15th August, 1947 –the day India became free from British Rule. The newly freed democratic nation did not have much choice of political ideology as well as views for its citizens. The only national level party present that time was Indian National Congress. As the party was spearheading Indian Freedom movement, it got a special place in the mind of majority Indians, even though it should have been judged as just another political party in Free and Democratic India. During the Freedom movement, many disparate groups of people came under the same umbrella of Congress Party with a common and greater purpose of freedom from British Imperialism. After getting Independence, the glue of common enmity against British Rule, which held all these different ideologies together, was absent.
When Independence came Gandhiji realised that apart from Indian National Congress, there was no viable political party in free India and therefore, no viable opposition. Therefore, the government of independent India would constitute the rule of one single party. To quote Fischer, he said that Gandhiji understood that, “Without free criticism and potent opposition, democracy dies, without political criticism and opposition, the nation’s intellect, culture and public morality stagnate, big men are purged and small men become kowtowing pygmies. The leaders surround themselves with cowards, sycophants and grovelling yes-men whose automatic approval is misread as a tribute to greatness”. In the same Congress Party there were Socialists, Conservatives and Reformists Congressmen, who had altogether different ideological, political and personal views.
The checks and balances of a strong opposition and of freely expressed public opinion to keep the government under control, was the need of the hour. Therefore, rightfully so, Gandhiji advised that after independence the Congress should disband itself so that people holding different ideologies could come together and form political parties based on their own philosophy, with each party sometimes being in government and at other times in opposition. Had Gandhiji’s advice been heeded Indian Politics would have had a middle of the road party, perhaps the Congress, a left of centre party, perhaps the Socialists and a right of centre party, perhaps the Jana Sangha and Swatantra Party of C. Rajagopalachari. This would have kept in check corruption culture from absolute power, religious fundamentalism, Left Wing Extremism and unbridled right wing capitalism. But, unfortunately, that did not happen and Indian National Congress enjoyed twenty years of absolute power which brought corruption as it’s baggage to the polity and Government affairs during the very initial days of Free India, as Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. As a general Indian citizen, I believe that India would have become a more prosperous country with better policy making if we had had a balanced politics during those early years after independence.
There was a miniscule opposition that time who stood up against Congress. Some of those prominent leaders were Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherji, Ram Monohar Lohia , Homi Daji, Shakir Ali Khan. Within 20 years, internal clashes and strains of Indian National Congress started to surface. The signs of fracture within the party appeared out in public, reassuring the age-old wisdom that a one party system cannot rule indefinitely in democratic system. Indian National Congress started to break apart into small fragments. But, unfortunately, these fragments did not come out as a political party, driven by ideology. The fragmentation of Indian national initiative and new political parties started to emerge in Indian political landscape from 1967.
Coalition, Horse Trading and Favourite Bureaucrat Concept:
In the year 1967, states such as Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, the purchase of legislative assembly, in order to fall the elected Government, started a new era in Indian Politics. Purchase of MLAs caused the fall of the elected Government and brought in power a new coalition of persons who had no ideological similarity, but who had sold themselves in order to get power. This is the blackest day in the history of India because now legislators realised that they enjoy a price, which could only be paid by subversion of the State and widespread corruption, which resulted in the end of principled government in India and true spirit of multi-party democracy as well as the Constitution. Ideology, a political agenda and a programme of governance no longer had any place in the Indian polity and what became important was to come to power, use power to buy more power or to continue in power. That’s how, today’s resort politics started. It became a new normal in Indian Politics thereafter.
One more trend started from that point of Indian Political History, which is ‘Transferring Bureaucrats’ if not aligned to work in accordance with the Ruling Party’s line. This started to deteriorate the integrity level of a certain section of Government Bureaucrats in order to become favourite to the ruling party or to avoid any harsh punishment. It is almost as if many of the politicians have become a breed apart, self-centred, self-seeking and totally indifferent to national interests and the welfare of people at large.
Coalition Government brought in doubt in the mind of many political pundits that whether a fragmented mandate can really do any good for India as a whole. The era of coalition government continued for 30 odd years spreading from 1984 to 2014, till BJP came up with a single party majority government. Ideologically compromised successive Coalition Governments helped to grow multiple regional parties. The regional parties became so powerful during the end of these 30 years tenure that a conglomerate government of such local parties were envisaged (Third Front) as an alternative of UPA and NDA. Local-centric power became the name of their game. Unfortunately these regional parties manifested themselves in the form of regional groupings and this has been aggravated by the emergence of a large number of small regional groups. Because the interests were local, a national perspective was not developing and these parties were just groups of people pushing their own little agenda. This agenda did not have the nation in mind and is not aimed at furthering public welfare. For Example, the Trinamool Congress insisted UPA on the Railway Ministry because it felt that this Ministry had a vast potential of being milked for both financial and political gains. DMK, on the other hand, wanted the Communications and the Shipping Ministries, because Communications proved to be a virtual Kamadhenu for DMK. Therefore, UPA I & II suffered severe policy paralysis in order to save the Government. The emergence of regional parties almost posed a grave danger both to the integrity of India as a country and a strong government at the Centre which can act accordingly to the needs of the country.
Truly speaking there are very few political parties in Indian Democracy, which has internal democracy within the party. Two parties which can always take credit for their internal democracy are: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Communist Party of India /CPIM. In today’s political landscape all other parties lack internal democracy. Many of them run the political party as family business, which is really unfortunate for the largest and most vibrant democratic country of the world. So long as Gandhiji was alive, the Congress had internal party democracy. On 15th November, 1947 J.B. Kripalani, the President of the Congress Party, resigned. As a replacement Gandhiji suggested the name of Acharya Narendra Deo, a leading socialist. Unfortunately Nehru wanted a President who would be weak and, therefore, he suggested the name of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, despite Gandhiji’s advice that Dr. Rajendra Prasad should not offer himself as a candidate. Ultimately Nehru prevailed and Rajendra Prasad became the Congress President. From that day on the Congress has never looked back and either the Congress President has been weak, like Devkant Baruah, or Indira Gandhi has been President and, in due course, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi became the President. Indira Gandhi was both Congress President and the Prime Minister and combined in herself State power and party power. Sonia Gandhi was not Prime Minister, but as Chairwoman of the National Advisory Council and leader of the UPA she definitely controlled both party and government. And now the party sycophants are promoting Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra Gandhi as the undisputed leaders of the party and future Prime Ministers of the country. Indira Gandhi can be held responsible for not only destroying internal democracy but also for promoting her family as the only natural choice for leading the Congress Party. Most of the parties which emerged as a fragmentation of Indian National Congress followed the same family politics tradition and continued to do so.
All these mal-practices of Indian politics have failed the true spirit of Indian Democracy to some extent , even after having a proper constitutional framework of modern democracy. “
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NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of New Delhi Times (NDT)