An important piece of fiction that got buried in recent developments over elections to the offices of President and Vice-President is that we should always decide things by consensus.
This time we are going to have contests for both posts — and it’s good. It will be Pranab Mukherjee versus Purno Sangma in one, and Hamid Ansari versus Jaswant Singh in the other.
A genuine election is better than a bogus consensus in any situation. In fact, what has been called a consensus in the past was really nothing more than an acknowledgement by parties in opposition that the “consensus” candidate has an overwhelming majority. If they did not believe this, they would have contested.
A genuine consensus would be one where all parties — or at least the main government and opposition parties — discuss candidates and work out a compromise based on give and take.
But that wasn’t the case this time, when the Congress announced Mukherjee’s candidature, and then sought a consensus. It has done the same with Ansari’s candidature.
So the BJP is right to put up its candidate, even if his chances of winning are slim.
One of the odd things about our democracy is the unwillingness of parties to seek genuine contests, not only in elections to the president or speaker, but even in their own parties.
While expecting an election for the top job in Congress is unthinkable, one wonders why the party cannot ensure elections at least in the states. Almost all state Congress leaders are really central nominees, who then go through a dubious election procedure when a selection has already been made by the supreme leader.
But what is surprising is the BJP falling for the consensus nonsense. Why could not the party have decided its president, or leaders of the party in the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, through a formal election?
Why does the BJP have to accept an RSS nominee as its president as part of a messy internal compromise? Why can’t LK Advani’s claim to be the party’s PM nominee not be decided by a vote? Why does his ineligibility, or Nitin Gadkari’s presidency, have to be decided by a consensus that is not a consensus?
Why can’t Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley not seek a vote on who should lead the party? Or, for that matter, Narendra Modi, when he is ready for the job?
The same goes for the Communists — pastmasters in consensus. Since the CPI(M) and CPI are completely opaque in telling us how they elect (or select) their leaders, one can only assume that decisions are taken by powerful internal bosses through the “consensus” route and not an election.
Some years back, the Election Commission, in a bid to democratise party functioning, decreed that party leaders should not be nominated but be elected.
But what happened? Instead of actually holding an election, top party posts got decided through an election process where there was only one candidate.
This is how Bal Thackeray remains Shiv Sena’s president for life. And it’s true for all parties — which hold elections which are almost never contested.
Why are our parties so scared of holding an election?
One could pose a counter-question: isn’t consensus a better way of achieving harmony within parties?
Actually, this isn’t the case. When there are so many people with so much ambition, and when there are so many ideas about how to bring about change, a consensus merely pushes all discussions on real issues under the carpet.
Contests allow ambitious leaders to frame issues and discuss them in public, and in the process the public — or even the internal members of a party — get to find out what might work better.
If Indian democracy is to flourish, we should bury the idea of consensus 10 feet deep and seek elections on the issues that concern us.
Consensus will only get us more of the same. Not progress. One hopes the contests set off by the lack of consensus on the presidency and the vice-presidency forces our parties to replace fake consensus with contests.