Hereditary politics and leadership is thriving in India where, to some accounts, an amazing nine-tenths of sitting Congress MPs below 44 have “inherited” a Parliamentary seat and where there are many “hyper-connected” political families (siblings, nephews, uncles, in-laws in politics often in different parties).
The world’s largest democracy has learned to live with its idiosyncrasies. It is nonetheless an interesting ongoing debate in Indian politics and much could be said on the pros and cons of “hereditary politics”.
On the face of it, there is nothing unnatural for a sibling born in a family where elder members or the head of household are in active politics, to be impregnated with political ideas and practice. Whether it later shoos them off or turns them on, in a desire, let’s not be cynical, to contribute to the advancement of the country, the region, the local community or the party, depends on their personality. The country and political parties can always do with fresh ambitions, ideas and outlooks.
Where matters become more irksome and awkward is when political parties, whatever their past history or achievements or those of their current leader, become the preserve of Dynasts, hogging frontbench roles or more embarrassingly, party leadership positions primarily by virtue of genetic inheritance. Although nobody would dispute the right for any Dynast to earn his rise up the party ladder through demonstrated merit or activism.
We were informed last week that Mr Berenger, undisputed leader (many say owner) of the Opposition MMM brand and party, discussed the party’s future, its orientations, its candidate lists for forthcoming elections with his son Emmanuel. The latter noticeably accompanied the father to the last party delegate assembly. Should the MMM sympathisers be surprised that, by deft touches, Mr Berenger is actively preparing “his” party future and its leadership? A future that would no doubt benefit permanently from a “good” electoral reform with a high dose of leader-designated PR MPs, those who do not have to go through trying constituency battles and earned legitimacy.
Most of us are aware that neither Navin Ramgoolam nor Xavier Duval had the party leadership thrust upon them by doting fathers. Dynastic succession of party leadership was till now the preserve of the nineties-era MSM. It has found new adepts. So, is it an issue? After Mr Berenger’s recent public intimidation of press editorialists, commentators and a named private radio, we somehow doubt whether Opposition pundits in the media will hyperventilate about it. Circulez!..
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In our terminology, the constitutional requirement for electoral candidates to obligatorily declare their “community” belonging, came up to the Supreme Court this week. We don’t know what the eventual stand of the Supreme Court might be, when the Privy Council has made it known that this is essentially a constitutional matter, better addressed through due political processes rather than judiciary means.
While one can feel the greatest sympathy for the cause epitomized by Resistans ek Alternativ, and feel that a reform of our electoral system and even our Republic would be highly desirable nearly fifty years after independence, the necessity for a three-quarter majority in the House and, in any self-respecting democracy, the ultimate sanction of the electorate before such a major constitutional upheaval is voted in, cannot be side-stepped by Resistans nor overlooked by the Court.
When the PR reform proposal would introduce into the House 20% or more of MPs unelected but nominated by their party leader, when the overriding role of party leaders over the political processes would be magnified to new heights, when governing stability could be sacrificed, when experimental change could tie us for several generations, the population has every right to be consulted and convey its blessings. Even more so if the constitutional change proposed goes further and englobes a Second Republic, implying the stable, long-term cohabitation of some sort of Presidential overseer with a Prime Ministerial majordomo.
Contributions from all civil society and political parties have been invited and need to be sifted through. Political consultations have been engaged and we heard that agreement was almost there between Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Berenger on a set of proposals to be put before the electorate, but between cup and lips, there were still some fundamental bridges to cross. Reconciling interests of the country, of political parties, of their leaders and their respective electoral sympathisers, reconciling manifest short-term chemistry with requisite longer-term physics, are not after all easily completed in a couple of meetings.
These consultations may yet evolve and follow their course, and leaders may have decided to take some time to properly brief their basegrounds and supporters. Although, in any event, I doubt if such far-reaching constitutional changes can legitimately be rushed in by parties who had neither campaigned nor were mandated in 2010 to effect such change, particularly when general elections are getting closer.
Meantime, the Supreme Court, should it indeed wish to travel further than the Privy Council and accept urgency for the issue to be addressed before next general elections, may yet suggest that, pending political agreement on a broader reform as outlined in the White Paper and its vetting by due democratic process, the “mandatory” declaration of candidates could be “suspended” or otherwise obviated by legislators. Were that at all possible, it might conceivably give the political consultations process on Electoral Reform greater leeway while ensuring that neither the interests of Resistans candidates nor those of democracy are hampered.
* Published in print edition on 9 May 2014