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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 40 September 30, 2023

INDIA Alliance is yet to become an ideological alliance | Gopal Krishna

Saturday 30 September 2023


If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.
— George S. Patton, a General in the US Army who commanded the Seventh United States Army in the Mediterranean Theater of World War II, and the Third United States Army in France and Germany after the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

The question is not whether or not the convener of INDIA Alliance partners be made the convener of INDIA’s electoral campaign, the question is whether INDIA will offer a narrative independent of anonymous donors and biometric surveillance capitalists.

The question is why Indian National Congress failed to create INDIA like alliance in 2014 and 2019? The reasons for its electoral defeat in both the parliamentary elections continue to undermine the effectiveness of INDIA alliance. The non-Congress opposition parties have come to join the INDIA alliance due to the collaborative efforts of Nitish Kumar in particular.

During a panel discussion on Satya Hindi channel on 30 August 2023, Vinod Sharma, the political editor, Hindustan Times asserted that there cannot be better convener of INDIA alliance than Nitish Kumar. He alone has the political stature and competence to respond in a tit-for-tat manner to the leader of BJP-led NDA alliance. He can respond to him in his language. In Hindi language, he alone is capable of responding in terse manner. He remembered Nitish Kumar’s response to BJP’s PM candidate’s speech at Gandhi Maidan Hunkar rally on October 29, 2013. Nitish Kumar took a debunked Narendra Modi saying,”he has weird understanding of history. Takshashila is in Pakistan not in Bihar as he had said”. He mocked him saying, “They made Chandragupta a member of the Gupt dynasty." He said, “Those who believe in fascisim are Hilter-like and will do what Hitler did. Hitler’s propoganda was to tell a lie hundreds of times and it would seem to be true. In Indian too some people are doing the same”. He added, “Modi had also said that Alexander came to India after conquering many regions and that he defeated by our soldiers near Ganga.” Nitish informed, “Alexander never reached the Ganga. He fell ill on his way to India and eventually died while he was returning home.” In hindsight, it is apparent that the major parties of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) missed the opportunity of utilising Nitish Kumar during 213-14 for their electoral campaign.

Vinod Sharma said, we need a leader knows history. He wanted the narrative of INDIA alliance to emerge. Responding to the question about the possibility of early elections, he said, early elections will be a result of the anxiety of the ruling party.

Although months have passed since the Patna meeting of INDIA alliance partners, the coalition has failed to move beyond agreement on electoral unity against an autocratic model. There is no unity as to the narrative of this coalition beyond the proposal of a democratic model. The common minimum programme has not be agreed upon as yet. As of now meetings of INDIA have remained process meetings. The blind adoption of US-Europe election finance and campaign model may be coming in the way of firming up a robust alliance to undo the damage to the socio-economic-cultural fabric of the country in the aftermath of the enactment of the Companies Act, 2013. In his role as Minister oF Corporate Affairs, Veerappa Moily, erstwhile G-23 member and a permanent invitee to the Congress Working Committee had introduced the Companies Bill, 2011 in the Lok Sabha on December 14, 2011 after incorporating the recommendations of BJP leader Yashwant Sinha headed Parliamentary Committee on Finance for increasing the limit of the corporate contributions to the political parties.

By doing so Veerappa Moily ignored the promise made at the Convention of Indian Youth Congress on November 29, 2011 by Sonia Gandhi, Chairman, Indian National Congress. In her speech, she had reiterated the need for state financing of elections as a measure against corruption in the electoral process. Earlier, she had demanded it at the plenary of her party in December 2010. Salman Khurshid, as Union Minister for Law & Justice had informed the Lok Sabha on November 28, 2011 that “Group of Ministers constituted by the Central Government is considering measures that can be taken by the Government to tackle corruption which inter alia include the introduction of state funding of elections. The Group of Ministers has discussed certain formulations those could be adopted to address this issue but no final decision has yet been taken” in a written reply to a question. Veerappa Moily defied Sonia Gandhi by not incorporating her promise in the Companies Bill, 2011. In effect, Moily succeeded killing the very reason of the existence of the Group of Ministers which was grappling with the introduction of state funding of elections.

As a consequence, two contradictory things happened in the Lok Sabha on December 14, 2011. Companies Bill, 2011 was introduced by Moily in the afternoon that made provision for increased corporate funding of parties. Within hours of the introduction of this Bill, Manish Tiwari, national spokesperson of the Congress who stood up as a MP to speak about its seriousness in dealing about Black money stated, "I feel ashamed to state that black money which is linked to our advertisement policy is related to electoral finance that needs to be rectified." Unlike Veerappa Moily, Manish Tiwari was echoing Sonia Gandhi’s promise.

It is crystal clear that instead of undoing the 2002 amendment of BJP led NDA in the Companies Act, 1956 which made provision for corporate funding of politcal parties for the first time, Moily legitimised it by agreeing to the BJP’s Yashwant Sinha headed committee’s recommendation for increasing the limit of corporate funding from 5 per cent to 7.5 per cent. The budget speech of 2017 ended up promising faceless corporate funding of political parties. The 2002 amendment, the 2013 Act and Finance Acts of 2017 and 2018 paved the way for the electoral bond and for limitless corporate funding to parties. “If INDIA alliance does not promise to undo and reverse such illegitimate and immoral legislations, it will imply that everyone is thinking alike. It will also imply that leaders of INDIA aren’t thinking.

The provision of corporate funding for political parties must be looked at in the backdrop of the decision of Supreme Court of USA on January 21, 2010 in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) case. The US Court considered whether there could be a ban on corporations using their general treasury funds for elections-related expenditure. A majority (5-4) of the Court ruled that such a ban was violative of the right to free speech. If this is the path of corporations very soon, indeed "We The People" will be excluded from even representative government because of Corporate Personhood. 

The electoral bond and anonymous donations reveal the incestuous relationship between business enterprises and the ruling parties. 

By now it is vivid that economic prosperity of donors does not ensure democratization. In the post-Citizens United era and in the age of corporate funding through legislature’s approval is an act of rewriting the political geography and will reveal its residual democratic content.

Democratic institutions can only be strengthened if political parties and other political organizations are given a priority by the state through fiscal support for becoming a democracy given the fact that it is always a work in progress. The current practice of INDIA fails to appreciate that it is the dependence of political parties on non-state actors for financing elections that determines their electoral and non-electoral performance. This pratice is flawed because it compromises the political outcomes through an inherent political engineering which is co-terminus with property and biometric profiling based citizens’ rights.

By shaping not only the strategies, rational choice but also their goals, political parties as institutions structure political situations leave their own imprint on political outcomes. This significance underlines the inference that parties cannot be left at the mercy of non-state actors. As long as these actors shape the outcome no matter who wins in electoral battles, democracy is not a winner because our deformed political system is turning legislatures into a forum for legalised bribery. The way out could be to recommend that these very corporate donations be pooled into an electoral fund which can be used for state funding of elections. Will INDIA alliance promise to do it?

The core question is will INDIA become an idelogical alliance with a credible program. The question is will the major parties win trust and confidence of smaller and regional parties and whether the latter will be able to address the misgivings of the major parties. Will INDIA draw lessons from limitless funding of parties in USA and prevent Amercanisation of Indian elections in India’s supreme national interest? 

(Author: Dr. Gopal Krishna is a lawyer and a law researcher)

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