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Indian Electoral System: How it is changing gradually
janadhikar | 21 Apr 2014

India is in election mode. But secondary issues are made primary. Political parties in collaboration are silently changing the very intent of electoral process.

What Electoral campaigns do not say

Watching the election battle between contestants this time a notable feature is coming up so sharply as never before: all political parties have left the interest of masses to doggerel and adopted the agenda of corporate capital happily with of course pep talks as usual to play at the gallery.

India is presently in the midst of an electoral campaign to choose its political masters for next five years to rule unchecked under a deep shadow of myths. Some feel it is a periodic dance of democracy while others say it is a deceptive game for power and pelf by the rich where common man stands cheated. For another section of people to vote is a national obligation to exercise a statutory right so that rulers get legitimacy or legal sanction what they do to them. It is for the sixteenth time since 1952 that the country is under this exercise at present with universal adult franchise of a social democratic frame by laboriously maintaining a myth of self-rule simultaneously. However, the electoral exercise this time to Lok Sabha with good or bad reasons has gained certain specific underlying features that need careful study for the sake of its own future and which may throw up some untold results for the ruled.

One may note that so far India is under an electoral design that was forged to serve during its first social democratic stage of growth, while it has attained a different stage of growth by dint of liberal-global dispensation where it has attained aspirations of an imperialist power. The desperation how the leading core of corporate houses is out to forge a different set of electoral procedures during the current elections to Lok Sabha that may facilitate its rise to that stage is worth notice. It is investing its resources and energy to adopt a prostituted version of individual centred American election practice during this current campaign by forging an iconic leader from BJP to beat the incumbency of its regime for renewal. The way how other contesting parties fell to this agenda projected through BJP is interesting to note, though it had no legal sanction still with Representation of People Act intact.    

The best or the worst thing India has gone through swift change which Sardar Manmohan Singh and his team of hatchet men may proudly claim to have achieved during last two decades of its growth story can be summarised that it has gained the status of being a country of corporate capital, for the corporate capital and by the corporate capital where state establishment merges with the interests of this class. It is intended to keep this juggernaut going unhindered where rest of the servile population is meant to serve its cause of expropriation at the national or global level with impunity. These gentlemen led by economist PM are a satisfied lot to earn this distinction of their place in modern Indian history and achieve it through playing the democratic game nicely, harnessing the entire political establishment in the project. If the Reliance group of Indian corporate capitalists today is out to capture the entire political space in the country through Modi by manipulating the electoral contest employing its media empire none can complain, much less Manmohan Singh and his team. Exactly to the rule, the rivals to Reliance in the corporate world like Birla, Bajaj etc feel threatened and are trying to balance out the power game by sponsoring fresh faces like Kejriwal. Thus, as a natural corollary to the growth of liberal-global phase of economy during last two decades, these elections to Lok Sabha have turned into a fierce contest between corporate houses for capturing the entire political establishment to its advantage.        

First thing first; elections work on a myth that people rule themselves in democracy but through mandated representatives, earning the seal of legitimacy by this process. This fallacy helps to maintain the rule over citizens, through renewals but robs democracy of its soul. After casting the vote citizen has nothing to do with the activities of such representatives in matters of governance. Soon after elections are over, at a point, people tend to get tired of deceptions galore in the system while elections provide an opportunity for the ruling elite fighting incumbency with sham alternatives to escape its violent over-throw. This is the reason why every political party seeking legitimacy of its betrayal is keen in exhorting the people in elections to vote, projecting it as a national obligation of exercising one’s right!    

One may recollect, the forte of democracy had rested in the beginning on ‘Equality, Liberty, Fraternity’ of French Revolution fame. Till recently everyone, who is anybody in the ranks of governing class anywhere during these past three hundred years, took pride in retailing this gem of their culture. Not now. It seems that they have grown tired of it completely. They are out now inventing instead lasting virtues in a highly centralised leadership to rule over the masses. Their idioms have changed. Under one alibi or the other, inequality is being projected as a driving force for progress, liberty of citizens stands squeezed to a bare minimum in search of intruding governance while less said the better about battered fraternity. That old slogan has lost its meaning universally with a degree of variation here and there. What happened and Why? It makes an interesting story where people stand betrayed and cheated.

It is one known fact of history that, recognising the human trait to resist subjugation, the clarion call of eighteenth century French Revolution in ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ had released a flood of mass energy to come out of a dark age of autocratic rule. Since governance by its nature implies subjugation, democracy was designed to make it easy as against autocracy. As a creed, democracy was defined where people stood supreme. A distinct philosophy thus came into being based on this creed with individual freedom and liberty at its core. For a time people forgot the pangs of governance.

However, the leading force of this revolution, a minority heading for capital-based industrial dispensation, soon after coming to power felt insecured and threatened of this released mass energy to its rule. Efforts were made to turn the slogan into rituality. The concept of democracy soon was crafted into representative democracy on the spacious plea of practicability and need for regulation was stressed. This mechanism of representatives ensured democracy to remain within boundaries drawn by the rulers themselves. Focused as representative of the people, the institution of political party came into existence that served the state to rule by keeping this mass energy in check. Through such a mechanism, the slogan of liberty, equality and fraternity lost its relevance ultimately. This is history.

Controlled / regulated democracy needed a tool to clip it of its vibrancy and political party became one where a handful of leaders at top exercises its will without any obligation to the ranks or the masses. It is designed to make governance easy over the ruled unlike under autocracy. It ensures easy compliance and creates conditions for a longer life to the system. This happened in independent India also during its march of six decades. The ‘incumbency’ phenomenon, as generally talked about, is merely an admission of this fact about the nature of governance. Any party or good man once in power once is bound to come face to face with this reality as a ruler underlining the basic conflict of interest between ruler and the ruled. Be aware that political party is an entity of representative form of democracy that was given shape to serve commercial-industrial revolution, while self governing democracy had its roots in the collective way of life with man/woman living in a common habitat with common interests in resources.    

It is apparent that the current election exercise in India underlines a strong disquiet about the old principles of democracy among the governing elites and a passionate urge among them is visible for a controlled version instead so that the right of governance does not slip away from their hands which may jeopardise the interests of corporate capital. No other earlier general election to Lok Sabha ever exhibited such a level of distrust in its first faith with a desperate attempt to forge new tools in place. A bit careful examination of the available material may be useful to understand the undercurrents.  

To recount, India has traversed a journey of growth over six decades after independence and gained a level of relative economic strength during this first phase as a capitalist country with a corresponding level of polarisation with inequality and pauperisation for a vast majority of its labouring masses producing in effect a class who possess a higher degree of disposal income, constituting a big market in consequence for finance capital as well as an urge for this capital to move fast even beyond national boundaries, giving rise to imperialist aspirations. It was the condition which created ground for the second phase of capitalist growth when it craved to harness the state structure to its sole service. Opportunity came its way when the country was ready for general elections to Lok Sabha in 1991 and it was grabbed with exceptional zeal by it for a sharp shift.      

The socio-economic-political shift which Indian ruling elite had effected by adopting openly market friendly governance instead of people centred approach since 1991 for consolidating the gains in capitalist growth since 1947 has consequently produced conditions during these last two decades of liberal-global dispensation which badly need now corresponding structural changes in the whole system to navigate its boat safely further in a turbulent world of constant ebb and tides. The current electoral campaign in the country is showing such uneasy signs for the same.

The law of motion of capitalist growth has worked as per its prescription. The tools which were forged to serve its cause in its first phase of development can no longer be relevant for the second phase of its ruthless advance. After two decades of structural adjustment to reach the new stage, the corporate capital now is out to throw away the old for the new baggage. The ‘honest’, ‘genial’ and academician Sardar Manmohan Singh was called in to serve the adjustment phase and now a fresh warrior is required to give it a push with jolt. Weak is asked to concede space for the strong! This is how the political economy of corporate capital works to the rule.

Electoral exercise is the time when such tools are usually forged. Atal Bihar Government had disappointed the expectations of corporate houses during its 6 year rule while its arrogance during its service to the corporate houses had alienated the masses in midst of worst deprivation. The parallel centre of power at RSS headquarter in Delhi/Nagpur had left Atal Bihari as a beleaguered Prime Minister. When it suffered humiliating defeat in elections BJP was left highly demoralised and its cadre despondent. Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister learnt a lesson or two from this BJP default and pulled the cart serving the same corporate capital for ten years as an astute bureaucrat, though ultimately he also lost confidence of the same masters by the time country was nearing 16th Lok Sabha elections due to the heightened aspirations of his masters, including his pet in Reliance brothers!

It is for nothing that a powerful section of corporate houses signalled the thoroughly demoralised BJP to start its electoral campaign almost two years back, when India Against Corruption (IAC) with RSS cadres as its driving force pampered by corporate media had prepared a congenial ground for it to assert after a long period of hibernation BJP was forced to go through since the demoralising defeat in 2004 elections beyond its expectations. BJP on its part immediately came out of the wings and started playing tune: new metaphors of electoral discourse were forged, non issues made prime issues, old personalities demolished and an atmosphere of political paralysis was generated with ruthless consistency and in favour of strong governance.

By the way, who needs strong governance and deft policy decision ruthlessly in a democratic set up giving no chance for the victims to cry? At least, common man in the street in search of a living wage does not require a brute commander to rule. Then, who will be benefited by a brute? Let us examine.

It was clear by the year 2005 that corporate houses, both national and foreign, are out to grab land, forest and mineral wealth and they desired the government to take strong measures for assuring the takeover during this second phase of their growth. This anti-people agenda can advance only with a strong hand which can contain the rising discontentment on this count from the victims. BJP has assured these masters of its commitment to do the needful. This is bound to adversely affect the interests of particularly peasants, tribals and forest dwellers en mass. It will spell their doom. BJP has come out as the instrument of trade and commerce to do the needful.

Recent chain of events indicate that corporate houses were solidly backing Manmohan Singh government till general elections to Lok Sabha in 2009 when he stoutly defended Nuclear Power agreement with USA at the cost of allies and had pushed out Left parties out of UPA. He was as decisive and strong man as corporate interests then! In 2009 the Congress led government was put to power with a hearty support of the rich masters.

But the same forces started feeling very uneasy with the Congress government only when it started dithering on land, forest and mines questions under severe public pressure around the year 2011-12. A movement by a well oiled organisation, India Against Corruption, enjoying heavy support from certain corporate houses was launched then with RSS cadres providing it with requisite muscles. Seizing the moment a totally discredited party of scams like BJP during its 6 year rule sprang to action against corruption! By design IAC provided an issue as well as the atmosphere to the BJP for assertion.

 However, the best repeated charge against Manmohan Singh government of ‘policy paralysis’ was of much significance. It reflected the agenda of corporate capital and BJP mouthed it in time to assure masters of its role. Inversely, BJP assured them to translate their agenda of grabbing land, forest, mineral wealth with strong hand. The charge in context about policy paralysis can have no other meaning than alignment of BJP with corporate interests fully if voted to power.

This was the time when Reliance, Adani, Tatas and such like group of powerful corporate houses decided for Modi from BJP as a safe bet to invest, keeping his track record as Chief Minister of Gujarat in view. This explains why BJP laboured so heavily on such issues which corporate houses have no problem with. It is not without reason that BJP is not talking about basic economic issues and concentrating so hard on street-corner propagandist style of campaign in the present elections to demolish rival personalities on petty points bordering personal hatred and ridicule. It successfully derailed the election process of substantive issues and turned it into a bitter struggle between personalities instead. BJP wanted to assure the rich masters of its fidelity by adopting such a strategy as their faithful servant more than the Congress, projecting rival Rahul Gandhi through hysterical accusations as a juvenile, unfit to govern! The level of desperation that the RSS and BJP have exhibited in this campaign however betray a strong sense of do or die spirit for grabbing power at any cost and with no holds barred having Modi like man in the lead. This makes the bet more significantly critical for the future of the country.   

The third rival in the race is Kejriwal. With a political outfit assembled overnight Kejriwal has the background of India Against corruption with strong corporate backing and enjoying the company of hard core RSS cadres. He parted company with Anna Hazare at a critical juncture suddenly to jump into the electoral bandwagon for capturing state power to deliver. He is in fact repeating what others like him did, say like Babu Jai Prakash/Desai did in 1977, later on gathered into Janta Party (aam aadmi party by translation) duly backed by rich men club of India.

It is a known fact that Reliance group has now sponsored Modi from BJP to be the next PM, duly joined by some other contenders in finance capital and industry who have come to dominate Indian political establishment today by sheer money power and manipulation. The rival group of corporate houses need a strong counter balance to this design of Reliance. During elections to Delhi Assembly BJP did its best to manipulate Kejriwal on the strength of its cadres working with him and financial backing wherever necessary to ensure defeat of Sheela Dixit government of Congress for its victory to power. But the Jinn worked on unexpected lines that threw Kejriwal in limelight. The rival group of corporate houses found in him a potential icon to build up for Lok Sabha elections currently in process.

Now, Kejriwal is the blue eyed boy of this anti-Reliance group who is talking the same corporate agenda as BJP is chanting through Modi to win their heart during his campaign in elections, while Rahul Gandhi is fighting incumbency generated by his party led by Manmohan Singh-Chidambaram-Montek Singh trio by serving corporate capital during its 10 years of rule.  

With the grace of central governments led by Atal Bihari and Manmohan Singh, the biggest beneficiaries had been the corporate houses, more so Reliance, Adani, Tatas and the like. They turned Mahabali by the grace of state patronage, more so during last two decades of liberal-global extravaganza. Now they need a strong governance to bulldoze the old structures for new ones to replace that can assure them of unquestioned rule over the vast resources of this country. The manifestos prepared by FICCI, CII and such other platforms of the rich tell a tale. These gentlemen are frustrated how Manmohan Singh government dithered on their demands like on land acquisition bill, labour law reforms, forest rights, environment clearances etc. They need Modi like icon instead to work ruthlessly and curb resistance from perspective victims, as he has been performing in Gujerat for these predators as CM.       

The present situation has a background: India, after independence from British imperial hold, had adopted a liberal bourgeois democratic frame for governance with strong colonial inheritance intact under the newly drafted Constitution, which was a document less of substantive principles in just governance and more of compromises. A nation was reborn with deep scars all around. The Provisional government that had come into being before the first general election was a picture of pacts between contending socio-economic interests even after Muslim League had opted for a separate nation of its own under the India Independence Act, 1947 by British Parliament when predominant Hindu bourgeoisie had refused to secure interests of Muslin bourgeoisie while sharing power. The first election to Lok Sabha was held in 1952 that provided legitimacy to the new set of rulers. Thereafter, it was a hectic period of capitalist growth under national and international conditions available to it. The period till 1991 was utilised to gain a level of maturity for its corporate capital to take shape when it started crying foul of its old baggage in its search for structural change as per law of its motion to a higher degree of global aspirations. The perfect opportunity came in hand during 1991 to strike.

The year 1991 proved a decisive period, internal and external, for Indian ruling elite to take a shift. The emerging International situation was an outstanding opportunity for it to take a plunge for new pastures, casting away its old baggage of a welfare state which it had reluctantly kept at its mast to placate those teeming millions who were partners in the freedom struggle with the hope of coming out of dire poverty due to colonial expropriation. It swiftly surged ahead for consolidating its base, change the society accordingly and gain new level of capitalist growth. The IMF and World Bank, the two most trusted instruments of corporate capital were available but with a price tag at a time when Indian ruling class was too happy to join the band wagon.

The governing establishment sold the idea of this shift to Indian citizens deftly; Sardar Manmohan Singh was brought out from the secure stables to execute the project as its Finance Minister and the media, both Indian and foreign, was put to make up his personality to stomach the sour doze. Everybody who mattered bought the fake medicine as genuine; even the leftists ultimately joined the chorus, leaving the interests of common people in jeopardy.

With this shift unchecked and having a dutiful media in command, the ruling elite got fresh confidence; loot started unhindered, except for spontaneous protests from the victims of ‘development’ themselves here and there. The whole political establishment stood badly compromised, barring a shadow boxing at the time of periodic elections. The masses stood completely betrayed; ideological, organisational, political, on matters of morality, principle and practice. It was totally a new situation for the Indian people to contend in its march of six decades of independence with a modern system of governance to keep them in subjugation of new kind with a facade of self-rule through periodic electoral exercises.

At this point one aspect needs a bit of elucidation lest there remains ambiguity: the feature of a complete alignment of political establishment with the interests of ruling elite is not a result of some degeneration here and there but a natural corollary of its character, its biology. It is a universal feature which one can see with bare eyes. The good reason resides in its genes. As victims to an elaborate system of controlled ‘education’ masses still harbour a myth that political parties are instrument of change in their hands. it needs to be explained from pages of history and its biology.   

However, let there be no illusions about the vitality of these new tools being forged or new faces being projected as fresh messiahs in place of the spent up haggards. The bunch of  Modis, Rahuls or Kejriwals sweating out desperately lashing against each other with raw idioms and the powerful forces backing them is a rare spectacle of the contending corporate houses both national and international, to capture governing rights over the resources and the cheap labour power of the people. Target is the common man and the machinery to keep them in check. Modi, knowing the corporate agenda, is dangerous as he has intentions to go much beyond the diversity that is India.

India is at a turning point. Beware!