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Primordial Factions in a Modern Democracy

Readers of New Delhi edition ‘The Hindu’ newspaper woke up on the new year day of 2012 only to realise the servitude and reverence of a Congress leader to his political master, Sonia Gandhi. A full front page advertisement by Vasanthakumar, General Secretary of TNCC was the one who sponsored it. The ad contained a reference to a conversation between Lord Sri Ram and Hanuman during which Hanuman expresses his devotion to his master. Above this reference ran a huge headline stating the obvious, “We remain, Madamji, ever at your feet”.

The culture of sycophancy that is prevalent among most of India’s political parties in general and Congress in particular is best displayed in this ad. I say Congress in particular because the manner in which leaders go out of their way to please Madamji and her coterie is a cut above the rest of the parties.This kind of behaviour by the members of political parties towards their leaders is a characteristic feature of the political parties in third world democracies.

In an age when India has almost completed the shift from being a third world country to an emerging super power its political system seems to resist the modernisation process. Democracy is part of the modernisation process as it accompanies political modernisation. In India, the introduction of democracy was a premature because political modernisation happened in the absence of socio-economic modernisation making the entire modernisation process a lopsided affair. Hence, even though we have a modern system in place in the form of democracy the functioning of political parties in India remains non-democratic in many cases. Congress is a text book case of absence of inner-party democracy where decisions are thrust upon the lower rungs of leaders/followers by the party high command. The existence of most parties are centred around primordial factions with little or no inner-party democracy. This eventually leads to fragmentation and proliferation of political parties. 

Another characteristic feature of political parties in India is parties emerging along social cleavages (very often on ethnic lines). In this aspect also it shares the distinction of being in the company of other third world democracies. Developmental and ecological issues are seldom electoral game-changers in India. One positive development in recent times has been the manner in which corruption has occupied the centre-stage in the political discourse and among voters cutting across caste, religious and linguistic lines. But it remains to be seen if it will have any impact on the electoral results.

Democracy and civil society is slowly but surely maturing in India. And till the process inches towards completion we can expect a lot more of such expressions of sycophancy. May be laughing at it is the best way vent the obnoxiousness that it generates on a fine morning.

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