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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Meritocracy in Democracy – The need for intra-party democracy


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Democratic form of government is considered the best way to govern society. It provides a choice to the people to decide for themselves the best way they want to be governed. Political parties and candidates, being an agent of public good, drive home their point of governance, policies, and various other laws they deem fit for the country. It is for the voters to choose the kind of governance they want.

It found its root in the aristocratic system when the interest of those governing and those being governed started diverging. From inherent lack of choices to a growth of consensus based govt later to be known as democratic govt. We have come a long way. Fast forward to this date and we view the entire world from this lens. If the country is democratic, we give a thumb up and vice versa. However very less is said about the intra party democratic culture.

Take for example the political diaspora of our country. Except for 1-2 political parties, almost all the other parties follow a cult-based polity. It is difficult to segregate Lalu Yadav from RJD, Mamta Bannerjee from TMC, Abdullas from NC or even Gandhis from INC. These parties have a personality cult, and no one is above them, even their own manifesto, for what they say becomes their manifesto.

Under such a scenario, the choice of a voter becomes very difficult since they are not voting for a rule-based system but to the whims and fancies of specific individuals.

Career politicians (at least in our country) is an oxymoronic term because rarely do we find people desiring to be a politician and preparing accordingly (except in those cases where the choice is thrust upon an individual). This often results in a lack of choices for a voter. To give an analogy, imagine being given a choice to buy vegetables but the vegetables being stale. No matter how much we celebrate the freedom of choices, we will end up being sick. Lately that is a phenomenon we have been observing in Indian polity. We have been selecting our government for the last 70 years but still a large section of our population finds it difficult to fend for themselves. In a similar time, span, many countries in Asia Pacific (Singapore, Thailand etc) have done relatively well in human development index be it poverty eradication, food security or country’s literacy level.

Lack of good leadership could be a probable reason for a country like India, which is rich in resources, lags its peers when it comes to developmental goals. Here perhaps there has never been a dearth of leadership in our country but somehow, they vanish in the grind of party politics (particularly if the party is a family-owned family operated entity).

While we have been strengthening democracy at the grassroot level, it’s prime time we did so at the polity level too. There are many good leaders in various political parties who have hit a glass ceiling owing to the family led leadership at the top. They can mobilise opinion, counter the opposition factually and have a good support base across party lines. Given a chance to lead their parties at state or national level, they stand a good chance to drive home their points with the voters. But unfortunately, being stuck in a family-owned family operated political party, they are often left at the mercy of their rapport with the family patriarch. In case of divergent views with the leadership, they are either forced to quit or join a rival. And since a politician never retires or quits, joining the rival becomes the only feasible option. But what about the ideology which is mostly shaped by the political party he/she represented for a major part of his/her career. Does a leader or politician, who has been with BJP (for reference purpose only) for his entire life joins AIMIM, can claim to have an ideology? Ideology gives way to integrity but if ideology is tradable, so is integrity. And there are umpteen examples to drive home this point.

And here we come to the biggest dilemma of a voter as explained with an analogy of buying vegetables in the earlier part of this article. A voter is not a fool to select a regressive government but sometimes that’s the only choice she has.

Leadership, if not meritocratic driven, gives rise to vengeance politics, preference to short term goals with adverse long-term consequences, brings in economic inefficiency due to misallocation of resources and delay (or postpone) the progress of societal goals.

How can we cure this?

Despite all the hues and cries of US democracy, we must acknowledge the vibrancy of its model. Every candidate, wishing to be a President, has to move around the country to mobilise opinion within their party first. Here, their connection or family name does not matter but the ability to connect, convey and collect divergent viewpoints to present a coherent message. This is perhaps the biggest test of leadership because often, that’s what they are expected to do once they come to power. They need to bring their audience on the same page before jumping into action. Once the candidate gains the requisite mandate to represent their party through intra-party election, they get a chance to fight for the highest office. It is for this very reason that the US assumes the world leadership position because their leaders are ground in a tough battle in-house before they come to represent their country as a President.

However, in our country, whether it is a state election or a national election, except for BJP (personal view, not an endorsement), leadership choice for most of the other political parties are fixed. So, if you are voting for TMC, it’s a mandate for Mamta, for JDU it’s Nitish, for DMK it is Karunanidhi and so on. It’s not liked these parties lack good leaders within its rank but somehow, they cannot rise beyond a certain level.

Here the need for an intra-party democratic culture becomes a necessity. And since political parties are working for public good, it must be a public affair with third party supervision. We may begin with a secret ballot for 8 recognised national political parties. Right to vote may be restricted to their primary members but voting must be a secret process (to prevent backlash as it often happens in family-owned parties). Same should be conducted by the Election Commissioner of India or a similar constitutional body and results should be published. This would also reduce the attrition rate in political parties (attrition rate is a term widely used in Corporate World to show to the management that the interests of the employees are being well taken care of and ample opportunities are available within the organization for their growth so that employees do not jump ship to competition).

Corporate world succeeds and thrives across generations for its highly competitive meritocratic driven culture. It brings out the best talent to lead the company from the top. In sharp contrast to that, Small and Medium business fizzles out after 1-2 generations because the management is withheld in the promoter family. And it may or may not happen that the next generation has a business acumen to lead the enterprise.

Similarly, for a diverse country like India, it is imperative to have multitude of political parties representing multiple views and opinions, but it is equally important that those parties are led by the best talent they can afford. And the most essential skills of a good leader are to mobilise opinion which is measured through democratic votes. It is high time we let them get elected internally before they come out to seek our votes.

(Views expressed are personal. Reference to political parties is for illustrative purpose only and should not be taken otherwise)


[one_half]Meritocracy in Democracy - The need for intra-party democracy -[/one_half][one_half_last]Author: Satya Prakash

Satya, is an IIT/IIM graduate who currently works with a major bank in the country. He is a voracious reader with interest in finance, technology and history.  When not working, he likes to travel and see new places


Satya Prakash
Satya Prakash
Satya, is an IIT/IIM graduate who currently works with a major bank in the country. He is a voracious reader with interest in finance, technology and history. When not working, he likes to travel and see new places

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