Wednesday, December 18, 2013

From ‘People’s Court’ to ‘People’s Khap Panchayat’: Taking the ‘Popular’ Route to Circumvent Issues of Political Morality

Insulting the Electorate

Till recently, political leaders and parties tried to, and continue to, justify their acts of political immorality, by taking legal recourse, but it appears the new political outfit of Delhi, AAP, wants to take ‘popular’ route to circumvent issues of political morality. The standard procedure to deal with the issues of political morality or morality of a political person has been that if you have been pronounced ‘not guilty’, you can overcome, whatever moral guilt you may be having. Hence, a political leader, caught in a scam, or in some criminal case or sexual harassment case, has always taken a stand that he is innocent till proven guilty. This may be technically and legally correct position, because there can always be issues of political entrapment embedded in such cases. However, in an ideal system the basic political morality would demand that the concerned political leader steps aside till the cases are cleared. But human beings, like  human societies, do not function in isolation from social moralities, and hence a convenient ‘legal’ route, which is generally long drawn one in India, helps a tainted or perceived-to-be-tainted political leader to circumvent the issue of political morality.

This scenario, of course, concerns with the issues where a political leader is involved at an individual level. But there are cases of political choices and decisions, which apparently would not stand scrutiny of strict political morality, but leaders and parties have been able to circumvent the same by taking the legal/constitutional route. Under this category, such cases would include defection from one party to another in mysterious circumstances, but ‘constitutionally’ found correct by the Speaker of the concerned Legislative House. On a broader scale, a political expedient alliance struck by a political party (umpteen cases in the coalition era), perceived to be politically immoral, is supposed to be cleared at the ‘people’s court’, if such alliances win at the hustings. Now, this has been part of the political culture in the country irrespective of the colour of politics.

In the case of AAP seeking opinion through sms, internet voting or perhaps response to a written letter to the ‘people’ of Delhi on the issue of its taking support of Congress to form a government at Delhi, one can say that it is another experiment and innovation in justifying the issues of political (im) morality. AAP came to the forefront on an anti-political class plank (anti-all parties) with lot of sermons on honesty, morality and good politics interwoven into it. It is to be expected that with such a surprising support and confidence expressed in them by the electorate of Delhi, the yardsticks of morality will be strict for them, if not stricter. Their much-hyped stance of ‘neither supporting any party nor taking support from any body’, reiterated many a time during the campaign, and even after the results, thus required that concrete push when it mattered. But they faltered, and have taken the route of seeking ‘opinion’ of the ‘people’ on the issue. Naturally, a ‘No’ result will mean a reality check for them, and a ‘Yes’ result will give them that ‘moral’ edge to say yes to the formation of the government. 

But these are just theoretical facade.  First, as in Scandinavian countries, the genuine ‘referendums’ are carried out under a Third Party agencies or watchdogs with transparency. In the present system adopted by AAP, all the omissions and commissions of ‘booth-capturing’, ‘intimidation’, ‘multiple voting’, ‘proxy voting’ ((you may fancy prefixing an 'e' to these ideas, like, e-booth-capturing')—the bane of democracy—are clearly encouraged, hence one can not know if the response are true, and if at all such response should be taken seriously, thereby insulting the electorate which has already expressed its views through adult-franchise conducted by the Election Commission of India.

Further, any other issue of political morality like scams, personal misconduct of political leaders, politically expedient alliances and policy making can be easily justified by taking this ‘popular’ route—which looks to be just sophisticated versions of Khap Panchayats because of the rather non-transparent manner in which they are sought to be conducted. Hence, if you wish to support a communal party or a policy which is non-inclusive, a political party can take a majoritarian view through such referendums and thus justify the same at the alter of the ‘wishes’ expressed by the  ‘people’, thus simplifying complex larger issues and ducking the element of political morality in a democracy which implies equality and respect for all and all opinions.  To tell frankly, it is like treating 'people' as political cönsumers and turning serious governance issues into something like TV reality shows, or reducing them to social media ‘Like’ buttons. 

Turning serious governance issues into something like TV reality shows, or reducing them to social media ‘Like’ buttons.

Actually, the idea of holding 'refrendums' and deciding issues through majority opinion is very dangerous. No social or cultural or religious reforms have taken place in human society because majority opinion wanted them, rather on the contrary, they have taken place despite that. There is certainly a difference between democracy and mobocracy. When a government gets elected, it is presumed that the political outfit would have gone to voters with certain programmes and policies and ideologies and hence its election on that basis is a broad acceptance of the same by the electorate. But despite getting a majority of seats, the government has to contend with the opposition and other organs of constitution to make its programmes work. 

So under democracy, it is under a continuous critical scrutiny of even those who may not have voted for it to power. But seeking referendums on issues mean that one would like to circumvent the critical scrutiny of those who are in the minority opinion, whereas a government is supposed to respect and also accept minority opinions and issues in a multi-cultural and multi-lingual democracy like ours, because minority opinion can also be saner opinion. In this context, this needs to be underlined that “opposition to the referendum has arisen from its use by dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini who, it is argued, used the plebiscite to disguise oppressive policies as populism. Hitler's use of plebiscites is argued as reason why, since World War II, there has been no provision in Germany for the holding of referendums at the federal level.” (

Thus, some very basic constitutional and democratic concepts are being challenged and I would say being challenged for worse, and thus should not go unchallenged.

Kumar Vikram

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