Absolutely antithetical to the letter and spirit of democracy, a family-owned party has dominated India’s polity for over three decades. It has a President for Life, and its other top positions are open only to the party President’s family-members or their nominees who alone are eligible to become candidates for Prime Ministership.(Democracy be damned!) The feudal ethos prevails and finds expression in the abject servility of the non-family functionaries before the party President and her family. Example: the recent Ordinance-related ‘happening’ where the President’s son barged into a press conference, brusquely brushed aside the senior functionaries justifying the Ordinance before the media, and declared it to be “nonsense and fit to be torn and thrown away”? Not a whimper! Not long after, the Prime Minister and the cabinet made a deft somersault, and withdrew it after crediting the ‘scion’ for affirming ‘respect’ to public opinion. Ironically, the Ordinance had been readied by the Cabinet to counter the Supreme Court’s wise ruling, and Public Opinion on disqualification of convicted legislators!
Danger from the Servile
Self-abnegation of the party’s functionaries to the point of sheepishly bearing insult and humiliation should set off alarm bells for all self-respecting people of India. Men and women of the servile kind are more like cult followers conditioned to carry out their leader’s most outrageous bidding without questioning. It was this same genre of party functionaries and government servants who carried out excesses on citizens and institutions of governance, including that of law and justice, at Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi’s bidding during the Emergency. And when the Congress came back to power in 2004, it was these same servile men and women who demeaned India’s billion citizens by crying and imploring Sonia Gandhi– a naturalized citizen of foreign origin who did not even want her husband to enter politics, let alone herself continue in India– to take over as the Prime Minister of India!
Do People Care?
Despite being contrary to the concept, structure, functioning and spirit of democracy, this party seems to have sufficient support across the country, especially among the English-speaking upper classes– in the media, academia, arts and literature, business, industry and government — supplemented by equally unqualified support from the masses–beneficiaries of its largesse among the minorities, and the poorer classes. Exploiting the innate feudal ethos of the masses, the party has further strengthened its hold on them by chopping up the entire population into bits and pieces on the basis of religion,class and caste, and instilling fear or offering succour to each according to its own brand of “secularism.” The question that begs an answer in the prevailing circumstance is: is there really any understanding of democratic governance among large sections of our people? Do people really care how they are governed? If they did, would Indira Gandhi have returned to power within a few years of the Emergency? And would they have voted this party and its allies for a second term?
Incidentally, insidiously, similar parties have sprouted in different States: Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party, Lalu Prasad’s JR(D), Karunanidhi’s DMK, Abdullah’s National Conference, Deve Gowda’s JD (S), Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress, and Badal’s Akali Dal. Also include in this genre parties owned by individuals like Mayawati, Jayalalitha, Mamta Bannerjee, Ajit Singh and Ram Vilas Paswan. They are no different in their origin, structure and functioning from the fiefdoms run by family-owned parties.
Dynastic Rule Must be Ended
A family or individual-owned party is a dangerous aberration in a Democratic Polity, and must be ended however tough the going may be. The Election Commission should force such parties to hold intra-party elections, and vote-in a fresh batch of leaders every two years. Members of parties which fail to hold elections should be barred from contesting for any public office, whether as Corporator, Mayor, MLA, MLC or MP. In addition, no individual should be allowed to contest more than two terms sequentially for any public office. Considering the degree of apathy among the people about family-owned parties, there is urgent need for all civil society organisations, as well as individuals to use all avenues available,including the powerful social media, to educate people about the indignity of having a dynastic party ruling in a democratic country, and guide them to reject candidates put up by such family or individual-owned parties.
By Jagannath Sharma