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CAREFUL CHOICE

What a democracy should treasure most is the ‘common’ touch. By democratic logic, the candidates selected to contest elections should be actually, not just theoretically, representatives of the people. But political parties in India are seldom democratically minded, paradoxically enough, and tend to choose their candidates from the top, whether the local units of the parties, or even the local people, like it or not. The Congress has the worst reputation for such high-handed behaviour. Rahul Gandhi, however, as vice-president of the Congress, is convinced of the value of choosing candidates with informed local inputs: evidently, desirability in the constituency is as important as winnability and the absence of criminal connections. That the party is serious about this is proved by the long-sighted planning behind this rejuvenation exercise: the first steps were taken in 2012. It is not possible to say, however, that this new effort has been an immediate hit; rather, interests vested in status quo and internal dissensions have blocked its proper flowering. The obstructions may indicate the effectiveness of the plan; if persisted with, it may widen its scope of success. The voice of the people, mediated through local leaders, block and district officers, should certainly be heard during the choosing of a candidate: this is the ‘common’ touch that democracy needs. The balance could be provided at the national level, when the central committee and national leaders pick out the final names from the list provided. At a time when the Aam Aadmi Party has hijacked much of the ‘common’ platform, the plan is strategic too .

Democracy is a work-in-progress; not many nations are certain how to choose candidates who trail clouds of the local people’s support. The United States of America, which does not have permanent political ‘parties’, manages with the long and harrowing ‘primaries’. Britain, which does have political parties, has a ‘constituency committee’ for each area — at least the Labour Party does — which comprises local leaders, trade union members and so on. They judge the suitability of candidates and send their recommendations to the party. There is much in Mr Gandhi’s plan for Indian political parties to think about. But if electoral candidates are to be chosen with some democratic logic, a firmer procedure beyond this first experimentation must be evolved.