The democratic government is based on core values of representation of political parties which is instrumental in strengthening the republic. The political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have a history of undemocratic culture within the party structure and usually, these issues are visible in ticket distribution and appointing party officials
By Kamran Ashraf Bhat
THE foundation of a good democracy is a composition of political parties which are essential in flourishing the values of freedom. The idea of giving a platform for common citizens through political parties to be part of the government or to criticize regimes in opposition, keeps alive faith in the idea of a republic nation. The citizens while engaging with a political party exercise their democratic right while volunteering for an ideology and supporting their leaders through monetary donations and campaigns. Participation of citizens in political parties offers unique benefits, including opportunities to influence policy choices, choose and engage political leaders, and run for office. However, in some countries, political parties do not respect the rights of citizens to participate and are not accountable to voters.
A voluntary contribution of a common citizen to political parties holds immense opportunities for allowing extraordinary opinions to influence party ideology which is directly improving public policies. Political parties in a democratic republic become an opportunity for the public to judge their leaders and accordingly express their leadership support. However from national political parties to regional, in India, the political parties have engendered a parallel system to democracy due to dictatorial modalities of work.
Benjamin R. Barber, one of the extraordinary American Political theorists, in his book Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for New Age argues that “representative or “thin” democracy is rooted in an individualistic “rights” perspective that diminishes the role of citizens in democratic governance.
Herman Daly, Thomas Prugh, and Robert Costanza explain ‘Strong Democracy’ in their book The Local Politics of Global Sustainability as it is not a professional political system or game, an all-consuming job, and avocation. But it reflects a standard of living and the expected outcome of civilization. Its role is that of guardian and prominent.
It needs to be understood that the growth of a democratic republic comes from the participation of citizens at the grassroots level and it is vital for political parties to establish in-house democracy so that regimes will reflect transparency accordingly.
In my understanding, the actions of a government or regime are consequences of a political party. The more a political party is methodical under the democratic apparatus, the more transparent regimes will be, and if political parties are undemocratic; the regimes will follow the same footmark. Therefore, no government can protect democracy from plunging into fascism if political parties do not demonstrate a platform of democratic behavior and hold intra-party elections. Only in a dictatorship, one can understand that a nation is compromising on meritocracy but in a democracy; political parties are supposed to encourage merit within its ranks.
The democratic government is based on core values of representation of political parties which is instrumental in strengthening the republic. As an outsider, when I take a look at the political parties in Jammu and Kashmir, they have a history of undemocratic culture within the party structure and usually these issues are visible in ticket distribution and appointing party officials.
The lack of internal democracy within political parties is evident at a national level and in Jammu and Kashmir, the regional parties are also severely plagued with such issues. From prominent parties like JK National Conference to JK People’s Democratic Party, JKPCC, and JKPC; the meagreness of intra-party democracy has engulfed every department of these parties. There is a concentration of power in a few in the party while the rest are powerless and forced to follow the powerful ones. The general members of the party are neatly managed by leadership.
The facade of election is being propagated in front of the public when the same leader is elected as president without any contest. There is no internal election held at a massive scale; rather few key party leaders propose a name for formality’s sake and on the same day, a presser is circulated announcing the election of the president. The top-tier leadership routinely takes all the salient decisions and keeps all advantages, and information to themselves while the 2nd and 3rd tier leadership are left unaware.
The top layer of leadership is given a prerogative of taking all decisions without deliberating with other party members; often personal loyalty and nepotism are held more important than loyalty to the organizational structure or ideology. Until and unless a member does not have access to top leadership, he/she will never earn a party position by the sweat of brow. These parties lack a structure of evaluation of members on their merits rather he/she has to establish a personal loyalty with top leadership to get noticed.
Take the example of the National Conference: despite there being able leaders who could have been effective as party president but the conventional pattern of keeping power in corridors of their own house, the house of Abdullah’s managed to pave the way for Omer Abdullah as acting president. And, in JKPDP, it was Mehbooba Mufti who took ‘Staff’ from her father after he died and the same goes with Sajad Lone of JKPC. No matter how skilled and competent you are, if you are not from the same house that runs the party; you will never get the position of directing the party ranks. This is why people are witnessing a huge number of turncoats in politics because the party lacks the ability to institutionalize itself, hence they seek another shelter for power.
Hoping for having intra-party democracy in political parties in Jammu and Kashmir has become unrealistic now. There is a single-man stranglehold or a single-family ascendancy in parties. There is no transparency and openness for general members to know how their party functions, what are the party procedures, how is evaluation held or internal assessment of a member, and what is the criteria for promotion to top ranks, all these queries are unanswered.
The democracy of a country functions on the core values of freedom and meritocracy, therefore a political party is a sufficient platform for members to be actively part of the electoral system in the democracy. The possibility of holding a free and fair election becomes reality according to how political parties provide their impression and it can’t be settled on an undemocratic system.
Is it impossible to have a democratic environment in political parties in Jammu and Kashmir? The answer is no. It is possible if the leadership is honest, open to change and ready to give up dictatorial behavior. The structural reforms, regular intra-party elections, recruitment of party members, and giving them training under the party policy and ideology; a party can take a step to institutionalize itself.
We have witnessed in recent times how political parties in western democracies have transformed into institutions and have responded by proactively increasing the role of basic members and party activists in participating in intra-party elections. These members are given an opportunity to recruit candidates for elections and in policy making.
Instead of one man party, the political party holds a process of decentralization of power to the lower tier of leadership and allows any party or non-party volunteer to get free information at any time. The political activists are provided with ample possibilities and opportunities to take part in policy-making and electing party officials from the top tier to the last layer. These parties are now self-reliant to keep internal democratic values alive and stop dynastic interference once and for all. Like Republican and democratic parties in the USA elect their party heads for presidential election through a delegate voting within the party.
Therefore, there is a critical exigency to allow political parties to democratize themselves which will reflect the way regimes will respond in a republic. If parties get internal democracy, the process of distributing party tickets will become corruption-free and transparent, therefore competent candidates will get a chance to fight elections as a representative of an ideology.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
Kamran Ashraf Bhat is a Graduate Student Researcher at Bahcesehir University, Istanbul, Turkey and former joint editor of Daily Inside Kashmir
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