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BOOK REVIEW: 'Populism rules the roost in Indian democracy'

Source: IPF      Date: 14 Sep 2013 15:10:50


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The negative effect that populism and electoral compulsion have on functioning and credibility of democracy are analyzed in the book ‘Beyond a Billion Ballot -- Democratic Reforms’ for a Resurgent India by Vinay Sahasrabuddhe. The author does not dwell into philosophical or ideological debate about democracy as he regards it has already been settled in favour of democracy. Democracy for him not only a way of life but a system of governance, it has to justify itself on deliverance and further democratization of its institution. It talks about gap between acceptance and deliverance of democracy. Political parties in democracy serve as intermediaries between mass public and formal structure of government. Parties are also used to channelize discontent and disappointment and it is this that sustains them.

The writer also assumes that parties are genuinely motivated to provide good governance so instead of looking at their intentions; he purposely looks at parties as victim of circumstances. What is plaguing political parties nowadays is manifold but singularly important among them is blurring of distinctiveness, since ideologies are losing relevance, the programmes and policies of almost all parties are same. The leader centrism, politics of patronage, growing prominence of emotional issues have led to culture of sycophancy. What was initially meant to represent popular will has now been converted into mechanism for arousing raw and ill cultivated passion. Electoral compulsions are seen at the time of selecting a candidate where public perception, resource arrangement and winnability are prime concern.
We follow the ‘first past the post’ electoral system which incentivizes formation of captive vote bank, it is more prone to populist and electoral compulsion because in it you can win the election by merely garnering more votes than your competitors even when majority of people are against you.
Since this book is about degeneration of political parties, the writer skips those issues which are concerned with bankruptcy of our political leadership. Reformatory measures as suggested by author include looking critically at Westminster model, FPTP model, electoral reform, political party reform and party finances. The widespread disenchantment among general public regarding our political institution and actors need to be addressed quickly and comprehensively so that our democracy survives. In that regard this book could prove to be good reading.
Publication- Wisdom tree publication, 2013

Pages 317

Price Rs.795/- INR

By Anshuman Singh,

Junior Fellow, IPF