If anyone wishes to establish a new political outfit or revive an old one, he/she must have a quasi-federal plan. A fundamental reason is that Indians vote according to the leader they trust most or distrust least. They are not guided very much by the manifesto or the ideology beyond it. That is why parties are seldom punctual in respect of distributing their pre-electoral manifestoes, not infrequently only a few days before polling. The parties know that they are performing merely a formality and not a necessity.
Every democrat agrees that there should be one or two national scale opposition parties. There are many, who believed that the Congress was the right one, but it is doddering. In the opinion of the writer, it can be revived as it has enormous brand equity built up over 130 years. At the same time, there is scope in our vast country to build up another party as well. There is plenty of talent; the latent political energies of women are yet to be untapped.
The leaders need to be charismatic or attractive or at least identifiable. They are easier to emerge in the states and seldom at the national level. This is not a new phenomenon; it is as old as the Nehruvian years. Almost every province or state had a Congress leader and quite often in other parties. For example, Assam had Gopinath Bordolai, West Bengal had the combination of Bidhan Chandra Roy and Atulya Ghosh, Bihar had Sri Krishna Sinha and Anugrah Narayan Singh, Orissa had Hare Krushna Mahtab and later Biju Patnaik, Madras had K. Kamaraj and C. Rajagopalachari, Kerala Pattom Thanu Pillai and later Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad. Maharashtra or Bombay had B.G Kher and later Yashwantrao Chavan, Rajasthan Mohan Lal Sukhadia, Punjab Pratap Singh Kairon, UP had Govind Vallabh Pant while Central Provinces (now Madhya Pradesh) was led by Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla and Karnataka had S. Nijalingappa. Jawaharlal Nehru, after the death of Vallabhbhai Patel, enjoyed the federal leadership of the Congress unchanged. His monopoly remained secure despite the Kashmir syndrome and the mistakes he made in his China policy. Uncannily, no rival of national stature came up until his death in 1964. His successor was Lal Bahadur Shastri who was until then a political flyweight. Thereafter the long reign of Indira Gandhi followed, in course of which all federalism, except that, formally written in the Constitution, virtually ended.
The Emergency is unforgettable. Earlier when she left the Congress in 1969, nearly all the property that the party owned was left behind with the Syndicate faction. And she neither replaced nor hired many premises. Half of the District Congress Committees worked out of the local presidents’ homes. The West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee functioned in 250 Chittaranjan Avenue, Ajit Panja’s residence. Indira Gandhi apparently worked on the theory of her charisma and her admiring voters with the party men being unpaid workers. This is not to criticize anyone but merely to illustrate the contrast between federal working in Nehru’s time and the autocratic functioning in his successors’ time. If a national opposition party is to be built up, the federal style will have to be adopted. The regional leaders would then get their importance and be the pillars for the central dome. They should not be mere branch managers who could be appointed or disappointed at the sweet will of the monarch in New Delhi.
Since the time of Nehru, a new problem has developed, i.e. of money. Earlier each Pradesh Congress Committee raised its own funds locally. With the progress of time, politicians have come to believe that money is the petrol of elections. Earlier, it was considered the mobil of politics. Every state is not rich enough to provide funds on the scale of petrol. It has then got to be given by the High Command. ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’ principle willy nilly begins to operate. This is another haddi (bone) in the kebab of quasi-federal party functioning. A national party must therefore raise a minimum fund centrally rather like in the manner in which conservative parties in Europe manage. The distribution of money should then be either on say the state population basis or any other formula.
This will ensure that there is no piper with discretion who can call the tune arbitrarily. Above all, there has got to be the will of members not to allow anyone to become the owner of a party that aspires to be national. That does not mean that there would be no ownership parties. There would be but then their future can only be of a substitute. When in an election the voters do not want to elect the party in power, they may have to vote for an ownership organization. Something like what is called the voters voting with their feet. However, when there is a choice of an alternative national party, there would be no need to vote for a proprietary set-up.
In principle, there should be nothing objectionable with an ownership party. The only question is ~ Does it not discourage competent individuals from coming into political life? Not everyone can bow to the proprietors or flatter them to gain favours like being given a ticket to contest a poll. We must remember that politics is the engine of society.
There are few things worse for a society than to be landed with a poor government. The Westminster parliamentary system especially needs the care and caution of the voters. Persons who get elected to become lawmakers can end up becoming ministers who ideally must be first-rate executives. Often the PrimeMminister does not have a free choice. He has to ensure that all possible sections of the people are represented in the ministry. Not everyone can be a firstrate executive. In contrast, the American presidential system challenges voters to elect an excellent President. He/she can take care of the quality of all other appointments. Our fellow citizens need to be especially reminded of these factors. The reason is that statesmanship does not run in the blood of even the Indian elite, not to speak of the common folk. Our country has been ruled for centuries by foreigners.
What was the level of our people’s interest in politics is difficult to tell. One thing however is noteworthy; that historically there was very little literature on the subject appears to be a fact. The ancient eras of India yielded treasures of philosophy, conceivably the father of political science and inevitably there is vast history. The area is enormous, it is ancient and it had numerous kingdoms, empires and smaller principalities. And history can be considered the mother of political science.
Yet other than the Arthashastra, there is nothing that is known horizon. Only recently, a year ago appeared a volume called Krishna Rajya. Does this paucity not reflect the relative lack of interest among our people in politics? The Hindu or indigenous performance in actual politics has also not been praiseworthy except for the three stars in an otherwise barren firmament.
They were Maharana Pratap, Chhatrapati Shivaji and Maharajah Ranjit Singh. Who else? That is therefore a good reason for Indians to be alert about the goings-on in the country’s political life. As one precaution, the writer has suggested in the past for voting in elections to be made compulsory as it is has been in several countries like Belgium and Australia.