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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 25

Should India have a New Political Party?

Alternative politics based on most pressing needs and complete honesty

Sunday 8 June 2008, by Bharat Dogra


India’s democracy has several strengths, but it is also a fact that an increasing number of citizens have a feeling at the time of elections that none of the contesting candidates truly represents their aspirations. If we make a list of the most pressing needs of our society, then we find that none of the leading parties (which have been in power at the Centre or in some States at some time or the other) have shown a firm commitment for striving to meet the real needs of society. There is growing resentment among people at the escalating role of big money in elections, at the high levels of corruption in the political system and the close proximity of many politicians to big business interests. This corruption of the political system becomes a big hinderance in the ability of political parties to meet the real needs of society, although narrow caste affiliations, communal and other prejudiced thinking are also responsible for their failure.

Therefore, a question needs to be raised and discussed widely: whether India needs alternative politics based on meeting the most pressing needs of society and complete honesty of political activists. Is it necessary to create a new political party for this purpose?

As some attempts at creating ‘alternative’ political parties have been co-opted into the same old system, it is important to try to spell out what will be the essential features of a genuine alternative political party.

As far as the broad framework of policies needed to reduce distress in our country and in the entire world are concerned, it will not be difficult to reach a broad-based agreement on this. Clearly we need to give the greatest importance to reducing poverty and to meeting the basic needs of all people. For this it is necessary to reduce inequalities. Food security, protection of small farmers, artisans and the farm workers should be emphasised while displacement should be minimised. Sustainable, small scale livelihoods should be protected and strengthened, never threatened. Along with basic needs, at a social level basic dignity should be assured to all people. Equality, security and adequate opportunities for women should be emphasised. Social reform, including anti-liquor and anti-drug movements, curbing superstitions and needless ceremonial expenditure, ending all forms of discrimination is very important. Protection of environment is the basis of sustainable development and should get the highest importance. For sustainable development and environment protection it is important to check consumerism and inequalities. Promoting communal harmony and emphasising equality of followers of all religions in a democratic society should be a high priority. Foreign policy should be based on peace, justice, meeting the basic needs of all and disarmament while protecting national interest. Welfare of all forms of life including domestic, farm and wild animals and birds should get adequate attention. There should be firm commitment to democracy and democratic values.

Some leading political parties will hasten to say that they too agree with this broad framework, but it will be difficult for them to support this claim if the actual record of their governments is examined. It is not enough to give lip-sympathy to such policies. When these clash with powerful vested interests, the political party should be able to defend these policies against powerful opposing forces.

Of course, such a broad framework has to be taken forward in the form of more specific policy-guidelines. This task has to deal with several controversial issues which sometimes divide even the most well-intentioned people in our country. But if we keep in mind the basic principle that we are striving to reduce distress as much as possible it should be possible to prepare a more specific and detailed programme on the basis of detailed discussions with colleagues, friends, sympathisers and those known for deep understanding of these specific issues.

GENERALLY what existing political parties have done is that regardless of the programmes and manifestos they prepare, in day-to-day activities, particularly at election time, they function on the basis of what can bring more votes and money to them. They enter into all sorts of opportunistic alliances and promote combinations of various castes, provincial and religious groups. The alternative party we envisage will be very different as it will seek support only on the basis of its programme. This political party will have a vision for this country and for this world and it will try to take this vision to more and more people to get their support for a programme and a government based on this vision.

This vision in turn is based on the principle of reducing the distress of all people and all forms of life in the short-run as well as in the long-run. This political party will not decide its programme based on what voters fancy the most. Instead it decides its programme by asking the question—what is most likely to reduce the distress of people and all forms of life? This political party is deeply concerned with the distress of not just men, women and children but also deers, bullocks, hens and even donkeys! Bullocks and donkeys don’t vote, but the principle of ‘reduce the distress of all‘ demands that this political party will see to their welfare too.

The alternative political party’s deep commitment to its programme does not mean that it will follow a rigid programme. It will be open to the views of those who want some change, and in particular it will look closely at the feedback coming from common people. There will be periodical reviews and the programme can be changed if the change will take the programme forward on the path of ‘reducing the distress of all’. However, the programme will not be changed merely for immediate gain or to get some extra votes at election time.

This alternative political party will function on the basis of membership fee and donations given by its members and friends as well as sales of its books, pamphlets, CDs etc. Each and every receipt and expenditure will be entered in the account books which will be regularly audited. This alternative political party will voluntarily practice complete transparency and all its account books will be open for examination by any citizen. At the time of any election, all election expenses in a constituency will be met completely by donations raised by the supporters living in this constituency and that too in a completely transparent way. Election expenses will be kept as low as possible.

However, this alternative political party will contest elections in all the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha constituencies of this country, thereby at the outset establishing itself as a national alternative political party striving to create a base all over the country. Its basic strength will be its principled programme which has the capacity to reduce the distress of all, its committed members and supporters and its complete honesty and transparency.

It is not too difficult for a committed group of even about fifty persons to take an initiative in this direction. They’ll have to do the basics of preparing a draft programme and enlisting at least a dozen members in each district of the country. Then these small district units will take a few months or perhaps a year to reach a level where a party district unit can be formed. The central committee will then dissolve itself, so that the district units can hold democratic elections to elect district-level, state-level and national-level office-bearers. Gradually over a period of five years or so this political party can aspire to reach all panchayats. Growth in cities and towns can be even quicker. If all goes well, within five years of its formation such a political party can acquire national recognition, within ten years it can aspire to form governments at the State level and within fifteen years it can aspire to form government at the national level. But this will acquire a lot of hard work, dedication and deep commitment.

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