Friday, March 25, 2011

Internal Party Elections should be made mandatory!

Here are the stats that author Patrick French unearthed while researching his book India: A Portrait – published in January 2011 by Penguin -

  • All MPs whose age is less than 30 years have other family members in politics.
  • More than two-thirds of MPs aged under 40 have other family members in politics.
  • An alarming 69.5% of women MPs have other family members in politics.

The statistics prove what most of us always thought. Despite being the world’s largest democracy, politics in India remains family business and the most important political asset in India is family connections.

The national leaders have too much power
In India, if you are simply a normal party worker it is difficult (or impossible) for you to rise up through the ranks as opposed to other countries like the United States. I find that there is a lot of merit in the way in which US political parties conduct primaries to select their candidates for the general election.

In contrast, candidates in India are selected in the most arbitrary manner with the power to finalise the seat allocation being held be the party’s national leaders. This paves the way for nepotism. Senior leaders tend to select their family members to contest on the party ticket regardless of whether they have ever lived or worked in the constituency they contest. Ordinary party workers have to accept these family candidates because there are no internal elections in which they can challenge the party leaders.

The arbitrary method of candidate selection was on full display recently with Sonia Gandhi flying to Tamil Nadu and West Bengal to finalise assembly elections’ seat distribution with coalition partners and local congress leaders being nowhere in sight.

Having internal elections will help! 
While a US style primaries system will be too chaotic and unfeasible in India, there should atleast be internal elections to select the party leaders at both local as well as national level with every registered party member having a vote. Once this is in force, the leaders will be unable to practise nepotism because they will be voted out of their posts if they pander excessively to their family while selecting candidates for the elections.

Only mandatory internal elections can improve the situation!
The problem of nepotism cuts across all political and state lines. Congress, the oldest national party, conducted annual elections for the party president every single year from 1885 to 1939 in its pre-independence era. However, since 1998 till date, Sonia Gandhi has been the party president without any internal election at all and she has also personally picked most of the state congress leaders. Regional parties like DMK in Tamil Nadu and ShivSena in Maharashtra practise dynastic succession as well. All three of Karunanidhi’s children are now political leaders of DMK and Balasaheb Thackrey handed over the reins of ShivSena to his son Uddhav Thackrey when he retired from active politics.

Hence, the only way to dealing with the nepotism problem is by the Election Commission and the Parliament passing appropriate legislation to  make internal elections mandatory within registered political parties. Though it may sound dramatic and as if EC is interfering with internal functioning of political parties, it is not without precedent. The anti defection laws passed by the Rajiv Gandhi government were as dramatic but really changed the political landscape for the better.

Genuine leaders need not fear
Internal elections shall deal with the problem of nepotism effectively because while those trying to make a political career solely by hanging on to their parents’ coat tails will be dissuaded, hardworking and honest second or third generation leaders such as Omar Abdullah or Rahul Gandhi may not find it very difficult to get elected as their party presidents.

This particular reform is long overdue in India and I hope some government finds the political will to propose and implement it before it is too late.

Stats source:


  1. wow were you drunk when you wrote talk about dynastic politics and yet you say omar and rahul should be elected as presidents...really? are they that good..if any good at like million have been blinded by the dynastic propaganda which seeks to make sons and daughters as the next heir to the throne by increasing their air time in the public(their exposure per say).....I am sure if you look further within you'll find better leaders than either rahul or omar who are good for nothings and dont even know root causes of India's misery. Sounds like hypocrisy to me this post.....

    PS. I am someone you know very well :D

  2. Look at it this way-
    # Supriya Sule, is daughter of NCP president Sharad Pawar. She was nominated to RS in 2006 and then elected to LS in 2009 general election. She has never played a major role within the party. Not even after being elected to LS. She might not win a post in an internal election.
    # On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi and Omar Abdullah at least seem to be very popular with their party cadre. I never said they "should" be elected as party presidents. I have said they 'may not find it difficult' to get elected.

    About them individually, I respect Omar Abdullah and have no strong opinions about Rahul Gandhi. I am opposed to dynastic politics but I am not narrowminded enough to dismiss them just because of their family. I feel they should earn their positions in internal elections.

    Lastly, despite your allegations of hypocracy and afternoon inebriation, I welcome your comment. I dont mind criticism so you can reveal yourself if you so wish. :D

  3. @Anonymous- Let's Keep this discussion civil. Sagar, I completely agree with your views on the Indian political parties being structured on dynasties. But the issue is at the end of the day, all these parties care about is being in POWER. As Parties like Congress have been following the practice of succession, people have been associating the Gandhi family with Congress. Any major change in the leadership would be seen as a weakness in the leadership at national level. So it becomes a question of morality. But this practice should be stopped and the best example would be if young parties like MNS break away from it. If they succeed at the State-level then other regional parties might follow suit.

    But yeah we seriously need to start internal elections, only then would the youth of India would get a chance to rise to the Power to influence decisions of the State.

  4. I do not believe such a move will greatly affect how things are going on right now. In the present scenario, with the kind of influence these political dynasties have on the masses, what makes you think there influence in their own parties will be any different? The same 'leaders' will get elected by their 'chamchas'. To a certain extent it is the party leadership that tends to attract a great percentage of party workers, and in a way, it is the leadership that gives a party it's image, so like Tapan said, change in leadership may completely change a parties image, which is a gamble not many parties will want to take.

  5. @ Tapan: A major change in leadership does not always signify a weakness. A non-Neheru-Gandhi family man, P. V. Narasimha Rao, was the PM of a Congress government for 5 years and unlike Manmohan Singh, he was also the Congress leader. (Sonia was not in politics at that time.) His administration is considered rather good as well.

    @Malhar: Firstly, no leader wants to take the gamble of allowing a process that may result in him being removed from his post. That is the reason why I think that the Election Commission should take the lead in introducing such reforms. They could refuse to grant permanent election symbols or refuse to recognise parties which are not internally democratic.

    Leadership gives a party its image but it is not the only thing which gives it an image. Some small parties like MNS are purely dependent on a leader's image but it is not true for all. Furthermore, dont you think that ideally a political party should have an ideological base? If the reforms I suggest force parties to adopt ideology as their identity rather than just leaders whats the harm?

    Lastly, being a chamcha is a rational and attractive option today because you know that a particular leader is going to decide general election ticket distribution forever and it is good to stay in his good books. If there are internal elections and you know that it is possible that another internally elected leader will decide next general election's ticket distribution then the rational choice for chamchas would be to elect a person who does not practice nepotism and is fair rather than continue chamchagiri of a bad leader. I know that I sound too idealistic but I sincerely think that there is a good chance that it would work...


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