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Internalising Democracy

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Although the outcomes were a given, both, US President Joe Biden of the Democratic Party, and former President Donald Trump of the Republican Party, went through the formality of ‘primaries’ held to determine who the respective parties’ candidates would be for the coming presidential election. It is a complex process, with varying procedures in different states, but ‘registered’ voters of each party make their preferences known by voting for their preferred candidate for the nation’s top job. This is done after debates are held among the contenders, with those doing not so well dropping out, till the ones with the greatest support are identified. Republican Nikki Haley, for instance, held out the longest – making something of a mark – but eventually had to concede to Trump. It may not be an entirely transparent process, but the members of the parties do have a say.

And how are candidates decided in India? Certainly not by those who are expected to eventually vote for the party. They are entirely taken for granted, particularly in the so called ‘strongholds’. Not even active party workers are given the opportunity to make their preferences known by voting for possible contenders. Because, in most cases, power in parties flow from above to the lower ranks, the candidates are declared by the closeted cliques surrounding the ‘leader’. This is why nobody has any idea about most candidates before the names are declared. The recent announcement of candidates by the TMC is an example of this – no one was more surprised than the party cadre!

Even the BJP, which has a well-established organisational structure that does contribute to candidate selection, does not throw it open to the support base through a voting process. Behind the scenes, closed door, consultations, yes, but not the ballot! As a result, many voters end up voting for a candidate they may not like in the least, just for ideological reasons. It is no surprise, then, that elected representatives spend more time currying favour with the party bosses instead of working for their constituents.

Should legislation be passed requiring parties to adopt more transparent consultative measures in candidate selection? In the context of the Indian situation, it would be a radical measure, but it will strengthen democracy and ensure the country doesn’t end up in the hands of just a few political families. The trends in that regard are already there for all to see.