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Rescuing Polls from Jaws of Chaos
by Rajinder Puri Bookmark and Share

The current election scene is a mess. The Third Front looks like a non-starter. It would matter little if in its present shape it did start. The BJP's chief election campaign-in-charge and the party president are having a bitter public spat. The Congress is not finalizing candidates for all constituencies. Is delay due to the auctioning of seats? There is little hope of the slightest coherence in the post-poll political scenario.

Some time ago this scribe expressed the view that unless some spectacular development dramatically altered the political situation it would be futile to vote. Is there any prospect for a dramatic change? Theoretically there is. Even now the impending political confusion can be averted without any party losing the slightest advantage. All that is required is for political leaders to rise above bitter personal animosities and adopt a rational approach based on democratic norms and on self-interest. For this, what should they do? 

To begin with our politicians must recognize India 's real ethos uncontaminated by western thought. Through the centuries India has evolved into a republic that is unlike the conventional 16th century European nation state. Nor is it quite like the European Union. It is something in between. Before the advent of the modern nation state, when kingdoms held sway, India had always been a cultural nation. Shared experience by its people through history, and the compulsions of geography, determined that. 

The real political division in India has never been between the Left and the Right. That too is an imported concept. Throughout history India has oscillated between centrifugal and centripetal tendencies. In this large multilingual, multi-religious and multi-ethnic nation both tendencies have relevance. Centralization ensures unity, decentralization protects liberty. There is room for both the consolidator and the liberator. Asoka was a liberator, Chandragupta Mauriya was a consolidator. Pandit Nehru was a liberator, Sardar Patel was a consolidator. Jayaprakash Narain was a liberator, Indira Gandhi was a consolidator. 

Because the attempt foolishly to approximate to the Westminster model has subverted and ruined our system, India has degenerated into a gaggle of parties bereft of policy and direction, of a nationwide presence. This unhealthy condition was rationalized by unthinking critics with the cry: 'The era of coalitions has begun!' They suggested thereby that this condition was imperative for the expression of democratic impulse. They failed to differentiate between a coalition and a parties' federation. The latter implies permanent commitment to one party and to its mode of functioning. It implies pre-poll commitment ensured to survive post-poll politics through elections fought for Parliament on a single symbol. That would attract the anti-defection law to prevent defection and curtail political blackmail. In the first instance different symbols of the dominant regional parties in each state for assembly elections could remain. Once results confirm that this arrangement would benefit each party without loss of power to each regional leader in his respective state, a single symbol could become acceptable for assembly polls too. 

Recognition for a national party depends upon either the support it musters in the Lok Sabha, or upon a prescribed minimum support that it musters in at least four state assemblies. National parties therefore would not lose their national party recognition even if they did not contest Lok Sabha elections under their party symbols. As multi-state organizations their strength in state assemblies would protect their national party status. Similarly regional parties would retain their identities and state party recognition on the strength of their representation in their respective state assemblies. By switching from present day coalitions to federal parties the candidates for Parliament in each state would be determined by the dominant party in that state, whether it was a regional or national party. 

So how might our politicians proceed? Quite simply the Congress and BJP should in the first instance coalesce before the polls to promise stability and consolidation. Both parties follow the same foreign and economic policies. Both parties would retain the seats presently held by them. Thereby over 280 seats would offer no problem for adjustment. The remaining 260 plus seats could surely be adjusted. The respective strengths of the Congress and BJP clash in few states. The Third Front and other regional parties prepared to join them should contest the election under a common symbol to promise decentralization. By adopting a common symbol for Parliament no party would lose either its identity or recognition as a state party. 

If this course was followed by both groups, India would move to a two party system. To begin with both parties would be federal. In all likelihood the Congress-BJP federation would win the election to form the government. That would provide opportunity to the regional parties' federation to formulate alternate policies and to evolve as a genuine national alternative for the future. 

This is of course purely theoretical. Our politicians are very practical. But as practical people they should realize that if this course were followed they would gain much and lose nothing -- except their egos. So it's up to them now. 

Any takers?       

More by :  Rajinder Puri
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