Intra Party Democracy

Current Situation:
  • In India there is no real movement towards democratisation of parties; the selection of candidates, Chief Ministers and office-bearers of party units is usually left to the discretion of a handful of leaders who take decisions behind closed doors.
  • India’s success in consolidating a democratic system of government has paradoxically forestalled pressure for party reform. Taken as a whole, the electoral process is more representative but political parties look a lot like oligarchies.
  • Most parties are subservient to one supreme leader who can impose his/her offspring on the party, and even electoral defeat does not loosen their control or hold over the party.
  • Political parties — with the exception of the Left parties — still refuse to lay down settled and predictable procedures for almost everything they do, from the selection of candidates to the framing of a manifesto.
  • The question of party reform is a pressing one in India. While many argue that intraparty democracy is essential to sustain broader political democracy, this is not a panacea for the numerous problems facing parties.
  • The more significant issue is the lack of institutionalisation and, partly as a consequence, democratisation.
  • The biggest weakness of parties is that they are leader-centric and most leaders are unwilling to institutionalise procedures for the selection of candidates and increase the participation of members in party functioning to prevent elite capture from getting entrenched.
  • As a rule, strong leaders rarely support institutionalisation because it constrains their discretion and personal power. This has proved detrimental to the political system as it impedes the growth of broad-based non-sectarian parties which can effectively articulate and aggregate a variety of interests.
  • This is a major challenge facing the party system because party activity driven by partisan mobilisation lies at the root of much of the schism and disruption of Indian politics today.
  • Another aspect is the reduction of party organisations into election-winning machines, which depend for their success on the charisma of the leader and their capacity to win elections.
  • Winning elections has become the only role a party envisages for itself. The privileging of elections at the expense of other aspects of the democratic process implies that parties are inattentive to the need for constant organisational change and renewal.
  • Leaders are valued for their capacity to attract crowds and raise funds as elections become more and more expensive. The opacity of political financing, necessitates unhindered top-down control’ and ‘absolute loyalty down the line.
  • If party funds are raised and controlled centrally, this weakens the State units and rank and file vis-à-vis the central leadership on a range of issues including leadership selection and nominations for elections.
  • It also discourages democratisation as this would limit their power to accumulate wealth or amass a fortune or promote personal power at the expense of public interest.
Global Scenario
  • Evidence from other democracies shows a trend towards greater intraparty democracy, decentralisation and transparency within parties.
  • In Germany, for example, parties are required to meet certain conditions in nominating their candidates to party posts. They have to be chosen by a direct secret vote at both constituency and federal levels. In the U.S., laws were enacted that required the use of secret ballots in intraparty elections.
  • The British Labour Party, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, the Democratic Party in the U.S. and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada have all seen movements by party activists and by the rank and file to reduce the power of entrenched party elites.

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