Indian Politicians Unfit For Democracy!
Mercifully Act One of the Yeddyurappa drama is over. It reinforced a paradoxical truth. While the people of India yearn for democracy, the politicians who rule them are abysmally unfit to deliver it. It is fashionable for analysts and politicians to say that people are responsible for corruption and misgovernance because they vote for the parties that govern them. This argument is fallacious.
Ordinary people cannot be confused with the elite that are largely responsible for creating a society’s ruling class. Ordinary people cannot be expected to perform the functions of rulers. They can only vote for the best option available. Whenever any genuine alternative has been presented to the Indian people they have exercised their vote sensibly. Tragically, almost invariably there is no real option presented to them. What for example is the qualitative difference between Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, Congress and BJP in UP? Denied an alternative, people vote for caste, money and immediate personal gain.
The pathetic ignorance of basic democratic functioning displayed by politicians was glaringly exposed during the recent fiasco that occurred in Karnataka. Chief Minister Yeddyurappa was indicted by Lokayukta Santosh Hegde’s report. Overlook for the moment the distorted partisan nature of the report which conveniently ignored corruption of Congress ex-chief ministers and focused only on two non-Congress chief ministers including the present incumbent. Mr Hegde’s unprofessional approach in the manner that the report was leaked and his wholly unconvincing explanation that his 25,228 page report did not deal with any Congress chief minister because he wanted to focus on “the present and not on the past” deserves separate treatment. Regardless of the comparative degree of corruption displayed by successive chief ministers in Karnataka it is undeniable that Mr Yeddyurappa deserved to resign.
That is where the absence of normal democratic functioning was revealed by the leaders of the BJP. To score debating points against rival factions within the party there was a virtual running commentary leaked to the media on the inner party parleys related to the crisis. The terms insisted upon by Mr Yeddyurappa for resigning, the possible successors to replace him, the push and pull of rival factions about who should succeed – all this was almost gleefully leaked to the press by BJP leaders themselves. Mr Yeddyurappa’s approach to the RSS was heavily publicized. Eventually Mr Yeddyurappa and the central leadership of the party reached accommodation through an uneasy compromise under the watchful eyes of the media. The concerns of the central leaders and the outgoing chief minister were outlined to the press in detail.
Now consider how a healthy democratic party would have actually dealt with the crisis. Behind closed doors without briefing the press the central leadership would have persuaded Mr Yeddyurappa with logic to argue his inevitable resignation. Mr Yeddyurappa could have shared some of his legitimate concerns about the party’s future and steps to safeguard it. And then after informal and private confabulations related to the succession, the legislature party should have been summoned to elect the new leader. In that all the ground realities about who deserved to succeed would have been transparently and democratically resolved. Not once during the entire crisis did any leader remotely suggest that the MLAs should have a say in the succession. Mr Yeddyurappa did parade his supporters in a show of strength which made more glaring the undemocratic nature of the succession struggle.
This kind of haggling more suited to the vegetable market than to a democratic party is by no means confined to the BJP. The Congress should not gloat but merely recall the manner in which Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was “appointed” to his post by Mrs Sonia Gandhi which was later ratified by the parliamentary party. The truth is that the absence of basic democratic norms is not confined to succession struggles but pervades the entire conduct of political parties. Just one example related to an issue presently conspicuous should adequately illustrate this truth.
When a case of corruption is exposed how do political parties and even the media react? To determine the culpability of the minister concerned there is searching debate and inquiry about whether the minister had his hand in the till, and whether he was aware of what was going on when the scam occurred. How odd! If a minister is himself corrupt, or knowingly abets corruption, he should resign because he is complicit. If the minister is ignorant about what was going on in his ministry he should resign because he is incompetent. It matters not a jot to the public and to the nation whether corruption arises from greed or incompetence. The cost of corruption remains the same. That is why there is the well established principle of accepting constructive responsibility for lapses. It is the very foundation of democratic functioning. Were that principle observed in India almost all the present ministers would have had to resign a long, long time ago. That of course does not happen in any central or state government in India.
If the political parties continue to rape the basic tenets of democracy the system will collapse. I do not believe that it will happen. I believe that the nation’s instinct for survival will assert itself and create a situation in which the entire presently corrupt, venal and undemocratic ruling class will be thrown into the dustbin of history. A new generation with a new culture will replace it through an election to govern the nation and restore democracy. That is why one would urge young people to read the Constitution to understand its original intent. One would urge them to get acquainted with the basic norms of democracy. By not observing them democracy will remain hollow. They need to preserve the future of India. They need to protect their own future.
(This column was written before Sadananda Gowda was elected legislative leader of the BJP in Karnataka through secret ballots. —Editor)
By Rajinder Puri