A Discussion on “Need for Reform in Political Parties for Better Governance“
-A virtual seminar organised by Tillotoma Foundation
Kolkata, 29th January, 2021. – Tillotoma Foundation, one of the fastest growing global think tanks from India working in the areas of International Relations, Financial, Environmental, Scientific, Strategic & Defence Policy, hosted a Virtual Seminar on the “Need for Reform in Political Parties for Better Governance” in the esteemed presence of Dr S.Y. Quraishi, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India, Prof Samita Sen, Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History, University of Cambridge (Former Vice Chancellor, Diamond Harbour Women’s University), Prof Balveer Arora, Former Rector and Pro-Vice Chancellor, JNU New Delhi, Dr Kalanidhi Veeraswamy, Member of Lok Sabha (Chennai North), Mr. Jitendra K. Ojha, Former Joint Secretary, Government of India and Distinguished Fellow, Tillotoma Foundation, Mr. Soham Das, Director, Tillotoma Foundation as well as Lord Rami Ranger, an Indian origin member of the House of Lords of UK and Founder-Managing Director of FMCG Giant Sun Mark Limited via zoom . The seminar discussed the state of political parties in India, their key strengths and weaknesses, their roles on governance and institutions and possible reforms that can bolster capacity of parties to invigorate India’s democracy. The impact of such reforms on national security policy was also analyzed.
The seminar was followed by discussions that all great societies and states have advanced by identifying key challenges of their times and exploring effective and viable solutions to these. Political competition in democracies all over the world has been breeding such levels of conflict that are retarding optimum governance and security output of these societies. Primary cause of such conflicts is insufficiently or deficiently regulated political competition. Such problems in Indian democracy appear far more acute. Over the last four decades a democratic India, which is expected to be driven by merit and competition, has unfortunately lagged far too behind opaque and authoritarian China, which has to rely to a fair extent on loyalty and coercion. Such an anomaly is a reflective serious underlying disorder in Indian democracy. Primary cause of such disorder appears inability of political parties to act as aggregators of public interest and public aspirations and throw up powerful ideas and initiatives towards collective and comprehensive advancement of India.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr S.Y. Quraishi, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India, said, “It has been seen that there is the problem of funding of the political parties from shady sources. I feel that political parties may be funded by the State based on their actual performance in the election. So for every vote that a political party gets, they are given Rs 100, which would lead to around Rs 6000 crores paid in total. Therefore, there is a need for financial transparency in elections. Also criminalisation of politics has become an important problem. Leaders of political parties promise that they wouldn’t give tickets to convicted candidates but it doesn’t happen in reality.The introduction of electoral bonds through the budget was not a reform but a deform. Whatever transparency existed in political funding has been taken away.”
Mr. Soham Das, Director, Tillotoma Foundation who delivered the Welcome Address at the seminar, said, “This Seminar is an excellent opportunity to debate the various structural and functional reforms that may be incorporated in political parties to make policy-making and governance more efficient and effective. The Constitution of India does not specifically mention the political parties. The political parties have a crucial role in upholding the pluralistic democratic culture in India. ”
Prof Samita Sen, Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History, University of Cambridge (Former Vice Chancellor, Diamond Harbour Women’s University), pointed out, “Political Parties are basically extra constitutional bodies. Individuals are elected and not political parties. Political power is the conduit through which we access state power in India, resulting in it being very powerful and blurring the boundaries between State and the Political Parties. This is best realised by the people of West Bengal.”
Prof Balveer Arora, Former Rector and Pro-Vice Chancellor, JNU New Delhi, said, “The concept of free and fair elections have evolved and it needs to be reviewed constantly. Today there are new challenges to conducting free and fair elections. The Election Commission must be appropriately empowered to handle this.”
Mr. Jitendra K. Ojha, Former Joint Secretary, Government of India and Distinguished Fellow, Tillotoma Foundation, conveyed, “While the process of elections cannot eliminate the role and relevance of people but the space for the same has been shrinking. Election process is increasingly appearing through ballots among rival political parties where both masses and larger interests of the country are losing relevance. In today’s competitive and increasingly integrated global order, such a scenario presents a serious threat to national security of India. In an era, where advantages in trade and technology can be used as lethal tools, depredation, strength and resilience of a political system depends to a great extent on the agility of its institutions and quality of leadership it is able to throw up. While political actors may have their own challenges and constraints, intellectuals and guardians of society have a moral obligation to agitate on such issues and throw up an impartial perspective.”
Lord Rami Ranger, an Indian origin member of the House of Lords of UK and Founder-Managing Director of FMCG Giant Sun Mark Limited, said, “A well salaried police force in the United Kingdom do not resort to bribery or corruption which is not the case in India. In the UK, law enforcement agencies are run by people who do not have to worry about their basic needs. They are untouchable by corruption. We should ensure in India that police officers, income tax officers and customs officers are well protected.The ugly scene at the Republic Day has disturbed us. It is not good governance to fight with your own people. The opposition has now united against the Government.”
Dr Kalanidhi Veeraswamy, Member of Lok Sabha (Chennai North), pointed out, “Why can’t a political leader vote the way he wants to vote rather than the way his party wants him to vote?”.”
The seminar concluded on thoughts that India has to carry out major innovations in structures and processes of political parties in defense of its existential interests and overall empowerment of its people. India cannot afford to be bogged down citing compulsion of existing structures and processes of political parties. Political competition must act as a vehicle for excellence in governance. For this, political parties have to act as credible platforms for both powerful ideas and initiatives. At a time when electoral processes are breeding conflict, India must strengthen its original humanist values and traditions like Vaad & samvaad to enhance both quality of political debate and discourse. Similarly, stronger filters are required to prevent criminal elements from hijacking political space of India. Besides, external threats from two nuclear armed neighbours, India’s internal governance challenges too are far more complex. Existing structures and processes of Political parties appear the biggest impediment to rule of law and optimal governance. Hence, it is extremely important that not only internal structures and processes of parties are streamlined but also a fixed tenure is imposed in all political positions. Further, political parties contesting in central and Union elections and those contesting in states should be segregated. There should be strict need based criteria for people who can contest central or state elections. Whereas everyone should be free to contest municipal and local level elections. There should be a clear and transparent process for entry and exit in political parties as well as funding of political parties must be transparent.