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|September 17, 1999||
Issues 99/ L C Jain
'If our political parties are full of sickness, they cannot provide health for the nation'
After the experience of the last three elections, the foremost question being asked should be: Why is this happening again and again? Is it the responsibility of the political parties or certain individuals? Unless the electorate awakens to this agonising question, it will be difficult to prevent it from recurring.
I think the most important issue in this poll is that it is time the electorate awakened to its responsibilities. If we are having fractured mandates or hung parliaments put together by coalitions, the electorate must clearly ask, having had three experiences in the recent past, whether they should be supporting that experience or acting differently.
To me, the starting point should be for the electorate to enquire whether we do have political parties. If there is something called a party, what is its structure, what is its membership, who are its officebearers, what are the processes by which they are elected, is internal democracy safeguarded in the party?
If all that exists, then we are dealing with a formation whose behaviour can be predicted at the Centre or in the states. But if this is lacking, as appears to be the case everywhere now, then it is like a beautiful shop with a signboard saying they sell pure ghee, and what you find inside is not only that the ghee is adulterated, but that the very milk from which the ghee is made is itself adulterated.
And if that is the case, how do you get purity in political life? Alas, this is not being treated as a frontal issue. The result is that parties can move their positions of great power in unprincipled directions. For the country as a whole, this is not only unpleasant but also deplorable. The electorate must recall the last no confidence motion, in which political parties said they had certain mandates or directions given by their parliamentary boards, and within 5, 6 hours, they had conducted themselves in totally contradictory ways.
Really, there are no parliamentary boards today, or working committees. There are no internal brakes or checks upon these parties. And if the parties are then traveling in political buses that have no brakes, they can land us in any direction. We are really courting disaster. Therefore, the issue is not whether the members of assemblies and Parliament are delivering water or roads or other things they promised during polling time. (It would be deplorable if they were not doing it -- and indeed, much of the time they are not doing it.) But there is another important question, and that is: Are they really behaving like responsible representatives of responsible political parties?
The definition of a responsible political party is that it has a structure, otherwise it would be a case of the Qutb Minar only having the top one or two storeys, and nothing at the bottom. Those two storeys could collapse on our heads at any moment.
We owe it to ourselves, and to our freedom struggle, to do better than this. The founding fathers of our Constitution provided the letter and spirit of the political system for self governance of the country. It is for us to put flesh on it, ensure it is kept in good health. And if our political parties are full of sickness, they cannot provide health for the nation.
L C Jain, the distinguished thinker and former high commissioner to South Africa, spoke to M D Riti.
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