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Mainstream, VOL XLVIII, No 50, December 4, 2010

Why is an Alternative Political Party Needed and What will be its Essentials?

Sunday 12 December 2010, by Bharat Dogra

I would like to take forward the debate initiated by Sumanta Bannerjee’s letter to the national stage. Here I try to answer two basic questions:

1. Why is an alternative political party needed when so many political parties already exist?

2. What are the essential, non-negotiable characteristics of this alternative political party?

Let me take up the first question first A genuinely alternative political party is needed not only in India but in most democracies as the main political parties have become too enmeshed in various corruptions, in particular legal and illegal payments they receive from the big corporates, arms-merchants, criminals and others. A significant part of this corruption has even been provided a legal dressing in many democracies, although in addition many illegal payments also exist. Such is the hold of this systemic corruption in many democracies that elections are mainly fuelled by these channels and most of those who want to get elected depend on such payments.

For example, in the case of the USA, President Barack Obama is on record having said: “Washington is only open to those with the most cash.”
As Wisconsin politician Ed Garvey says, “Even candidates who get into politics with the best of intentions start thinking they can’t get re-elected without money. Senators get so reliant on the money that they reflect it; they stop thinking for themselves, stop thinking like the people who elected them. They just worry about getting the money.”

Johann Hari recently wrote in The Independent (UK): “The fact that corporations have this power over what the US Government can do means Obama—or any other President—is unable to approach a problem by asking: how do I fix this? Instead he has to ask: how can we get corporations to consent to a small cosmetic gesture that will, for a while, appease public anxiety and anger about this problem?”

The same can be said of many other demo-cracies including India. This is the reason why the most important changes are not even included in the existing paradigm of development. Surely when the ability, even willingness, to seek the best available solutions to the most pressing problems does not exist, there can be little hope of the right solutions emerging. This can be disastrous at a time when the world is faced with survival-threatening issues like climate change and WMDs, not to mention extreme inequalities and injustice. Therefore, in many democracies including India, a genuinely alternative political party is badly needed.

THE second question is: what will be the essential characteristics of this alternative party which will make it different from the existing political parties?
Firstly, it will function in a completely transparent way. Each and every paisa of the transactions of this political party, all receipts and expenses (including the election expenses of its candidates for any and every election) will be properly recorded. Unrecorded receipts and expenditures will be treated as corruption by the party and strict action will be taken against anyone against whom corruption charges are proved. All accounts of this political party will be properly audited and in addition will be open to the public.

Secondly, this alternative political party will function in a democratic and decentralised way, subject to the commitment to certain essential, non-negotiable principles (such as communal harmony and equality) which again will be decided only after a lot of democratic debate. This party will not create a centralised structure for funding elections. Various candidates and decentralised party units will raise their own modest resources for fighting elections. There’ll be no room for dynastic tendencies, family rule and nepotism.

Thirdly, the party’s programme will be decided only on the basis of what is genuinely needed for minimising distress and there will be no constraints like sticking to the existing paradigm of development or continuing to accept the capitalist path. All options will be open and the alternative political party will try with broad-based discussions to evolve an alternative paradigm which (i) minimises the distress and deprivation of India’s people, (ii) minimises the distress of future generations, (iii) minimises the distress of all forms of life, (iv) promotes peace and harmony with all neighbouring countries and in the entire world, and (v) contributes to solving the world’s most pressing problems like WMDs and climate change.

This political party will be completely committed to peace. At a legal level, it’ll accept India’s existing Constitution including the provisions for constitutional amendments as these exist in the Constitution at present. At a later stage, as the country moves towards a new paradigm of development, a broad-based discussion will be initiated on whether a new Constitution is needed. In the course of this entire process, there will be complete commitment to peace, non-violence, justice and the rule of law.

A defining characteristic of an alternative political party is that while winning elections is highly desirable for this party, this is not to be achieved at the expense of diluting or denying its programme and priorities.

Contrary to what many people say, it is not a very difficult task to create such an alternative political party. In fact the biggest homage we can pay to our freedom struggle is to create such a genuine alternative political party which will be in keeping with the aspirations of our freedom struggle.

The author is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

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