When Saddam Hussein organized a referendum in 2002 to find out whether he should rule for another 7 years, he got 100% backing of voters. There were 11,445,638 eligible voters – and every one of them voted for Saddam Hussein. [here]
When General Parvez Musharraf contested Presidential election in Pakistan in 2007, he got 99% of the votes. [here]
Do we want a similar system in our country? That everyone should support a specific candidate? There should not be any dissent?
Well, that can never happen in a true democracy. That can happen only in an autocracy such as in countries ruled by military rulers like Saddam Hussein and Gen Parvez Musharraf. In a true democracy, there will (and there must) always be some dissenting people. Otherwise, the democracy is not a true democracy but only a farce.
Now, once it is accepted that there are always some dissenting voices in a democracy, does it mean that no decision should be taken till complete consensus emerges and no dissent remains? Is this what is meant by democracy? The answer is clearly a big “NO”. You cannot delay taking the decision merely because there is no consensus. A democracy works on the concept of decision by a majority. A majority decision prevails. There may be certain issues of fundamental importance to a polity that may perhaps need a higher majority or a special majority rather than a simple majority. But, even in those situations, the fact remains that you cannot indefinitely wait for a complete consensus to emerge and you cannot keep delaying the decision till such time. Complete consensus would generally be possible only in an autocracy. Indecisiveness should not be encouraged merely because the complete consensus is not possible. A democracy has to function. The majority has to decide and act. Naturally, some people may not be happy with such a decision. But, the fact that a majority of people are with the decision would give a moral authority to such a decision.
Unites States has a system of holding presidential primary elections and/or caucuses in each of the States as a part of nominating process of United States Presidential election. Which candidate will be nominated by a political party to contest the Presidential election on its behalf, is decided by such primary elections. It is noteworthy that there is no provision in the US Constitution for such primary elections. The detailed system of holding primary elections and caucuses was evolved by political parties in US over time.
In India, we don’t have a Presidential system of Government. Our Constitution has adopted the Parliamentary system. People need not be told in advance as to who is going to become their Prime Minister after the elections. The Prime Minister is supposed to be elected by the Members of Lok Sabha belonging to the ruling party. This process is expected to be a democratic process. But, unfortunately, there is no internal democracy in most of the parties in India. So, usually you won’t see any dissent. If there is ever a dissenting voice, that is muzzled. A dissenter will either be thrown out of the party or he will break the party and form his own faction / party or will join another party. That’s one of the reasons (though not the only one) that we have such a large number of parties.
Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has a system that comes closest to internal democracy from the Indian perspective. Though it does not have an ideal system of internal democracy within the party, it is better than most other parties in the country. It is not run by a family. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee was the founder of the previous avatar of BJP, i.e., the Bhartiya Jana Sangh. His family is nowhere in control of today’s BJP. Likewise, you’ll not hear the name(s) of any family members of other prominent leaders such as Pt. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, Atal Behari Vajpayee, or even Lal Krishna Advani, ruling the affairs of today’s BJP.
Though it does not have internal democracy in the true sense of the term, it follows a system similar to that of caucuses in the US. Its parliamentary board and/or other internal bodies take most of its important decisions collectively, and it is not a specific individual who takes these decisions. Though it is true that RSS has a lot of influence (and, some control too) over the BJP decisions, the fact remains that many a time, even the RSS does not have the final controlling power. For example, RSS was not happy with Atal Behari Vajpayee on many of his decisions when he was the Prime Minister, yet it could not do much. Likewise, recently, RSS was not successful in installing Nitin Gadkari as BJP President for the second term, mainly due to the resistance of Lal Krishna Advani. One can say that most of the important decisions of BJP are taken by a group of its important leaders generally by consensus or by majority (and of course, RSS too exercises its own influence in this regard). Here, all these leaders may not have equal voting power. Some leaders may have more influence than others in the decision-making process or may have the so-called veto power. However, the fact remains that there is at least a semblance of a collective decision making process. And, at any rate, I think it is better than most other parties in India.
It is in this context that the elevation of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as BJP Election Campaign Committee Chief for the 2014 General Elections should be seen. There were consultations, discussions, dissents, influences, pressures, and so-on. There was also pressure from RSS in favour of Narendra Modi. Ultimately, the decision was taken in favour of Narendra Modi. There were many dissenting voices. Many of the dissenting voices were ultimately convinced, either through persuasions or pressures. But, the majority decision ultimately prevailed. It may not be the majority of the parliamentary board of BJP. But, it was the majority vote of BJP cadre and supporters, ascertained not by a formal election as is done in US Presidential primary elections, but by an informal process that took years. This vote of the BJP cadre in favour of Narendra Modi was so vociferous that it could not be ignored. That the son of a tea-stall vendor, belonging to a backward caste, got elevated through this process, is a clear indicator that there was at least a semblance of a democratic consultation process. The fact that even the patriarch of the party could not force his wish, also indicates that the decision was possible only if the majority support (or popular support, or cadre support, whatever you may call it) was available to it.
No doubt, Chief of the Election Campaign Committee is not the same thing as being the Prime Ministerial candidate. During 2004 and 2009 elections, Pramod Mahajan and Arun Jaitley, respectively, were holding the same post of Chief of Campaign Committee in BJP and neither was considered to be its Prime Ministerial candidate. However, the scenario is different now. Most believe (including Advani himself) that this elevation for Modi means an indirect elevation as the Prime Ministerial candidate, or at least, a stepping stone in that direction.
May be that this process may be a stepping stone for a US type primary election process in long run in the future. There may be dissenting voices. So what? Aren’t we living in a democracy? As I mentioned earlier, complete consensus is possible only in an autocratic system. Democracy pre-supposes allowing dissenting voices to be raised, though the majority prevails in the end. In any case, isn’t it better than what prevails in most of our parties?
It is, therefore, desirable that we should encourage such democratic process, howsoever imperfect it may be as of now, as citizens of India, irrespective of whether we are apolitical or belong to any specific political party. Encouraging internal democracy in our political parties and subjecting them to the RTI Act [as the recent decision of the Central Information Commission does (here)] are very important issues if we aspire to be a true, real and transparent democracy. It is, thus, unfortunate that one notices a lot of criticism, rather than appreciation, in the media of the aforesaid decision-making process that led to the elevation of Narendra Modi in BJP. Here, I am referring to the process and not to the individual.