By: Srinivasan K. Rangachary
It is quite alarming to observe that certain kinds of pessimistic tendencies are on the rise, particularly in the institutional context of Indian politics. These tendencies manifest at procedural as well as substantive levels. At the procedural level, flouting and bending well-established procedures-for example, by choosing odd hours for administering oath for office-certainly constitute as the violation of constitutional norms. At the more substantive level, these tendencies become evident, particularly in some of the legislators’ move of crossing over to the party in power or parties likely to be in power. This has been increasingly evident in the recent political developments that occurred in Maharashtra. The other manifestation through which these tendencies erupt is the politics of caprice, treachery, and secrecy. Thus, these tendencies seek to attack the constitutional norms and tend to free the legislator from moral constraints. Put differently, the individual legislators feel less constrained by the normative restrictions that are given by the Constitution and endorsed by the courts from time to time.
The recent ruling by the Supreme Court on the government formation in Maharashtra is a case in point. It is true that uncertain political situations, such as a fragmented electoral verdict, do provide the background conditions for such tendencies to take hold of the political life of institutions, political parties, and individual leaders. But, it is also true that such tendencies are backed by an objective need for parties and leaders to retain and remain in power. The recent political developments in Maharashtra once again brought this forth. In this regard, it is equally important to factor in an element of the subjective condition that seems to contribute to the growth of pessimistic politics. The success of pessimistic politics correspondingly depends on an acute desire to use politics for protecting personal or private interests. In political life, such a strong desire constitutes one of the motivating forces that are active in individuals, groups of individuals, and even political parties. In such cases, the commitment to personal interest becomes primary, while commitment to moral norms becomes secondary. Integrity with the “ideological” self or personal interest then overrides the integrity with both procedural as well as substantive norms.
Pessimistic forms of politics involve deep contempt for transparent and deliberative modes of democracy and have disdain for procedural norms. In fact, contempt for transparent political practices by political personalities has its roots in a person’s inability to participate in more deliberative ways of forming a more considered judgment by oneself. Put positively, taking moral hold of oneself does empower one to firmly and resolutely confront manipulative pressures having evil consequences. One needs to avoid the slippery slope that compels one to offer oneself as an object of somebody’s evil design. One could be fair to oneself by avoiding stepping onto this slippery slope. No democracy can work on degenerative forms of politics that underlie and renew this slippery slope. A democratic form of government is the ideal not because it is impossible to realise, but because it can be minimally realised by producing best political practices; practices that are produced by the people’s representatives in accordance with the constitutional norms. Legislators and institutional heads such as governors of states are supposed to follow these norms or normative standards so as to create space for best political practices. As of today, Indian politics seems to be continuously expressing itself in its pessimistic rather than optimistic forms. Pessimistic tendencies have been eating into the vitality of institutional spaces that help democracy sustain itself at the optimal level.
Optimal democracy seeks to optimise the use of spaces that promote transparency and the capacity to remain present in the democratic sphere through considered judgment and honest deliberation. In this regard, it is important for political parties to follow the normative standards that should guide and regulate their political practices. This expectation becomes important in a context where the political commentators are seen lamenting for a party which, according to the former, has stepped onto the slippery slope like any other party. Such an observation tends to suggest that a political party is prone to develop the capacity of being equally treacherous and vicious. People expect both individual leaders and political parties to be transparent and decent in their political practices. They do believe that it is necessary to save not only themselves, but democracy itself. INAV