Archive for July, 2012

Was the President really elected?

Posted on July 27, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

The Tribune, July 27, 2012







Was the President really elected?
It is a very disturbing process
by Jagdeep S. Chhokar

THE Presidential election did look like a general election but, as is well known, “looks can be deceptive”. The look was superficially similar inasmuch as bargains were struck, promises made (some of which did not last even 24 hours), attempts were made to outsmart one another, and so on. But the vital difference was how the outcome was determined and who determined the outcome.

In a general election, though the political parties constrain or limit the choices that voters can make, the final decision (within the limits set by parties, of course) still rests with the voters. Unexpected wins and losses are not only possible but also frequently happen, giving rise to the general belief that the “Indian voter”, though not necessarily educated, is politically savvy and smart, and has the national interest in mind.

But was the Presidential election really decided by those who voted in it and was the decision really known only on the day of the counting?

The decision on who should be and would be the President of the Republic was taken by a handful of people, possibly not more than 30, who head various political parties, in fact, not necessarily on paper. Barring one or two exceptions, in an overwhelming majority of parties, in fact, there was only one person whose opinion mattered. Once these 25-30 people have made up their minds, the members of the so-called electoral college act as pawns due to the spectre of the Anti-Defection Act that the political parties hold. Even if a “whip” is not issued, there are already reports in the media about some parties having initiated probes to locate those who voted against the party’s wishes in order to take action against them. This is when Article 55 (3) specifically says that “the voting at such election shall be secret ballot”.

It is this real process of deciding who becomes the President that raises the question: Was the President really elected?

The process of electing the President gets vitiated from the time political parties start confabulating about possible candidates. While it is the norm for political parties to select candidates in all significant elections, including the general election, where the selection of candidates is based on that indefinable characteristic called “winnability”, the selection of candidates for the Presidential election is somewhat different. The so-called “consultations” are more in the form of bargaining in terms of “what will you do for me if I support your candidate?” And it is in this almost sordid process, the party as a whole or even the minor leadership of the party has no role at all. The quid pro quos are worked out among a total of about 25-30 people and that decides the incumbent of the highest office of the land for five years. We do not have to go far to realise that this can cause the choice to fall on the “least unacceptable” rather than the “most acceptable” person being elevated to being the Head of State!

Though even the selection of candidates for their election as MPs and MLAs by a handful of people is objectionable because that is a negation of real democracy, the same process for choosing the candidate(s) for the President’s post should be totally unacceptable because the President can be rightly looked upon as almost the sole representative of the nation. Distinguished public intellectual, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, in a recent article has lamented on this fact in the following words: “It is a reflection of the essential hollowness of all ritual where its inner meaning remains un-understood. One cannot expect the remote fruit of an indirect election to enthuse, much less inspire, a billion people… Presidential elections now see appeals to the political mind. They are all about the political mind, not about the political heart, if such a thing is left in our body politic, not to speak of political ‘soul’.

They are about the give and take of support, assurances and collaboration. With the President’s electors seated on rows upon rows before the President-elect, his inaugural accurately reflects India’s political geography, its abacus, or the counting-frame of power. It does not represent India’s aspirational astronomy, the scattered arrangement of its stellar hopes.”

The fact that the process of selection of candidates renders the so-called electoral college almost completely irrelevant and thus totally negates Articles 54 and 55 of the Constitution raises very fundamental doubts about the credibility and even constitutionality (at least in spirit, if not in letter) of the entire process — the heart finds it difficult to accept it though it might be within the letter of the law.

What makes the process even more disturbing is that the 25-30 people who make this momentous decision themselves are not elected. They have come to acquire this “power” by virtue of either having formed political parties or inherited them or through some other means but definitely not by means of elections that can be called “free and fair”. The effective choice of the Head of State by a handful of unelected people is against all fundamental tenets of democracy. This is arguably the most potent proof the infirmities of our electoral system.

The basic reason why a handful of unelected people can take such a decision is the lack of internal democracy in the functioning of our political parties, and, therefore, the only solution is to have a real and effective democracy in the internal functioning of all our political parties. This would require political parties to hold transparent, free and fair elections at every level. In the context of the Presidential election, every political party will have to decide, in a transparent and demonstrably democratic manner, whom to put up for President. Then there might even be more than two or three candidates for the post of President, and members of the electoral college will have the opportunity of exercising the real choice while casting their vote.

But the moot point is: Is such a real and effective democracy acceptable to our political parties?

The writer is a former professor, dean and director-in-charge of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

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