Jagdeep Chhokar: Why Does Our Political Process Produce Rotten Leaders?
Jagdeep S Chhokar
Profile: Jagdeep S Chhokar is founder and trustee of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). He has been central to ADR’s success in bringing political parties under the ambit of RTI and the Supreme Court ruling barring convicted criminals from contesting elections. He is a former professor, dean, and director in-charge of IIM-A.
The question asked in the title of this piece is obvious, even embarrassing. But it is unequivocal. It says, without any hesitation, that our political process produces rotten leaders and corrupt folk. This is a strong statement, but true. The more complex question is: Why? The answer is not easy but I will attempt an answer. But first, a clarification: The title does not apply to all political leaders; obviously there are exceptions, politicians who are not rotten or corrupt; but those are few and far between.
Now it is quite common to put the entire blame of the current state of affairs on the so-called political class. But those who would have us believe that all that is wrong has been caused by the political class overlook the fact that it does not exist or develop in vacuum; it emerges and evolves out of society. Therefore, society at large, of which all of us are a part, cannot escape responsibility. However, the political class cannot be entirely absolved of it either.
I will come to this later but first, as a student of human behaviour for over 40 years, I would like to suggest that a substantial part of the behaviour of the political class can be explained as a logical response to the broader social system within which they have to operate. The political and electoral aspects form a major and immediate component of this system that applies to them.
The link between common citizens and individual politicians is mediated by the political parties. It is obvious that a democracy—particularly a parliamentary and a representative democracy—is inconceivable without political parties. Even the Supreme Court has said that political parties are integral to the governance of a democratic society. They perform the critical function of mobilising and organising public opinion, and function as a link between the public at large and the government, particularly its political wing.
A democratic political system is inconceivable without parties
Some of us might find it surprising that the term ‘political parties’ is not to be found in the Constitution that came into effect on January 26, 19501 . India has the longest written constitution in the world and it is completely silent on the issue of functioning of political parties. We may wonder why the Constituent Assembly did not deem it necessary to mention anything about this. In my opinion, this is because the Constitution was drafted by a group of principled and high-minded people. In their deliberations for the future of the nation, they were perhaps influenced by their idealism, particularly in the immediate after-glow of independence. I assume they must have thought that people similar to them will lead the country even in the years to come.
The Indian genius has certainly evolved over the last 60-plus years and, at least in some ways, the socio-political milieu has changed almost beyond recognition. Some of the assumptions and expectations of the members of the Constituent Assembly are, therefore and unfortunately, not valid today.
The appropriate question to ask, therefore, is “What is wrong with our political system?” The direct answer is: The way our political parties function.
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