Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Demagogy over democracy seems to be the new trend in Manipur
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How the Political Culture of Campaigns by “Intending Candidates” Undermines Democracy on the Altar of Demagoguery

The election mood in the state is inching towards feverish. It is interesting that all this is happening even before the exact dates of the forthcoming Assembly Elections are still not announced, though it is known that it will have to be sometime towards the end of February 2022 or latest by March 15, after which the term of the current Assembly would have expired, bringing about a constitutional crisis. Almost on a daily basis, particularly in the valley areas, we are beginning to hear of election related skirmishes, with opposing groups of supporters for different prospective candidates targeting each other violently, and at alarming frequency, firearms violence too. In the hills too, election churnings have begun manifesting as realignments in party affiliations of hopeful candidates, in what can be read as the forebodings of troubles in the days ahead, although as yet, the pitch of the contest is not as hot as in the valley constituencies. The pattern has been for certain local leaders to project themselves as “intending candidates” of a political party, and then campaign. Among others, betrayed in the process is the often-heard assessment of Manipur politics in which people are seen as inclined towards personalities rather than political parties or ideologies. This is unfortunate, for politics is the science of shaping and organising group aspirations around ideologies in the shared belief this route to actualising these common aspirations is far more efficient than around individual leadership. This is also one of the features that distinguishes democracy from an autocracy, of which the closest those of us in Manipur would recall is monarchy. But it does seem the archetypal memory from the days of monarchy still remains incompletely replaced by democratic values, making people still tend towards idolising individual leaders and demagogues rather than trust the collective leadership of political parties and their ideologies. It is no consolation at all that although not as acute as in Manipur, this tendency of hero-worship in politics is not exclusive to the state, and that indeed, India by and large is consciously adapting it as its accepted norm. We do not have to go far to look for evidence. Our streets today are more like photo albums of political leaders, encouraging the public to be in awe of them and think of them as indispensable, rather than trust state power in the hands of political parties which by their very structure and nature have far more checks and balances built into them.

Under the circumstance, it would not be entirely justified to blame only politicians for the phenomenon of political defection, both by elected legislators despite the anti-defection law specified by the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, and by party members aspiring to be legislators even though the statute book does not put any restraint on their wishes to switch loyalty. Nobody can be forced to remain confined within any political party and must be allowed to change allegiance when differences between him/her with the party he belongs to becomes irreconcilable. However, for a society to remain orderly these switches of loyalty should remain as exceptions not become the rule. Unfortunately, in Manipur, the latter is today the reality, and there is no longer any shame or disgrace associated with the act of betraying one’s own political party for personal reasons. To take an analogy from everyday life, just because divorce is a legally permitted way of a marriage, it does not mean everybody should begin divorcing and dissolving the family institution at will in the search for fresh opportunities for the self. Or, there is nothing illegal about people abandoning their ageing parents as people who have served their purpose in life and no longer of any value, but this does not generally happen because it is still not a socially acceptable behaviour and considered as violative of an unwritten sense of propriety of a society – that is, if the particular society has any sense of propriety left which define all civilised societies. In politics, the cult of hero worship that Manipur has normalised, is making sure these unwritten norms of propriety do not matter anymore, and the result is the impunity with which politicians disregard political loyalty, confident that they would take along their supporters whichever party they decide to become members of. The politicians have now been made bigger than the political parties, and this is a great misfortune for Manipur. This phenomenon of “intending candidates” campaigning for votes even before the different political parties in the fray have announced their candidates is yet another manifestation of this lopsided equation between politicians and political parties. It is now time for the people to restore all the lost sense of propriety associated with disloyalty to party and ideology by abandoning this abominable cult of hero-worship in politics.

The other consequence of this cult will be witnessed soon as the different parties have decided who to award their tickets. Since only one can get the ticket in each constituency, the rest of the “intending candidates” will then begin migrating to other parties which can provide them the ticket they want. As the ruling party both in the state and at the centre, the BJP can be predicted to face this problem the worst. Undermined disgracefully again in the process will be the primacy of party over individual as each of those who leave their original parties will again take away a chunk of their individual supporters to the ultimate parties which become the destination of their political migration. All these are indications that maybe it is time to give a serious consideration to the “proportional representation” electoral system followed in most of continental Europe, as opposed to the “first-past-the-post system”, essentially followed by countries with Anglo-Saxon base as well as their former colonies, including India. In the former unlike in the latter, voters will be voting for the parties and not the individual politicians. Depending on the percentage of votes won by each party, they will be awarded seats in their Legislative institutions of their countries and to these they will nominate their representatives or deputies. These legislators thus appointed, do not have the direct mandate of the people, therefore even if they decide to defect, they cannot take away the seats they are appointed to and these will remain with the party for it to appoint a replacement deputy. As Karl Popper among others have said, this system makes redundant not just political defection but also the cult of hero-worship, for then the primacy of politics will rest with the party and not the individual politicians. Such a change even if it is likely to be the best solution to situations such as in Manipur, it is however unthinkable as yet, for this will have to be for the entire country and cannot be just for a single or even a few states.

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