There has never been a time in India without demand for reforms of every kind economic, electoral, administrative, police, judicial, educational, labour. Even the Constitution has been subjected to review by a national commission. Codes of conduct and citizens charters also have been a dime a dozen. And yet, till today there has been scant attention paid to the imperative need for reforms in the most important sphere of national life which has to do with the culture of the political class and political parties. The truth of the matter is that without political reforms, reforms in all other spheres are bound to fail. Hence, it is time political parties and citizen groups got together to forge a consensus on the issue.

Multiplicity of parties

The first thing that strikes an observer of the Indian political scene is the unwieldy number of political parties: Six national parties, 47 State parties (besides nine more falling under no definition represented in the Lok Sabha) and 730 parties unrecognised by, but registered with, the Election Commission. The bewildering number is attributed to the country's complexity and diversity, but in practical terms, it undermines the parliamentary system. Candidates contesting in their thousands on behalf of so many parties making identical promises only cause confusion in the minds of the electorate, fragment the votes and detract from the quality of representation. The starting point of reforms has, therefore, to be to tidy up the party system and bring down the number to a manageable level.

Regrettably, India's political class seems still unprepared to put the nation's interest ahead of party's or individual's selfish interest. The universal perception is that it is prone to misuse power and authority, indulge in corruption and fraud, and betray the trust reposed in them. The reign of terror let loose during elections as a prelude to rigging, booth-capturing and impersonation on a massive scale has become a worrisome staple of elections.

The disorderly behaviour of MPs/MLAs within legislatures, climaxed by the shockingly violent scenes witnessed some years ago in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly, is a direct offshoot of uncontrolled deterioration in political culture.

No taking to streets

In all other democracies, a party elected to form the government is given a reasonable chance to govern, and any objection to its policies is voiced and voted on during debates within the House, and the outcome of the vote is gracefully accepted by the Opposition. Whereas in India, parties think nothing of stalling the working of the legislatures by barracking, walk-outs, hurling missiles at each other and the like, taking the matter to the streets and creating law and order problems.

India's political class needs to be purged of all these obnoxious tendencies by means of thoroughgoing reforms if India's democracy itself is to endure in the way its founding fathers intended it to.

Provision for training

Members of every other profession are made to undergo a rigorous course of education and training, but there is no such requirement for MPs/MLAs who exercise enormous power and authority to make laws, lay down or approve policies, and ensure the proper and prudent management of the country's finances. Attempts are no doubt made by individual parties, legislative forums or think-tanks to familiarise them with their duties and functions but, being sporadic, they do not leave any lasting impact. A body to put elected representatives through sustained and in-depth training programmes, with special emphasis on accountability and integrity, is an immediate necessity.


(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 6, 2006)
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