Before every election, politicians descend on their respective party offices for the ticket to contest. In the BJP, the final decision on ticket distribution rests with its parliamentary board while in the Congress it’s with the Gandhis. For a democracy, this practice is undemocratic. It makes candidates beholden to the central leadership of their parties and gives rise to a culture of sycophancy.
In such a scenario, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s plan to partly democratise the party by holding primaries ahead of the general elections was a step in the right direction. But after the defeat of the 16 candidates who got the ticket via the new system, many want to scrap this experiment. Is this a fair argument? The Congress contested 462 seats: 446 of those candidates got the ticket via the standard ticket distribution system and among them only 44 won. The party was wiped out across the board, regardless of whether the candidate was selected via the primary route or otherwise because there was a general disillusionment with the party and the BJP ran an outstanding campaign. The fate of the candidates selected through the primaries had little to do with the allocation of tickets and much more to do with the national mood.
Today, the Congress has nothing to lose and should use this opportunity to continue with this experiment and position itself as a party that thinks ahead of its time. The 2014 primaries were closed primaries, allowing only local registered party workers to vote for the candidate they thought was most likely to win. While closed primaries have their own advantage it has a serious problem: Should candidates spend time working for their constituencies or curry favour with local party workers?
India’s democracy is a work in progress. It needs constant attention to improve not only the existing voting mechanisms (electronic voting machines and absentee ballots) but also greater voter engagement and political activism. Holding primaries will appeal to the increasingly aware young voter of India who is opinionated and wants greater transparency in all spheres, including the electoral process.
Karanraj Chaudri is a graduate student at Oxford University
The views expressed by the author are personal