It’s time to reoccupy our democracy
While admiring people’s movements to ‘Reclaim the streets’ or ‘Occupy Wall Street’ in protest against glaring inequities in private interest-driven consumer economies, we have often been oblivious to the slow but steady “occupation of our democracy” by political parties. This is evident from the gradual reduction in the number of citizens who get elected on their own steam without a ticket from a political party.
Yet, when political parties portray themselves as private and voluntary associations entitled to the veil of secrecy in order to avoid the gaze of the very people they claim to represent, their intentions as well as their commitment to democracy must be questioned. But for the pressure mounted by civil society and the media, they would have already amended the RTI Act to prevent people from holding them accountable between elections.
Yes, political parties are not agencies of the State but there is no denying they are the instrumentality for exercising the sovereign power to make laws, authorise the collection of taxes and chart the collective destiny of the people. In Kuldip Nayar vs Union of India, the Supreme Court recognised this crucial link between political parties and our democracy when it declared that the multiparty system is an inherent part of the basic structure of our Constitution.
A plain reading of the Tenth Schedule inserted in our Constitution to ensure the dominance of political parties over the words and actions of the people who represent us in Parliament makes it abundantly clear that they are bodies constituted under the fundamental law of the land. A political party is not worth its name and will have no symbol with which to identify unless recognised under the Representation of the People Act. These are the reasons why political parties should be directly accountable to the people and not because of the pittance they receive in the form of free air time to advertise their promises before elections or the public land they use to run their offices or the tax exemptions they claim.
Above and beyond the contributions they collect from the public, political parties have a lot to account for both inside and outside Parliament simply because they claim to be working for the public interest. When the people we elect stall reformatory legislation such as the Lokpal Bill or the Women’s Reservation Bill, should not the secretive party whips be subject to public scrutiny? Rather than quietly swallow the humiliation of having to read on the voting machine names of candidates accused of murder, rape, fraud or corruption, should we not have the right to ask political parties why we are called upon to choose from amongst them? Pressing the button ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) is just a tame acceptance of this effrontery.
By claiming that their rivals would acquire foreknowledge of their political strategies through RTI, political parties bring themselves down to the level of private interest groups, like companies that compete with each other to sell soaps or fairness creams. Keeping them under the RTI Act is the first step towards preventing the corporatisation of our democracy. It is time “We The People” reoccupied our democracy.