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…But every reform needs change

Yesterday, IBN Live published an article titled ‘Sorry Mr. Panda, every change doesn’t equal reform by Chirag Murali. As many know, Member of Parliament Baijayant “Jay” Panda has for long been highlighting the need for considering reforms of our Rajya Sabha. What seemed to have caught Chirag’s attention (and also the attention of 6 Rajya Sabha MPs who have filed a notice for ‘breach of privilege’ against Mr. Panda for this) has been Mr. Panda’s recent article titled ‘Less Check, More Balance’, where he has presented two possible changes for us to consider – either keep Rajya Sabha’s powers intact but have direct elections to it (like the US did with its Senate) or reduce Rajya Sabha’s powers so that it can delay legislation, but not reject or stall laws indefinitely (like the UK did with its House of Lords).

Chirag’s article sought to raise several criticisms of these two options. Now, it needs to be mentioned at the outset that it was very encouraging to see citizens like him engage with and share their thoughts on the important changes that Mr. Panda has called for. Discussion and deliberation are crucial for progress in democratic societies, and we welcome Chirag’s decision to debate Mr. Panda’s suggestions. In that same spirit of debate, we would like to respond to the many claims that he has made in his article.

The article starts off by asking why we need to consider these reforms in the first place. After all, Chirag argues, the Congress was still able to pass laws even when it was in a minority government. Of course, the answer to that question is already contained in Mr. Panda’s previous writings on this topic, which describes how other democracies have in the past reached a point where they suffered from extensive legislative gridlock caused by nominated or indirectly elected legislators stalling crucial bills. But more importantly, is Chirag’s article suggesting that we should ignore the need for institutional reforms just because a previous government was able to function within a problematic system? The current distribution of powers between Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha is such that any government (irrespective of which party is ruling) could face a situation where the Upper House vetoes their key legislative efforts, and we need to seriously think about whether this is desirable.

What makes the need for reform even more urgent, as Mr. Panda has pointed out, is that today’s Rajya Sabha elections are “akin to party nominations”, especially in light of the anti-defection law and “the 2003 amendment that did away with secret voting by MLAs for Rajya Sabha candidates”. This has created the possibility for Rajya Sabha members to represent party interests more than the interests of their state, the latter of course being the original intent. Chirag does acknowledge this, though he accuses Mr. Panda of concealing the fact that it was the NDA government that brought about the 2003 amendment. Several thoughts come to mind about this accusation. First, he seems to be the only person who is actually surprised to discover that an amendment in 2003 was made by, well, the government at that time – which the average person should know was an NDA government. Second, he might actually be surprised to learn that the 2003 amendment was, in fact, supported by both the NDA and the Congress. And thirdly, whether the amendment was passed by any one party or the other is immaterial – Mr. Panda’s opposition to the 2003 amendment is a well-recorded fact.

This brings us to an important rebuttal to Chirag’s article. He attempts to link Mr. Panda’s reform suggestions with what he claims is an attempt by the BJP to bring about a presidential system in India. While perhaps a case of strong political leanings making the author blind to important nuances, this conflation is both false and unfortunate. Mr. Panda been calling for reforms to reduce the ability of Rajya Sabha to indefinitely block legislation well before the BJP came to power (one example: his articles in leading newspapers in 2010  and 2011 argued for the same change). Further, he has always been in favour of the staggered model of elections to Rajya Sabha, and has not called for changes to that – unlike what Chirag says the BJP would like to see.

In short, just as it would be undesirable to adopt parliamentary reform with the sole intent of benefitting one party or government (which, as discussed above, is not an allegation that can stand against Mr. Panda), it is undesirable to oppose reforms that are in the long-term national interest just because one party or government might be the immediate (but certainly not the sole) beneficiary.

There are two other ways in which Chirag attempts to discredit Mr. Panda’s references to best practices from other parts of the world. One is when he makes the rather bizarre statement that in discussing different models for reforming Rajya Sabha, “comparisons with mature western democracies is a bit out of place”. Ambedkar, who led the drafting of the Indian Constitution – a document which openly borrows best practices from countries like Australia, UK, France and Canada – would surely have had something to say about that. The second is when he suggests that we should reject referring to the UK and US examples that Mr. Panda quotes, since they took place early enough for the framers of the Constitution to have known them. What he does not appreciate is that just because the framers of the Constitution chose one model does not mean that that would be the appropriate model forever. With changing times and contexts, there is a need for us to constantly evaluate our options – which, of course, is the reason why the framers of the Constitution were wise enough to provide procedures to amend the Constitution.

The article unfortunately also contains many red-herrings aimed at distracting attention from the core of Mr. Panda’s suggestions. For instance, he alleges that Mr. Panda is skimming over the fact that the 1911 and 1949 amendments in the UK have been “sparingly used”. However, the frequency with which they may have been used surely makes no difference to the desirability of considering such an option in the Indian context! He also claims that Mr. Panda is “cleverly omitting” the fact that parties cannot issue whips in the US system when he cites the US model of direct elections. This is either a truly unkind cut, or the result of him ignoring how often Mr. Panda himself has called for reforms to the whip system in India.  For years, he has written and spoken about the need to reform the law so that whips can be issued only in narrow cases, such as money bills or no-confidence motions. Chirag is also enthusiastic to point out that even in the US, the Senate has the power to block legislation through means such as a ‘filibuster’. But in doing so, he is inadvertently underscoring Mr. Panda’s position that we can indeed consider allowing the upper house to reject legislation if it is directly elected (as the US Senate is!). And finally, it is a bit disingenuous for him to oppose Mr. Panda’s reference to how the Italian senate’s powers to block legislation is being reduced by stating that there is also another proposal to make the Italian upper house entirely unelected. Not only is this claim factually wrong, it is also an evident attempt to disparage Mr. Panda’s suggestion by linking it with an entirely different proposal in Italy that Mr. Panda has never asked to be implemented in India.

But the larger issue with Chirag’s article is that while it attempts so hard to identify problems with the two options that Mr. Panda has proposed, it does not provide any workable solution to the massive challenges that the latter seeks to solve. To be fair, it does pitch a solution – “nothing stops the party in control of LS from giving a good and consistent performance at the center and then taking control of the state and eventually controlling the RS, obviating the need [to] tame the RS”. But there is something truly remarkable about this suggestion – the article does not explain how a government in today’s system can, in the first place, display ‘a good and consistent’ performance without Rajya Sabha approval! In a system where Rajya Sabha can veto the government’s important legislative measures and thus disrupt the government’s governance agenda, it is not realistic to claim that good governance will eventually ensure a Rajya Sabha with a more cooperative composition.

The article wrongly accuses Mr. Panda of wanting to dilute the voice that States have been granted through the Constitution. Nothing could be farther from the truth. One of the two suggestions he has made – direct elections to a Rajya Sabha with as much power as now – arguably only increases the voice of the States in Parliament. Besides, Mr. Panda is not in any way calling for changes to important constitutional provisions such as Article 368, which safeguards the role of the States. Ultimately, his suggestions would only preserve the voice of the State, even as it ensures that the voice is not distorted to become a veto.

(This article has been authored by members of the Policy Team (Office of Baijayant “Jay” Panda) and not by Mr. Panda himself.)

Tax Devolution & Centrally Sponsored Schemes: A Study

If you were to zoom in to different parts of India in random order, you’d be surprised at the variety of things on offer, ranging from tranquil Tibetan colonies to volatile Maoist insurgency. Such is the spectrum of challenges faced by different regions in our country. One of the biggest struggles for leaders, especially in a socially and culturally stratified country like India, has been to find the right balance between local autonomy and central control. Central regulation is essential to prevent fragmentation of the country, nevertheless it is equally important to allow states the room to govern based on local norms and challenges. It is with the latter in mind that the Government of India recently adopted the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission (FC) with respect to increased tax devolution to states.

The 14th FC, chaired by Dr. Y.V. Reddy, recommended in its report that the state share in total Union tax revenue should increase from 32% to 42%. The principle here is to provide the states with increased fiscal room to govern rather than having to demand funds from the Center on a grant and issue basis. While this is an admirable step in the direction of decentralization, there is ambiguity about the impact of this policy, primarily due to another decision that the central government has made simultaneously.

Apart from normal central assistance and a share in central taxes, a significant portion of the resources transferred from the Center to the states is through Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) aimed at dealing with the most widespread deficiencies in our economy. In an attempt to ease the burden on the central government created by increased devolution, the Center has reduced the assistance to the states through CSS. The financial burden of a majority of these schemes has erstwhile been shared by the Center and the States on a 75:25 basis respectively. Not only have 24 of these schemes now been changed to a 60:40(some of them 50:50) pattern, 8 of them have been delinked from central support entirely, significantly increasing the burden on State finances .

In light of limited information, an analysis of whether the benefits of fiscal devolution have been entirely neutralized by the withdrawal of central support did not produce accurate results. However, there have been claims from individual states including Maharashtra, Karnataka and West Bengal that the combination of the changes in the two central policies has led to negligible benefits on account of increased tax devolution . The State Government of Odisha has reported that the withdrawal of central support has led to a significant loss, which calls out for further analysis.

The Government of Odisha has estimated a loss of approximately 7700 crores on account of withdrawal of central support, which can be revised to 2200 crores after accounting for the increase in their share of union taxes. A simple calculation, using the percentage of Odisha’s share in Union taxes against the revised estimate of total tax revenue reveals that the amount received by Odisha has fallen considerably short of the amount promised by the FC.

Table A

The case of Odisha is reflective of a flaw in the balancing mechanism, i.e. the withdrawal of central support. As expressed by the Government of Maharashtra, the impact of this withdrawal is felt unequally among states due to different degrees of dependence on schemes. Further, while some dependent states may continue to gain (however little) from devolution, Odisha does not due to the sheer magnitude of its dependence on schemes. Amongst the schemes that have been delinked are the ‘Backward Regions Grant Fund’, the ‘Integrated Action Plan’ and the ‘Modernization of Police force’, all of which are dire needs for Odisha and other states that are affected by widespread Left Wing Extremism.

These states bear a substantially disproportionate burden of the central policy of withdrawal. In addition, Odisha, which is home to 13 of the 75 Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) identified countrywide, is faced with the task of educating these groups. It comes as an additional blow, therefore, that the ‘Model School’ scheme that Odisha was ardently implementing has also been delinked from central support.

The percentage of Odisha’s share in Union tax itself deserves closer attention, given the fact that it has dropped since the previous FC report. The FC identifies certain criteria and assigns them weightage, based on which the percentage share for each state is calculated. After taking into account the views of each state as well as the central government, the FC arrives at a list of criteria that attempts to create a balance between need and incentive. For example, a criterion like ‘population’ is aimed at states that need assistance, whereas criteria like ‘Fiscal Discipline’ are aimed at incentivizing states to keep their deficit in check.

A quick look at the 14th FC survey reveals that the list of criteria selected by the FC is somewhat at odds with the demands of the states. Let us take the criterion of ‘Fiscal Discipline’ mentioned above as an example. The 13th FC gave it a weightage of 17.5%, and 20 out of 29 states recommended its retention in the list of criteria for the 14th FC . Some states even demanded that it be given weightage as high as 33 % . It comes as quite a surprise, therefore, that the 14th FC has removed this criterion from the list entirely. Not only is this inconsistent with the demands of the state, it has also removed a large incentive for states with low fiscal deficit (including Odisha, which ranks in the top 10 in the fiscal discipline index) to maintain their good practices.

table B

Another decision that has had negative consequences for Odisha is the introduction of a new criterion known as ‘Demographic Change’. This is defined by the FC as the change in population from the 1971 figure, which has acted as the standard so far . This is a welcome change in standard. However, this move has accidentally punished the states that have managed to keep their population in check since 1971 (Odisha being one of them ), an incentive structure that spells disaster given the population situation in India. This leaves an opening for measures to alter this incentive structure while continuing to update the criteria. Perhaps a separate reward system for states that keep their population in check would do the job. From the perspective of the 14th FC survey, it is important to note that this move, however admirable, was supported only by Jharkhand.

It is quite apparent from the above information why Odisha, whose percentage in the total share has fallen from 4.8% to 4.6%, stands to lose from the current scenario. However, the policy of fiscal devolution in itself has had favorable outcomes, resulting in a sizeable increase in funds for most states. The task remains to ensure that the benefits of this increased resource pool are felt in an equitable manner so that scenarios like the one in Odisha can be avoided. Perhaps further analysis is required on the nature of schemes that are to be delinked so that the impact is not as concentrated. Alternatively, if the impact happens to be concentrated in specific areas, then a more gradual withdrawal of these schemes would be a more suitable approach. There is also the possibility of retrospective action. The central government may identify regions that have felt the brunt of withdrawal and provide some sort of special assistance. At any rate, the case of Odisha demonstrates that there is room for change in order to ensure that the impact of fiscal devolution remains entirely positive.

India: Growth Story

After toiling with the sluggish Hindu rate of growth for decades, India saw an inflection of sorts with the critical neo-liberal reforms. The country experienced one of the most impressive growth spurts in the global history and became the second fastest growing economy, ranking next to China.

However, unlike China, India has not been able to strike gold with these bouts of growth. While China has been able to increase its GDP per head from US$330 (1990) to US$6,807 (2013), India, which was at the same level in the ‘90s, has lagged far behind with GDP per capita of US$1,499 (2013)[1].

Secondly, the economic growth in India has not achieved much in terms of reducing human deprivations. While the thriving development in East Asian economies was able to drag much of its population out of poverty, few rarefied benefitted from India’s booming economy. Noted economists Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze point that though some privileged classes have been successful in improving their standard of living, a major section of the population continue to lead unnecessarily deprived and precarious lives.[2] The social and human development indicators have fallen relatively short in matching the rapidly rising economic growth rates, hence questioning the credibility and sustainability of this growth.

In the recent years, owing to the global economic meltdown, India began slipping its hold on the economic numbers too. While the towering scams, corruption and draconian taxation polies corroded the investor’ sentiment, poor governance and inability to implement welfare policies has led to internal discord. People sought change, economic opportunities and development over welfare freebies.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi caught the fancy of the ambitious youth and the emerging urban neo-middle class, with its promise of bold economic reforms and revival of lackluster Indian economy. The result was sweeping victory for the party in the 16th Lok Sabha polls. The clear outcome of the polls and emergence of majority government freed the country from the shackles of weak coalition government and regional or caste-based politics.

However, great challenges lie ahead of Mr. Modi in rolling out the economic reforms. The most critical issues that must be addressed are: inflation and real growth, employment and abridging disparities.

Fiscal prudence is critical for anchoring high inflation. However, the government spending cannot be significantly curtailed, as employment generation is indispensible. A fine balance ought to be maintained while tampering with fiscal deficit keeping in line with looming demographic dividend.

Retail inflation driven by food and fuel prices can be largely attributed to supply-side constraints, and may not respond well to increase in policy rate since the demand for food and fuel items is fairly inelastic. Complex factors like export of domestic food grains to international markets, crop failure in vegetables and high costs of production, storage and transportation cause food inflation and international instabilities in oil exporting countries, depreciation of domestic currency etc. lead to fuel inflation. These factors would not be impacted at all by a high effective rate of borrowing. In fact, the economy may be pushed into a stagflation (a combination of stagnation and inflation) by a tight monetary policy- since it would slow down economic activity by slowing extension of credit.

Hence, a tougher anti-inflation policy would be beneficial but not sufficient. It must be accompanied with other measures such as temporary subsidies, export restrictions and mechanisms of public provision to target food prices and temporary tax cuts could be considered to control fuel prices. In the long run, central bank’s tight monetary policy will cause the country’s currency to strengthen- reducing oil import bills and fuel prices. Also, a sustained period of tight monetary policy will cause the expected inflation rate in the economy to be revised downwards, driving actual inflation down as well.

Next in order to create jobs, the rigid labor laws need amends. To create a wave of industrialization and manufacturing, strong reforms with respect to land, connectivity, power and bureaucracy are needed. These factors often bedevil potential efforts to improve infrastructure. Cooperation would also be needed from State Governments as many of the labor laws and aforementioned factors fall under their purview.

Lastly, it must be ensured that resources generated with this impending growth are systematically directed to expand education, health care, social amenities, human capability, etc. It is critical that the standard of living is raised across strata and not for certain elite classes.

The Government under the leadership of Modi as the Prime Minister has started work on these reforms. The Union Budget 2014-15 started the process of rationalization of taxes and widening of tax bases. The Monsoon Session of the Parliament passed one of the first labor reform bills (Apprentice Amendment Act, 2014) and two others were introduced.

However, the critics have already started writing off Modi’s pro-market reforms for not being bold enough. His maiden (and unconventional) Independence Day speech, where he raised several important social concerns, was critiqued for being clamored with style and rhetoric, lacking any concrete direction. Others believe he has got too involved in raveling foreign policy to focus on development.

It is must be understood that India with all its complexities is not easy to govern. The government cannot steam roll bold pro-business reforms, ignoring the bulk of its population living in desolate conditions. The economic growth must be paced well with the improvement in the living conditions of these people who have witnessed unremarkable up gradation in standard of living. It is too early to get restless or loose this newly found optimism. One must give the new government and the new leader some fair amount of time to get India back on track.

[1] World Development Indicators, World Bank (Data are in current U.S. dollars)

[2] Sen, A., & Drèze, J. 2013, July 27. “It’s Not The GDP, Stupid!” Tehelka Magazine Vol. 10 Issue 30.

Private Members’ Bills: A Voice for the Opposition

The elections of 2014 and the results it brought forth were certainly a game changer for Indian politics. After two decades of coalition governments, a single party has come to power in the Centre with a strong mandate.  However, several people have raised doubts about what role the opposition would play as the government has its numbers to push key changes through. Our elected representatives, have a duty to represent needs and concerns of the people in Parliament and participate in the law making process. However, with a strong government at the helm, do MPs of opposition parties have any role in law making? The answer is yes.

There are several provisions that ensure that MPs in the opposition get a chance to effectively participate in policy making, even if they are in the opposition benches. They can participate in debates in order to voice the concerns of their constituents or raise issues of national importance. Apart from participating in debates in Parliament and discussing government bills, MPs are also empowered to introduce, Private Members’ Bills. Members of the opposition and the non-ministers are called private members and they can introduce a Private Members’ bill. These bills are different from ordinary bills since these are not introduced by Ministers on behalf of the government and are allotted a specified time for discussion every alternate Friday in Parliament.

This intervention gives MPs the power to propose legislative changes in the interest of the people and it can be leveraged to make significant contributions to the law making process and bring to the government’s notice, legislative changes that they think are pertinent. Despite its obvious advantages, this intervention hasn’t been successful. This can be inferred from the fact that till now only 14 Private Members’ Bills have been passed, the last being in 1970 under Nehru’s government. Even discussion on these bills has turned out to be infinitesimal as compared to the number of bills introduced. According to a report from PRS Legislative Research- only 17 out of 343, 14 out of 328 and 11 out of 372 Private Member Bills were discussed in the 13th, 14th and 15thLok Sabhas respectively. The possible reason for this could be that with the emergence of coalition governments, the majority party in the government was skeptical of the difference of opinion such bills would create among its own party and the coalition partners. If these differences in opinion were to be made public, not only would it throw poor light on the ruling party, which is supposed to be a united front, but also lead to internal dissensions within coalition partners over support to issues that these bills discuss. Since successive governments have given low priority to this intervention, private members’ bills are only discussed on alternate Fridays of a Parliament session.

Despite the shortcomings, one positive take away from the data given above is that the numbers of Private Members’ Bills being proposed are still high, which means they remain an important intervention to bring to light various issues which need immediate attention. For E.g: In 2008, one of the Rajya Sabha MPs proposed a bill to fix minimum number of working days for Parliament in a year to be 130 days. This could help Parliament clear the backlog of several crucial legislations that have been pending for several years. A private members’ bill to amend the Information Technology Act and its broadly worded Section 66(A) was submitted to prevent the misuse of the legislation which had led to several arrests in the country and has led to an outrage as it impinges on people’s freedom of speech and expression. Another bill was moved in 2010 to amend the anti-defection law which would provide freedom of expression to Parliamentarians in various instances except in the case of no confidence motion and money bills. This will prevent them from losing party membership in case they hold a different stand on any issue.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the onus lies with the new government to ensure that the platform of Private Members’ Bills doesn’t fade into oblivion and is instead strengthened to ensure participation and consonance of the opposition MPs, which our Prime Minister has highlighted as being crucial for his  government.


The Role of Regional Parties in the National Elections

The General Elections of 2014 have generated a sense of excitement around politics, seldom seen in the past few years which have been ridden with corruption scams, exposes and a heightened cynicism.  Over 814 million people will participate in this mammoth exercise, 120 mn. of them being first time voters.  It is no surprise therefore that living rooms and social media are abuzz with discussions on the result of the election. Till about December, such conversations revolved around the decline of the Congress and the potential gains for the BJP under Narendra Modi, the developments over the last few months have thrown another player in the fray.  The electoral debate has now been reduced to a Modi vs. Kejriwal showdown. What is being missed is the role that regional parties will play in forming the next government of India.

The elections in 2014 will be the 16th General elections in India. Until 1967, the outcome of the general elections brought a single party in power (Congress) since it enjoyed popular support as the symbol of our independence struggle. However, by the mid-1960s, this dominance began to be challenged by many regional political forces, first at the state level, and later also at the national level.

Several reasons are cited for the rise of regional parties in India. Some parties like the Dravidian parties of the South were formed to challenge the then prevailing dominance of North Indians and Brahmins in the Indian political and social setup. Some like the Akali Dal emerged out of religious reform movements, and eventually served to protect the interests of a particular religious community. Lastly, many parties emerged as a result of the growing dissension within the ranks of other All-India parties, particularly the Congress.  The growing centralization in the decision-making process of the Congress was resented by many state leaders, who found it better to constitute separate political parties to address local and regional concerns.  The Trinamool Congress in Bengal and the erstwhile Utkal Congress in Odisha are examples of such regional political outfits.

The next wave of regionalization happened in the early 1980s, a phenomenon often described as the Mandalization” of politics in India. The political mobilization of backward classes in India led to the emergence of many regional parties such as the RJD in Bihar, and the Samajwadi Party in UP, both of which have enjoyed considerable success in Assembly and Parliamentary elections. In the last two decades, the combined vote share of the Congress and BJP has been declining, therefore the last five general elections have shown that ‘India’s elections are least national in character’(M.K. Venu, The Hindu, June 12, 2013). If anything, regional parties can be expected to play an even greater role this time for many reasons with the fate of approximately half of the 543 seats in Parliament being significantly affected by regional players.

There are several reasons for the growth of regional parties. Firstly, many state governments led by regional parties have managed to achieve significant success in addressing developmental and governance issues over the last five years. In Tamilnadu, governments led by either of the 2 main Dravidian parties have achieved considerable success in public health.  The focus on building physical and human resources in public health have ensured that TN has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in India, and 81% of infants in the state are fully immunized. Similarly, the BJD-led government in Odisha deserves to be complimented for its unprecedented feat in disaster management when nearly a million people were evacuated before cyclone Phailin struck the east coast of India. It was described by the UN Secretary General for disaster risk reduction as a “landmark success story (which could be used) as a model for other cities and countries”.  Likewise, Bihar under the JD(U) led government, saw a massive turnaround in its fortunes when it became the fastest growing state in India in terms of GDP in 2012.

These examples are not meant to suggest that BJP/Congress governments in other states are not doing well. However, it does indicate that alternatives do exist, and people are likely to choose such alternatives wherever they have the choice. More so, because regional parties more closely represent the aspirations of the people of the state. At the same time, with voters hardly seeing any substantive difference between the policies and programmes of the Congress/ BJP their ‘vote for change’ may be earned by regional parties. Good governance in the states may be rewarded with more seats at the Centre for many of these regional forces.

Lastly, in a personality-driven election, our media’s obsession with one or two personalities may not be a true reflection of the impact that regional political leaders have on popular imagination in their respective states. This is especially true of states outside the Hindi heartland, where leaders like Jayalalitha, Naveen Patnaik, Nitish Kumar are capable of garnering votes through their personal charisma complemented with their record of good governance.

While it is generally agreed that coalition governments are here to stay, there is considerable debate on whether such an arrangement is beneficial for us. While it is argued that coalitions stymie fast decision making, the fact is that coalitions have made politics in the country more accountable to the coalition partners as well as to the masses. There is a lot more internal democracy within parties today than during the presence of a strong single party leadership at the Centre.

Further the other advantages of coalitions far outweigh the disadvantages. In a federal system the representation of multiple parties in Parliament leads to to more balanced and inclusive socio-economic development. The special concerns of different states have a better chance of being addressed, while still keeping in view the broader national picture. In particular, a more just and equitable arrangement for distribution of Central revenues between different states can be evolved..

Further, coalition governments ensure that decision-making although time-taking, is more participatory and democratic. In a coalition government, the likelihood of the disparate views of coalition partners being heard and considered is much higher than in a single party government. There can be no denying the fact that despite their vices, coalitions in India have made politics far more representative and accountable than earlier. However, in order for coalitions to work for us, it is necessary that the leading party in the coalition make concessions, but at the same time, the regional parties also  exercise restraint and responsibility, especially in case of issues like national security and foreign policy,

In conclusion, it can only be said that a coalition government at the Centre with regional parties playing a cooperative role in nation-building is good for India, and must be embraced as the verdict of the people.  Prof. Sumantra Bose endorses this view when he says “For all the flaws and vices of many of contemporary India’s regional political figures, the regionalisation of India’s politics is a democratic outcome that has emerged through the dynamic evolution of India’s democracy over six decades”.After all, national interests are an aggregation of regional interests in a federal democracy.

(The author, Apoorv Tiwari is a graduate of IIT Kharagpur and a Former Associate at Boston Consulting Group. He has a keen interest in politics, history and public policy)


  1. India Since 1950 : Christophe Jaffrelot, Foundation Books
  2. Economic Survey of India 2012-13
  3. Politics in India (Second Edition) : Rajni Kothari, Orient Blackswan
  4. M.M Punchhi Commission Report on Centre – State Relations, Volume VII- “Socio-economic development, Public policy and good governance”

Democratizing Candidate Selection in India

We often pride ourselves on being the world’s largest democracy however, are we a truly representative one? The answer to that question can go several ways. However, this article will only address one aspect i.e. the process of candidate selection in political parties in our country. Although candidate selection for election plays a vital role in any democracy, it has not attracted enough attention in India. While in some parties committees are set-up to select candidates, in other parties candidates are selected by a handful of influential leaders. This has perpetuated a system of nepotism and has often resulted in candidates with questionable antecedents and substantial wealth being fielded.

While questions of democratic processes in candidate selection are hardly discussed and largely ignored in India, in several advanced democracies like the United States of America the system is deeply rooted and firmly established. In the summer of every presidential election year, parties in the United States conduct national conventions to select their presidential candidates. At the conventions, the presidential candidates are selected by groups of delegates from each state.  These delegates are selected at the state level, as per the rules determined by each political party’s state committee; but mainly based on two methods – the primaries and the caucuses.

A caucus is a system of local gatherings where voters decide which candidate to support and select delegates for national conventions. A primary is a statewide voting process in which voters cast secret ballots for their preferred candidates. Primaries are also of two types: closed and open. In a closed primary only registered members are allowed to vote. As opposed to this, in open primaries, voting may be done even by non-members. However, people are allowed to vote in only one primary. Most states in United States hold closed primaries.

The candidates for other elections in United States such as members of the Senate and Congress, as well as the Governor are also selected through the primary process. By involving citizens in the process of candidate selection, political parties are made accountable and transparent to the public who they seek to represent.

While primaries are now part and parcel of the election process in the US, this wasn’t always the case. Until the early part of twentieth century the delegate selection process to the national convention was far from democratic or transparent and was instead extremely nepotistic. It was during the late nineteenth century, that US experienced rapid economic growth coupled with social conflict.  Political corruption was rampant and big businesses heavily influenced the government decision making process. Politics came to be dominated by spoils system in which constituents supported a candidate in exchange for anticipated patronage.

All this changed with rapid economic growth which produced a large middle class who went on to demand radical social and political reform in US. Parallels can be observed in Indian society today.

India has witnessed some landmark developments that have centered on weeding out corruption and decriminalizing politics. The Supreme Court judgment on section 8(4) of the Representation of People Act was seen as a progressive step towards breaking the criminal-political nexus and the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party proved that lineage was not a necessity to rise in politics.

In its first ever electoral contest, AAP emerged as the second largest party in Delhi Assembly winning 28 of the 70 assembly seats. All of the 28 AAP MLAs were new to the poll arena but managed to defeat a number of heavyweights. The candidate selection procedure adopted by the party was one of the major factors in its success.  A mix of preferential voting and consultation process in several stages was undertaken by the AAP for choosing its candidates.

Any person with the support of 100 voters was allowed to propose his candidature for the elections. This was followed by a screening process by a committee which shortlisted a maximum of 5 candidates from each constituency. Preferential voting by the active AAP cadres to rank the shortlisted candidates followed this step. The last step was a little short of an interview process with the political affairs committee of the AAP. The final candidate was selected based on the preferential voting as well as the interview with the shortlisted candidate. While the preferential voting helped in gauging the popularity of the candidate, the vision and plans of candidates for the constituency were determined based on the personal interactions with the candidates. This consultative experiment worked wonders for the Aam Aadmi Party, as was reflected in the popular vote it received in the Delhi Assembly elections.

This stunning debut of AAP in Delhi has forced other parties to adopt a more democratic process for candidate selection. Parties like the Indian National Congress, have decided to try out the primaries for selecting sixteen of its Lok Sabha candidates, other parties have been forced to adopt a more consultative approach with their cadres.

The Congress Party’s new mode of candidate selection has been introduced with an objective of empowering the grass root party workers.  A representative cross-section of party workers, leaders and influencers (such as presidents of various professional associations of doctors, engineers, labourers etc. in the constituency) will decide the Lok Sabha candidate for the constituency by participating in a simple voting process. Any eligible person satisfying certain requirements shall be accepted as a candidate for these primaries.  Congress party has already conducted all these primaries and has selected its candidates. Apart from two constituencies where there were single nominees for the candidature, electoral colleges of varying sizes (from 200 to 1,000) have voted for their choice of candidates. The process is likely to be adopted in a much deeper way by the Congress party in its ticket allotment process for future elections. Hopefully, this would lead to selection of better candidates in a more transparent way.

If parties are able to win popular support for undertaking such initiatives and subsequently validation by way of people’s votes, then more and more parties will adopt similar processes towards transparency in candidate selection. However, in order for that to happen, the public must engage with the system and keep up the pressure on political parties  for these changes, as they will go a long way in making India a truly representative democracy.

(The author Biranchi Narayan Panigrahi holds a post graduate degree from IIM, Kozhikode. The author’s views are personal)