. This process was closed, undemocratic
and foisted an artificial choice between candidates. More
like a 'selection' than an 'election.'
India still follows this archaic process when leaders of
parties or alliances are selected by the legislators in
India. For instance, the Chief Minister of a state is decided
behind closed door meetings of legislators and party leaders.
Strictly speaking, our CMs are neither elected by nor are
responsible to the people of their state. (This is the guiding
principle behind mid-night political coups).
us now get back to the American story: major reforms (American
Party Democracy (Version 2.0) - 'new and improved edition')
came in the 1830s during the administration of President
Andrew Jackson. For the first time, the undemocratic caucuses
were replaced by more open nominating 'conventions'. First,
delegates were elected by the rank-and-file party members
from among themselves. Later, these delegates elected their
party's presidential nominee during the nomination conventions.
While this process genuinely empowered the ordinary party
worker, it still could be hijacked by vested party interests.
For example, ex-President Theodore Roosevelt (Republican
Party, 1912) and Senator Eugene McCarthy (Democratic Party,
1968) both won the support of the grass roots party members
but failed to get party nominations. They were outmanoeuvred
by their party opponents who got nominated as presidential
candidates - undemocratically. Internal party democracy
be damned (even if very rarely).
continued for more than 130 years. Then, in 1972, came the
American Party Democracy (Version 3.0) - 'the happening
edition'. The task of nominating presidential candidates
was taken away from the delegates (thus eliminating last-minute
manipulations) and given to the ordinary party members who
could now elect their nominee through secret-ballot. This
is how John Kerry became the Democratic Party presidential
candidate this year: in a competitive, transparent and democratic
process. In the US, party candidates even for the Senate,
House of Representatives and state legislatures are chosen
through similarly open and fair democratic nomination processes.
American political parties reformed their candidate selection
processes not necessarily because the parties had very a
noble intention to empower their grass-roots workers. They
did it simply to win elections. Period. The fact is: what
was good for the party member was also good for the party
itself. And good party politics also meant good country
can learn a thing or two from the American experience. If
our political parties do not bring in genuine internal democracy,
no doubt a few party leaders will continue to benefit personally
(in the form of entrenched hold over the ticket distribution
process, for instance). But, the entire party itself faces
a much greater risk of being rejected by the voting public.
This problem can be solved by selecting party office bearers
and candidates on the basis of secret ballot among the party
members and workers. This leads to the nomination of better
party candidates who have genuine grass-root support and
who can better represent the opinions and aspirations of
the party workers, supporters and the general public. Such
candidates, who have a much better chance of getting elected,
can serve our country as good politicians and leaders.
internal party democracy is a must for better Indian democracy.