Selection of Candidates

Most of us are worried about who gets elected – which party will come to power. A few are worried about who constitutes the representatives of people in Parliament. Past performances of elected Members of Parliament has been a cause of worry – their behaviour, inside and outside, their opinions, their representativeness, their efficiency, their responsiveness, etc. Ofcourse, political party bosses and coalition politics continue to dictate how these Members have to perform and behave. There are many good intentioned MPs who could not do what they wanted to do because they were not allowed to do so, by their political bosses.

This brings us to the question, who is choosing whom. Do people have proper choices before them? Many political parties chose their candidates based on extraneous circumstances, especially complete loyalty. The most loyal persons are those whose interests are not aligned with the interests of the persons who run the political party. This might appear strange, but it is true. They would rather select a person, who is not interested in the growth story of the party, but his / her own growth. A person interested in the growth of party might be seen as a future threat to the suzerainty of this single person’s power. This is how committed political party workers get short-changed. But, then every person is adept at hiding their interests and individual growth plans. So, how does the guy at the top assess these ‘hidden’ interests and eliminate future threats? the best way they discovered is to have a business transaction: you pay, I give.

Telugu Desam, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Congress, Bharatiya Janata party, YSR congress party and scores of other parties, across India are grappling with this process of selection. Issue is not just about prevention of candidates with criminal record, but candidates who really represent the people of that particular constituency. For example in a predominantly tribal area, a literate, urbane, rich person with origin of birth in the tribal community may not be suitable, even if he / her is more an appropriate choice, than outsider to the tribal community. Representativeness has to be defined and understood properly by the people and the representatives alike. All political parties, in their strongholds, and safe seats, tend to bring their own choices, ignoring local claims and opinions, especially those of their workers. Why?

This is because political party management has become a business. The person, or group of persons, who start a party, are expected to invest and earn money later. A candidate in a particular constituency, who seeks ticket, has to invest his own money in election expenditure. If he wants this particular brand, he has to pay money. because this brand ensures certain percentage of votes, over and above what his efforts would bring in. The promoters would have to come up with ‘brand’ promotion investments, which includes advertisements, paid articles, investments on ‘crowd pullers’ tour expenditure, inducements and attractions to voters, promises, etc. However, they also need to invest in ‘risky’ constituencies, or ‘income poor’ constituencies. Risk is where there is lot of competition, usually urban areas and power centres. Income poor constituencies include reserved, backward and far away areas, whose say and position is low or nil. Disempowered constituencies also require investments. No one would do reverse investments here. Promoters have this additional burden. Sometimes, they have to invest for the sake of a ‘brand show’ – such as all India party, across the State party – or derail opponent party in certain constituencies. These are additionalities – additional costs. However, all these additionalities have to be cross-subsidised by the rich candidates. Thus, the ‘suitcase’ weight is not decided by the constituency per se, but by overall perspective of private interest. There is little room for public interest, and no space for democratic values.

That is bosses of every political party have to deal with lot of issues in selection of candidates. If the opponent party is rich, they need to match this might. Rich is not enough, they need cash. If there are assets, they need to be converted into cash. With active policing during elections, one needs unhindered cash flow and ‘managerial, mercurial’ staff to cross the naka bandis. Thus, there is employment potential for bright persons, who would know the geography, road networks, informants in the police, travel in all terrain vehicles, and higher-ups. The core principle is that trail, in case, cannot go back to the candidate or the party or the party boss. Among so many cash hauls, how many cases have been traced back to the party, or the candidates? To my knowledge, nil. It speaks so much about naka bandi’s and ‘unaccounted’ for cash. Summarily, these recoveries belong to persons who do not have networks and networks. Indian economy runs on cash, and persons caught here and there probably do not have networks to deal with occasional situations of cash surfacing.

Coming back to candidates, selection of candidates is not easy. Every party has a shortage of candidates in many constituencies. Ofcourse, spirited, intelligent, public-oriented, educated (not necessarily literate), with leadership qualities and democratic values ​​are not suitable. In current system of selection, it is hard for them to get noticed, leave alone selected. Yet, the ‘head-ache’ potential of selection is very high, honestly speaking, even in the case of dishonest political parties.

Why promoters of political parties are not interested in reducing their headaches in candidate selection? Why can’t they make it more transparent and enable a democratic process? Why the process is increasingly becoming ‘behind-the-doors’, conspiratorial and opaque? Why promoters do not recognise the ‘sweat and toil’ of their own workers, and tend to promote an ‘outsider’? Is the selection based only on winnability? If so, who takes responsibility for the failure of a candidate in elections?

I feel the process that Aam Aadmi party began by calling openly for applications is one small step in ‘reforming’ this process. However, their interview process and finalisation is still the same as in other parties – not democratic and participatory. However, I was surprised to read that Majlis-ittehadul-Muslimeen, a completely ‘cadre’ party, calling for applications. It is another story that ‘cadre’ party means not discipline alone. I am not sure how many parties have followed this step of calling applications. Another welcome step, this time by Congress, is the primaries. Done as a pilot in only 15 constituencies, a candidate is selected by ‘representative cross-section of party workers, leaders and other influencers, satisfying certain criteria’. Some allowance for local participation.

Surprisingly, and SO Not surprisingly, that parties Declare themselves as ‘alternative’ parties to Regional, NATIONAL and conventional parties, have also set Not The fire ON path.  Centralised The process is The day of order. AAP starts and ends with applications and interviews. AAP bringing Rajmohan Gandhi into Delhi, over and above local aspirations is one such example. Loksatta’s selection is not publicly known. Newly declared parties, such as Mahajana Socialist party, Jana sena, are yet to announce their candidates. Because of lacunae in this important phase of democracy, all parties have failed in enabling wider representation in their candidates. Women do not get selected. Vulnerable communities do not get represented. There is no revolution in this process, because there is no churning.

All of us who are worried about the quality and output of Parliament should also be worried about this process of candidate selection by every political party.

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