A democracy in disarray

Published : Apr 08, 2005 00:00 IST

Leaders of the UPA and the Left parties at the release of the Common Minimum Programme in May 2004. The banner of `United Progressive Alliance' has had no significance or meaning during and after the latest round of Assembly elections. - SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

Leaders of the UPA and the Left parties at the release of the Common Minimum Programme in May 2004. The banner of `United Progressive Alliance' has had no significance or meaning during and after the latest round of Assembly elections. - SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

The happenings in Goa, Jharkhand and Bihar are symptoms of a deeper disease of decayed political morality and political values that has afflicted the country.

THE recent happenings in Goa, Jharkhand and Bihar have exposed the fragile nature of the alliances and minimum programmes evolved to serve an immediate exigency in electoral politics without a long-range vision and principled programme for serving the people fully and well. The support extended and the mandate given by voters to the parties and their candidates become forgotten factors once the election is over. More than the support of the electorate, the leader of a party or an alliance requires the support of the Governor in the Raj Bhavan to form the government.

The spate of defections, wholesale by parties and in retail by independents, the competing moral turpitude of the leaders and parties from election to election, the organised pandemonium in the legislatures, and the frustrating postponement and advancing of confidence motions have all made the public lose even the little confidence it had saved so far in the parliamentary system as practised in India.

More harm to healthy politics has been done by the Indian National Congress, which was not prepared at any time for a coalition government. In the 2004 general elections, the Congress had its own election manifesto. But it was the support and seat adjustments made by Opposition parties that made it possible for the Congress to win 145 seats and to form the government at the Centre. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) formulated the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) in May 2004 with the approval of 15 parties. Nothing wrong there. The previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA), with 17 parties in its fold, had formulated in 1999 its National Agenda for Governance. The number of parties may have increased with attraction and offer of power in course of time.

The support given to the Congress government by the non-Congress parties was more out of a desire to remove the Bharatiya Janata Party government from power than out of an inclination to favour the Congress. At present, there is no `functioning' alliance of parties at the Centre or in the States. There are party leaders functioning at the Centre to control the power centres, under the name and umbrella of an alliance.

The Assembly elections in 2005, especially in Bihar and Jharkhand, exposed fully the negative and fragile nature of the alliance formed a year earlier. Without a formal alliance, the non-BJP parties succeeded in effecting a workable adjustment of seats to defeat the NDA. In the 2005 Assembly elections, the leaders of the major parties in the UPA did not fight for the success of the alliance. Each party leader strove to gain more strength for his own party and for his own leadership at the expense of other parties in the alliance. In the Assembly elections this year, the UPA did not have a common programme for the States concerned; there was no common approach and adjustment in seat allocations. Individually, each party announced its list of candidates.

The six major parties in the UPA fielded as many as 509 candidates whereas the total number of seats for the Bihar Assembly is only 243. It is not known how many of the candidates of other parties and independents were, overtly or covertly, supported by one or the other of the major partners of the UPA.

In Jharkhand, the major alliance partners of the UPA fielded 232 candidates for the 81 Assembly seats.

The Congress has been more at fault in its failure to maintain unity, discipline and ethos in the alliance. In Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Prasad set up candidates in 215 seats and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of Ram Vilas Paswan in 178. Instead of counselling them and arriving at a satisfactory settlement in the adjustment of seats to avoid internecine competition and the splintering of the alliance vote, the leading party of the alliance, the Congress, chose to join the fray by fielding candidates in 84 seats.

The CMP opened with the solemn assurance on the basic principle for governance: "To preserve, protect and promote social harmony and to enforce the law without fear or favour to deal with all obscurantist and fundamentalist elements who seek to disturb social amity and peace." Against this solemn assurance, the UPA miserably failed to promote social harmony and allowed the Assembly elections to be fought by its allies on the basis of caste distinctions. It failed to uphold the rule of law when it misused the office of the Governor in favour of its chances of forming governments in the States. Opposition to the BJP and other obscurantist elements was lost sight of when the objective of the major parties of the alliance became the defeat of their own partners, thereby helping their common opponent to win more seats.

The CMP or the banner of `United Progressive Alliance' has had no significance or meaning during and after the Assembly elections. At the seat of power in New Delhi, they are united, progressive and allied. In the States, the parties are disunited, unfriendly and most regressive in their approach to the electorate. The foremost casualties in the process are the alliance of secular forces, unity of like-minded parties, assurances and hopes given through the common programme to the people and, more seriously, the basic tenets of political morality.

Amidst all these opportunistic and deceptive activities in electoral politics, the leaders of the parties in the UPA affirm, day in and day out, their firm loyalty to the alliance government at the Centre.

The bane of Indian politics is the lack of one political virtue - that of political morality. A nation afflicted with financial bankruptcy can hope, by hard work and consistent discipline, to regain its economic development and political stability. But, once moral bankruptcy sets in, it will take a long time to repair the damage done.

The makers of the Constitution of India were very much aware that a democratic republic can be maintained only with virtue, public spirit and the intelligence of its citizens. These basic requirements of a republic were emphasised by Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha, Chairman of the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly. Inaugurating the Assembly on December 9, 1946, he quoted eminent American jurist Justice Joseph Story's views about making and protecting a Constitution: "The structure has been erected by architects of consummate skill and fidelity; its foundations are solid; its compartments are beautiful, as well as useful; its arrangements are full of wisdom and order; and its defences are impregnable from without. It has been reared for immortality, if the work of man may justly aspire to such a title. It may, nevertheless, perish in an hour by the folly, or corruption, or negligence of its only keepers, the people. Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit, and intelligence of the citizens. They fall, when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded, because they flatter the people, in order to betray them."

While introducing the Draft Constitution on November 4, 1948, for consideration in the Constituent Assembly, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar emphasised the need for diffusion of `constitutional morality' in the people for the successful working of the Constitution. He added: "The question is, can we presume such a diffusion of constitutional morality? Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic."

Presenting the finalised Draft of the Constitution on November 25, 1949, to the Constituent Assembly, Dr. Ambedkar concluded by saying: "Independence is no doubt a matter of joy. But let us not forget that this independence has thrown on us great responsibilities. By independence, we have lost the excuse of blaming the British for anything going wrong. If hereafter things go wrong, we will have nobody to blame except ourselves. There is great danger of things going wrong."

We cannot blame anybody else; we have to blame ourselves. The Constitution has not failed; we have failed the Constitution.

The happenings in Goa, Jharkhand and Bihar are only symptoms of a deeper disease of decayed political morality and political values. We now have a politics that is deinstitutionlised, demoralised, devalued and dehumanised.

The aspirations, apprehensions and caution expressed by our eminent Constitution-makers are more relevant today. The Constitution and the democratic republic can and should be maintained only by the virtue, public spirit and intelligence of the citizens.

In a democracy, the citizens should realise that governing is too important to be left to the government of the day and that politics too important to be left to the politicians in power or aspiring for power.

Era Sezhiyan is a former Member of Parliament.

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