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Positioning People & Politics

What should the relationship between people and political parties be has long been a debate in India. Speaking at an event organised by the Asiatic Society of India, noted Sociologist, Lawyer, Human Rights columnist and writer Dr Kalpana Kannabiran (b. 1961) recently said that just as the Government is accountable to the people, political parties, too, need to accept that responsibility. This responsibility is mentioned even in the Constitution (of India), she added.

According to Dr Kannabiran, political parties are not like private organisations, but they are public bodies. Those, who contest elections to gain public support, should be accountable to people for each and every action. One may express doubt whether this sort of discussion is still relevant, keeping in mind the deterioration in Indian Political Culture in recent times. Presently, almost all the political outfits are serving their own (vested) interests, and not the interests of people. Indian political leaders are not at all worried about ethics, as many of them do not follow the correct political norms.

Dr Kalpana Kannabiran

Had the Indian politicians met the conditions of true Democracy, there would be no need to discuss the responsibilities of political parties. In a Democracy, the future of political parties depends on public support. Hence, if they fail to remain accountable to people, then they will have to lose the public support. Ideally, this should encourage party leaders and workers to behave in a proper manner and to correct their mistakes. In practice, the relationship between the parties and people has become that of givers and receivers.

In India, parties are trying to seize power by promising to fulfill the interests of different groups in various ways. As long as those promises made by a party seem believable, the party performs well in the election. This is how Democracy has turned into a Party-cracy in the South Asian nation. As moral responsibility has no place in Party-cracy, parties have started dictating the terms and conditions of Indian Democracy.

India Corruption Research Report 2022 (ICRR 2022)

This is not the end of the problem, but the beginning. People (read voters) have largely lost the expectation of moral accountability from political parties and their leaders mainly due to the changing political culture and practice. As a result, the politicians feel no special pressure, as far as their accountability to the people is concerned. They have assumed that their parties shall act like this, and shall behave arbitrarily when in power. This is why politicians, accused of financial corruption or other wrongdoing, often say that they will prove their innocence in the court of the people, even after the allegations are proven.

It has been seen that some politicians indulge in depraved, intemperate and violent activities in order to garner public support, and they usually target identified opponents. In fact, the merchants of Populist Politics continue to behave in such an irresponsible and harmful manner for society, using their popularity as a tool. In these circumstances, politicians mostly tend to ignore the advice of sociologists, who need to keep discussing the issue for the sake of Democracy.

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