Generally all the suggestions or proposals about overcoming various challenges to politics in democracy are called ‘democracy reform’ or ‘political reform’. I am not going to give here a list of desirable political reforms, for there cannot be any such list. If all the countries do not have the same challenges, it follows that everyone cannot follow the same recipe of political reforms. You cannot prescribe a procedure for car repair without knowing which model the car is, what the defect is and what tools are available, where the car has broken down, etc. Can we at least have a list of such reforms for a country in today’s context? We can develop some proposals for reforms at the national level. But the real challenge of reforms may not lie at the national level. Some of the crucial questions need to be thought at the State or local level. Besides, such a list may become irrelevant after some time. So, instead of that let us think of some broad guidelines that can be kept in mind while devising ways and means for political reforms :
- It is very tempting to think of legal ways of reforming politics, to think of new laws to ban undesirable things. But this temptation needs to be resisted. No doubt, law has an important role to play in political reform. Carefully devised changes in law can help to discourage wrong political practices and encourage good ones. But legal-constitutional changes by themselves cannot overcome challenges to democracy. This is like the rules of cricket. A change in rules for LBW decisions helped to reduce negative batting tactics. But no one would ever think that the quality of cricket could be improved mainly through changes in the rules. This is to be done mainly by the players, coaches and administrators. Similarly, democratic reforms are to be carried out mainly by political activists, parties, movements and politically conscious citizens.
- Any legal change must carefully look at what results it will have on politics. Sometimes the results may be counter-productive. For example, many states have banned people who have more than two children from contesting panchayat elections. This has resulted in denial of democratic opportunity to many poor and women, which was not intended. Generally, laws that seek to ban something are not very successful in politics. For example, if we ban the use of polythene bags, it won't be so effective as people will still continue to use it. But if we provide incentives to people to use jute bags by lowering their price then people will definitely stop the use of polythene bags.
Similarly, Laws that give political actors incentives to do good things have more chances of working. The best laws are those which empower people to carry out democratic reforms. The Right to Information Act is a good example of a law that empowers the people to find out what is happening in government and act as watchdogs of democracy. Such a law helps to control corruption and supplements the existing laws that banned corruption and imposed strict penalties.
- Democratic reforms are to be brought about principally through political practice. Therefore, the
main focus of political reforms should be on ways to strengthen democratic practice. The most important concern should be to increase and improve the quality of political participation by ordinary citizens.
Ordinary citizens, pressure groups and movements and the media can play an important role in this. If political parties feel that they would lose public support by not taking up reforms, they would become more serious about reforms. Two, political parties can improve if those who want this join political parties. The quality of democracy depends on the degree of public participation. It is difficult to reform politics if ordinary citizens do not take part in it and simply criticize it from the outside. The problem of bad politics can be solved by more and better politics.
- Any proposal for political reforms should think not only about what is a good solution but also about who will implement it and how. It is not very wise to think that the legislatures will pass legislations that go against the interest of all the political parties and MPs. But measures that rely on democratic movements, citizens’ organizations and the media are likely to succeed. Let us keep these general guidelines in mind and look at some specific instances of challenges to democracy that require some measure of reform. Let us try to come up with some concrete proposals of reform.
Let me summarize the points :
- It is very important that political reforms are carried out by political activists, parties, movements and politically conscious citizens.
- It is very important to frame such laws that don't ban illegal practices but provide incentives to political parties (or general people) to do good things.
- The quality of democracy depends on the degree of public participation. It is difficult to reform politics if ordinary citizens do not take part in it and simply criticize it from the outside.
- Any proposal for political reforms should think not only about what is a good solution but also about who will implement it and how.
Your comments are most welcomed.