There are no platforms to debate development or Kashmir or China policy. No debate of national interest and no politics in fact.
When is politics useful for the well being of a country? In the midst of a raucous five state election battle, it may seem strange to be asking this question. India is, after all, the largest democracy in the world. Media complains that nowadays it is difficult to criticise the ruling party ,but you will never believe that when you look at the political abuse being freely thrown around without any check for fake news.
India has enough political parties to run the world and at election time every dissatisfied holder of a slice of a vote bank is apt to form his own party if he does not get a ticket from anyone else. Like in the old days of quarrelsome Rajput princes, each wants to outplay his favourite enemy and does not mind joining with alien forces to do down his brother.
This is why, in the medieval period, there were few straight Hindu versus Muslim battles. Hindu princes went over to a Muslim king if they could do down their Hindu enemy and similarly for the Muslims. Any notion of general public interest rising above sectional interest is hard to locate in history or, indeed, even contemporary life.
This is prefatory to two strands of thoughts. One is the abysmal depth to which politics has descended in India. Rahul Gandhi only talks about Modi rather than Congress policy. Modi, in return, attacks the several generations of the family. Congress having converted to Hinduism in its most orthodox version, the old secularism versus Hindu nationalism issue is gone except for a few fringe parties—the Left and the Muslim parties. There is no debate on domestic issues or climate change or foreign policy or development. It is tu tu mein mein. ..
Contrast this with the way the UK has dealt with the most fundamental question it has faced—Brexit. Forty six years after joining the European Economic Community (now European Union), the whole issue is building up to a climax. Both main parties are divided. Scotland is divided from the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland feels isolated. Different factions of ‘leavers’ and ‘remainers’ have been putting forward proposals in and out of Parliament. There have been citizen marches in major cities. TV, radio and print media have been crowded with debates and discussions.
The most remarkable phenomenon has been the debate within political parties. India has no internal party democracy. No leader is properly elected or challenged. The family patriarch or heir apparent is and remains the leader. Hell would descend on any challenger. In UK there is a procedure laid down within the rules of every party as to how to challenge the leader. The Conservative Party is very divided between the leavers and the remainers.
The procedure is to send a letter declaring no confidence in the leader to the Convenor of the Committee of backbenchers—the so-called 1922 Committee (a committee of backbenchers would be unthinkable in India). If 15% of MPs declare no confidence in their secret letters sent to the Convenor, a vote has to be held testing the support for the leader. If a majority votes no confidence, the leader goes. If the leader wins then, for the next twelve months, s/he cannot be challenged again.
In the throes of the climax of negotiations during the last fortnight, Theresa May has faced the constant rumours that the requisite number of no confidence letters are there. Not thus far. But the sword hangs over her. The divisions pertain to rival views of what is in the national interest, and not a personality problem. The nature of the deal negotiated by Theresa May has led to resignations from the Cabinet and open criticism in Parliament by members of her own Party in a perfectly disciplined way—no rushing to the well of the House or browbeating the speaker.
Within the last seventy three years, since the second World War, Conservatives have got rid of seven leaders, some while in office and others while in opposition through internal party ballot. India could not dream of such an open public process of sacking leaders. Backbenchers are like puppets, echoing what their leader says. No inner party differences.
No debate of national interest. No politics in fact. Only when denied a ticket does dissension take shape in Indian politics. There are no platforms to debate development or Kashmir or China policy. No one is debating whether the lack of discussion is a consequence of the No-Defection Act passed during Rajiv Gandhi’s term of office which has taken the powers of freedom of thought and expression away from backbenchers. All they can do is rush to the well when their leaders order them. India may be the largest democracy but it has a feeble and noisy political culture. It has failed the country.
-The author is a prominent economist and labour peer