Do Indian voters really choose?
Rahul Gandhi spoke at a news conference in Amritsar last month. Somewhat predictably newspapers and TV channels covering the event focused on his comments on the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and his defense against being called a rookie by a seasoned political rival.
They ignored the context of his visit — to review preparations for the local youth Congress elections, being conducted with greater involvement of party workers at the grass-roots level. It’s a practice he apparently wants to replicate across other states.
If Gandhi is serious about it and succeeds in doing so, it will further the cause of internal party democracy, which is a major blind spot in the working of our democracy.
The Constitution ensures that we elect our representatives but does not specify how political parties should choose the candidates — it’s a decision that does not involve citizens.
For me, the most fascinating aspect of the the 2008 U.S. presidential elections, even more than the final outcome, was the manner in which candidates are chosen.
Constant and intense interaction between the potential candidates and the party members brings out with a degree of clarity the political agenda of the candidates who in turn get a chance to tweak them to the expectations of voters.
This brings more transparency in the political domain. If a candidate loses or wins in those conditions then one knows the reasons for it.
If there were more internal democracy India’s pre-election opinion polls would probably be more accurate.
The result of the state elections as well as the general elections in 2009 would also make more sense.
Ashutosh Varshney, writing in the Times of India, mentions the lack of intra-party democracy as a major reason why India may not produce a Barack Obama.
He argues that lack of internal elections means that “rank outsiders like Mayawati, tend to create new political parties, but it is well known that it is much harder to create a new nationwide political organization than use an existing one.”
This reduces the probability of a candidate like Obama coming to power in India.
I find it a bit ironical that Varshney writes about the importance of internal party democracy in the same issue of the paper that also covers Rahul Gandhi’s Amritsar news conference but overlooks his initiative towards firming up the election process.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes in Outlook magazine that “most political parties do not institutionalise internal party reform because it could jeopardise the hold of current party incumbents.”
Given that, I think such a step by any politician needs to be appreciated for its boldness. It also needs to be followed up and scrutinised.
If the media focuses more on this lacuna of Indian democracy perhaps it will help put the issue on the common agenda and make the elections more meaningful.
After all there is something called the ‘observer effect’ which causes a change by the very act of looking at something.
The question is how soon will the media start focusing on the selection process that precedes the elections.