India is a parliamentary democracy where the winning party’s leader heads the Government. In recent times as a result of decades of socio-political reforms centered on making the states stronger the regional parties have grown stronger with coalition Governments being the norm of the day. Social coalition started to shrink from a broad one to an electorally winning one—perhaps the residues coming forth as smaller parties. The upcoming general election in 2014 however seems to be turning things on its head.
The existing Government’s ineffectual leadership, corruption charges and flip-flop economic policies have left the republic adrift with a yearning for strong effective leadership. It has created an opening for leaders like Narendra Modi to assert and position themselves for a one-on-one matchup against other political leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal etc.
If current opinion polls are to be given credence the people tend to be aligned to an individual rather than the party i.e. Modi or Kejriwal or Gandhi or Jayalalita. Some people in India might call this personality based or ego-based politics however they need to go back in history and see if the folks in the past were voting for Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and so on. We can say to a large extent (from the past) that people representing a party have not been seen as individuals alone but more as icons representing a party and it is this integrated image that has been driving party politics in India.
This time, however, the personality (Presidential) election might cut across regions, caste and other barriers. In a way presidential-style campaigns unseen before in the world’s most populous democracy (India) is aimed at attracting regional votes. Most State/Regional parties have national ambitions. Coalition politics at the national level has become a norm and the two main contenders (national parties) need to seek out smaller party support to form a government at the Centre. Why then should India not open the voting banks for all the major contenders and let the public vote for their favorite national icon?
Do you think Presidential government can be a more effective democratic tool for India? Your thoughts are welcome.
Sanjay Puri has been working on Indian-American issues and facilitating stronger US-India relations through USINPAC (US India Political Action Committee) and AUSIB (Alliance for US India Business), two bipartisan organizations that he chairs.