Lok Raj Sangathan organized a round-table discussion on the burning topic: “Thorough-going reforms in the political system and process needed”. Following the just concluded assembly elections to five states – U.P., Manipur, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Goa, the discussion brought out a great degree of unanimous concern among the various participant groups and individuals, on how people are completely marginalized in India, which is touted as the world’s most populous democracy. Activists from a number of parties and organisations participated in the discussion.
Introducing the topic, Sucharita of Lok Raj sangathan, raised the question whether the results of the election represented "janadesh" or the adesh of some vested interests. She said that the experience of all the elections shows that the elections are manipulated to by the powerful sections to produce the result that advances their narrow agenda.
Lok Raj Sangathan’s President, S. Raghavan cited examples of blatant rigging, manipulation of EVMs, use of the corporate controlled media, money and muscle power in the elections, to show how the big business houses decide which political party can best serve their interests and organize to bring that party to power. He pointed out that elections were held at a time when people were extremely upset over the problems they have had to face due to demonetisation. Peasants were facing a severe drought. The people of Manipur were braving a debilitating blockade and army atrocities using AFSPA. But results showed as if people were extremely happy with their condition! The fact is that winners are decided beforehand by the ruling establishment. After the elections, the monopoly-owned media justifies why a particular party won or lost. That is why we see that whichever party forms the government, the economic and political agenda remains that which is set by the big monopolies, Indian and foreign. Indian people are not sovereign. People do not have the right to select their candidates, to hold their elected representatives accountable or to recall them, to take vital decisions that affect their lives.
Shri Raghavan made the point that the root of the problem is the acceptance of the colonial Westminster model of parliamentary democracy by our Constituent Assembly members, disregarding the rich tradition of Indians in statecraft. Describing the present political system and process as a continuation of the colonial legacy, he called upon all participants to express their views on the fundamental change that is required, a change from the root. He asked them to address the question: what should be the new system that can ensure that people can become the real decision makers? He appealed to party representatives present to throw light on the role of a modern political party.
Alok of Krantikari Yuva Sangathan dwelt on three points. i) Spontaneous process – We have the FPTP system, which means that with 40% votes you win. That means that there is no respect for the 60% votes which were against you. ii) Similarly, if you have one more than half the MLAs or MPs then you make the government. What about the other MPs and MLAs? Are they not representatives of the people? iii) Like we choose the match for our daughter from our caste, they are doing it in politics.
He pointed out that capitalists are making and breaking leaders. People have no role in decision making. Their role is only in electing someone. For 5 years our representatives are free to do what they like. Even if all people, irrespective of religion or caste, want to strengthen govt hospitals and do not want government to privatise health care, government can go ahead with its plan to privatise. People also cannot take any initiatives. What we have is not loktantra but sabhatantra. So we cannot limit ourselves to minor reforms. It is the state itself which is violating our rights. There is an alternative to this system. In Soviet Union, they had the Soviet form of government, which democratically represented the people. We have to think along these lines.
Shri Narendar of Indian Council of Trade Unions said that after independence, in 1952 elections, Nehru said that we have to fight elections against communists and against poverty. The Constitution was made by representatives of princely states, educated and those with money. Today also, the power is residing in a small fraction of the population. Yeh azadi jhooti hai, desh ki janta bhooki hai. It is said that Constitution was written by Dr Ambedkar. Under this constitution, various assassins, goondas win elections. And those who do not win elections become members of Rajya Sabha.
The society that we want to conceive is far from present reality. The problem is that when the debate has to be escalated, then we are not there. What is taking place is the game of money. Without talking of the issues of the working class, the discussion is useless. There is no opposition in the political parties. The only opposition is the people. All parties are in the pocket of Ambanis and Adanis. All these parties are the horses of Ambanis. If we talk of reforms in the present system then we will not get anywhere. We need a different system.
Shri Prakash Rao of Communist Ghadar Party of India said that there is a struggle going on in our society and the elections must be seen in the context of this struggle. The rights and livelihood of workers and peasants are being attacked and they are vigorously resisting these attacks. All those including students fighting for rights of people are being labelled as anti national. He emphasized that this is a struggle between two classes in society. On the one side the ruling class wants to intensify exploitation. On the other hand the workers and toilers are fighting for their rights.
In this system we can see that jiski laathi uski bhains. There is a class of political analysts, who try to justify the results of the elections to come to the false conclusion that it is people who decide which party forms the government and the agenda of the government. In our country, the reality is that there are some 150 monopoly houses which are ruling and setting the agenda. They will never give up the power they have. Through elections they achieve two purposes. On the one hand they try to sort out contradictions amongst each other and on the other hand, they do the propaganda that people have decided.
For the rulers, rigging of elections to ensure the result the want is the normal practice. It is their method to bring one party or another in any state or in the center. We can understand this when we see the open display of money power to buy MP’s MLA’s to form governments after elections, as happened in Goa and Manipur. We have to expose the system and create the alternative. The people's movement for rights and the movement of workers and peasants is the alternative and we have to put our forces together to intensify it. In summary, we have to intensify the struggle of workers and peasants.
He emphasized that there are two kinds of reforms to the political system and process that are being discussed in our country today. One set of reforms, which are being proposed by the Election Commission and other official bodies will lead to further marginalization of people from the political process and increase the domination of the principal parties of the ruling class. We must fight for those reforms in the political process which increase the role of people in decision making. The proposals made by the Lok Raj Sangathan are in this direction. He further pointed out that the issue is not restricted to elections alone but the whole question of government formation, the relation between executive, legislature and the people.
Shri Prakash clarified that the role of a political party is to make the people conscious and organise them for their rights. The parties of the ruling class cannot even be called parties in the strict sense because they are not politicising the people but depoliticising the people. If there are real parties then their work is to organise the people for their rights, how to empower the people.
Shri Dayanand of Yuva Bharat pointed out how Modi and Trump came to power using social media. There is rigging even at zilla parishad and municipal elections. We cannot ignore what is going on in the whole world. For example, before Pune Municipal corporation election, several MLAs of different castes went over to BJP. These were all caste mafia. Subsequently, BJP won everywhere. There used to be huge number of Maratha demonstrations against the BJP earlier. But now their leaders from Congress and NCP have joined the BJP. So we have to understand that there is no ideology left in parties. Parties are now dominated by mafia from all castes. We have to be aware of reforms that are going to curtail the rights and role of the people in elections.
He pointed out that we have to understand the class context also. The caste issue cannot all be called wrong. It is not a conspiracy theory, neither can we say that this is the way it is. People are not fools. Sometimes they vote for SP sometimes for BSP or other parties. They have some political understanding. We have to introspect and see why we are not able to use our political acumen to build the unity and network among the people. We have to recognise various issues like land acquisition that people are fighting for.
If we are able to bring people together on the basis of a class then we may even be able to overturn Modi government. We have to overturn this political system that you have put in the title of the debate, we have honestly run all aspects of this debate. I appreciate that you have started this debate and we will be happy to participate in it.
Shri Maheshwaran Sashikumar of Deshiya Makkal Kacchi, TN (Rashtriya Janata Shakti) – pointed out that politics has become business. Earlier they used to try to capture influential people. Now they hire management experts. They are branding like pepsi and coco-cola. CEOs are changed in these companies but it will not make too much difference in the sales because for decades investments have been done. The Congress and other parties have spent a lot of money in branding. Kamal Nath was also saying the same thing yesterday that we cannot remove BJP for 10 years now. Even when BJP was not ruling it was investing in branding the lotus. People remember the symbol. MGR is dead. Even today people go and listen to the samadhi. People vote for MGR. It is because of branding. We have to abolish it although it is not so easy.
He elaborated on various reforms that can make elections a level playing field such as linking Aadhaar ID to voter ID, online recording and monitoring of elections, state funding of elections, enabling online voting, creating awareness among college youth, and selection of candidates to be endorsed by the local councilors.
Smt Shilpa from Indirapuram society in Ghaziabad pointed out power and money play an important role in elections. MLAs and MPs give freebies to woo the voters.
Shri PK Shahi of CPIML said that in Manipur results have been surprising. There is a cocktail of mafia, MNCs, Saadhu samaj (who are also becoming corporate). On the other hand, we have the people. There are shocking results from 5 states. Irom Sharmila who dedicated her life to fighting against AFSPA, which is a people's issue, got less than 200 votes.
As far as the question of reforms is concerned – the main issue is the system. With change of parties the system doesn't change. It is in fact getting strengthened. The system is being run by Ambanis- Adanis, national and foreign MNCs and sadhu sang. Corporate sector is dominating. We have to debate all this and how to go into it and how to take it to the people. The issue before us is how to take the question amongst the people in an organised way.
Shri Harminder of United Sikh Mission said that the system adopted in 1947 has not served the people. When the system is not okay – then the question of improving it does not arise.
The system was not chosen by our people but thrust on us by the British. We were in a hurry to get rid of the British. There was a farce taking place.
Our martyrs like Bhagat Singh, Ashafulla, Ghadari babas had very pure feelings for a change and sacrificed their lives. But those who did not shed their blood but licked the boots of the British are calling themselves nationalist and are now in power. They have got their brand of nationalist ideas into the minds of the youth through 200+ of their channels and social media.
He pointed out that an ideological war is going on. We have to come in force on the side of the kisans, dalits and workers. The votes are with the people but a mafia is ruling over them. The mafia may belong to any caste. If we are talking of rights of Gurjars or Jaats or even Sikhs, then it does not help. The various leaders look honest until they get into power. This is what has been going on for the last 70 years.
We should discuss the alternative at ideological and intellectual level and build our unity. The alternative should be understood by the people and it will be derived from the people only.
Prof Bharat Seth said many people raise the issue of electoral reforms including the EC. The way EC raises it to further strengthen the hold of the parties on the electoral process so that smaller parties, people's organisations and other people can be totally marginalised. They have done it in a variety of ways starting from raising the deposit amount to allotting the symbol very late and bogging them down with many hurdles. They are marginalised by money and muscle power.
He demanded the right of the people to select their candidates before election. Currently, candidates are thrust upon the people by the established parties. Candidates have to be selected by assemblies of people, such as workers organisations, women's organisation or youth organisations and such mechanisms need to be developed. Such a candidate can be a member of any party but has to remain accountable to the people. We have to break the hold of the parties on the process of selection. Further, State should be responsible for doing the propaganda of all the candidates. The candidate and parties should be forbidden from spending any money on election propaganda. People should have the power to initiate legislation or demand changes in existing laws. We got a glimpse of this during the anti-corruption movement a few years ago when the demand was raised that a legislation drafted by people should be passed by the parliament. However, all the established parliamentary parties opposed it because they want the Parliament to have the monopoly over what is legislated. Such reforms can present an alternative that will go to increase the role of the people and undermine the existing system.
Shri Lokesh of Sanjay Colony Lok Raj Samiti said that though everyone knows that the existing electoral process is a fraud, there is no alternative in front of the people. He pointed out that when he stood as a candidate in elections he could personally see how it is in favour of parties of the establishment.
He recalled how he was first selected by the jan sabha held in his area. He gave an undertaking as the candidate that he could be recalled by the people if he betrays the faith put in him. Through this practical example, people understood that something different can be done. It is by taking the demands of people to the people that one can go ahead.
Adv Gaurav expressed the opinion that change cannot come from elections. Elections ar4e run on caste lines. Candidates spend crores of money to get elected. In this all parties which go for power, both right and left, are to be blamed.
Smt Poonam of Purogami Mahila Sangathan described how her jhuggi colony has been around 40 years but even now there are no toilets, or schools. And this is Delhi, the capital. What does the system give us? We are taught that our Constitution gives us all rights. But in reality it does not. All the people who are sitting here have to go among the people and awaken them. It is not that people are not awakened but because of the media power they are constantly being confused. Only speeches are not enough. We don’t have to reform the political system but change it.
Shri Dharmendar of East Delhi Lok Raj Samiti said that we cannot achieve our demands without changing the political system. So we have to raise such demands which expose the hollowness of the present process.
Shri Santosh of Madanpur Khadar samiti said that there is no difference between BJP and Congress; both are communal parties and have organised communal violence on a large scale. In this democracy there is no discussion in the parliament. Look at notebandi. It had impact on the whole of society but there was no discussion in parliament. Only those can come to power who will increase the profits of the bourgeoisie. Those who do good, will not be allowed in this system to serve the people. We have to have an alternative political process. We need to present this alternative in front of the people. We have to tell the people that what exists is not lok-tantra but poonji-tantra. We have to get out of the chakravuh.
Summing up the discussion, Sucharita called on all participants to unite and take forward the struggle for the realization of these thorough-going changes proposed by various participants -- the need for mechanisms by which people can select their own candidates, hold elected representatives to account, recall them and initiate legislation. The discussion concluded that these changes are urgently needed in order that people may be truly sovereign.