No inner-party democracy

Source: This post is based on the article “No inner-party democracy” published in The Hindu on 20th July 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries.

Relevance: Inner-party democracy in India and the UK.

News: Recently, the British Conservative Party ousted their leader Boris Johnson. The incident showcases the amount of power ordinary MPs have over the Prime Minister. But this inner-party democracy is absent in India.

What is the position of PM in India?

In India, the Prime Minister exercises absolute authority over party MPs. MPs’ ability to even diverge slightly from the official government line on routine policy matters is almost non-existent.

The Prime Minister’s power is strengthened by the anti-defection law. Under it, recalcitrant MPs who do not manage to carry two-thirds of their colleagues with them can always be disqualified.

MPs do not enjoy any autonomy at all to question and challenge their party leadership.

Read more: Problems associated with Anti Defection Law
How MPs in the UK are different from MPs in India?

Firstly, MPs in the U.K. are able to act boldly because they do not owe their nomination to the party leader, but are selected by the local constituency party. In India, however, it is the party leadership that decides candidates, with an informal consultation with the local party.

Secondly, MPs in the U.K. does not face a risk of disqualification if they speak out against the leader.

These factors are the biggest stumbling blocks toward ensuring inner-party democracy in India.

Read more: Explained: How are Rajya Sabha MPs elected?
What should be done to ensure inner-party democracy?

Borrow the model from the UK: Individual Conservative MPs write to the 1922 Committee (which comprises backbench MPs, and looks out for their interests) expressing that they have “no confidence” in their leader.

If a numerical or percentage threshold (15% of the party’s MPs in the U.K.) is breached, an automatic leadership vote is triggered. In this, the party leader is forced to seek a fresh mandate from the parliamentary party.

Empower MPs: India should consider empowering its elected representatives, to ensure accountability for party leadership. For this, an exception has to be made to the anti-defection law.

In the long run, the Westminster model dictates that control over candidates must shift from central party leaders to local party members.

Read more: The issues faced by MPs in India in initiating reforms on their own
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