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General Elections 2024: Indian Democracy Under Scrutiny

Rasheed Kidwai, a versatile professional in journalism, authorship, and political analysis, currently serves as a Visiting Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). He brings a wealth of experience, having previously held the position of Associate Editor at The Telegraph, where he diligently covered government affairs, politics, community issues, and the nuances of Hindi cinema.

Kidwai commands an influential presence as a columnist for prestigious publications such as The Tribune Chandigarh, Mumbai Mirror, The Print, ABP News, Network 18, Inquilab, Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala, Prabhat Khabar, Rediff, The Quint, and an array of other distinguished English, Hindi, and Urdu platforms. Moreover, his expertise as a political analyst resonates across numerous television channels, including but not limited to News 18, ABP News, NDTV, India Ahead News, and India Today TV.

In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Kidwai has established himself as a prolific author, delving into various facets of Indian politics and profiling prominent figures. Among his notable works are ‘Sonia, A Biography’, ‘24 Akbar Road’, ‘Ballot: Ten Episodes that Have Shaped India’s Democracy’, and ‘Neta–Abhineta: Bollywood Star Power in Indian Politics’.

Beyond his professional accolades, Kidwai is esteemed for his humility, integrity, and unwavering commitment to journalistic ethics. His peers hold him in high regard, recognizing his dedication to upholding the highest standards of the profession.

In an exclusive discussion with The Interview World, Rasheed Kidwai offers valuable insights into the performance of democratic institutions amidst the current political landscape. He analyzes the strategic alliances forged by political parties in anticipation of the 2024 general elections, shares his perspectives on the heightened activities of law enforcement agencies, and provides astute predictions regarding the election outcomes.

Here are the key highlights from his illuminating interview.  

Q: In light of your book “Ballot: Ten Episodes that Have Shaped India’s Democracy,” could you provide insights into the performance of democratic institutions within the current political landscape?

A: Institutionally, the democratic framework in India may boast functionality, but it is glaringly evident that extensive course correction is urgently needed. Let’s dissect this dire need for reform by scrutinizing the Election Commission, a cornerstone of India’s electoral process. According to Article 324 of the Indian Constitution, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) serves as a crucial set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission to regulate the conduct of political parties and candidates, ensuring the sanctity of free and fair elections. However, the stark reality reveals a system plagued by toothless regulations and rampant disregard for ethical standards.

The MCC, conceived under the noble assumption that political entities would uphold principles of propriety, ethics, and morality, finds itself impotent in the face of widespread malpractice. Unlike the British Westminster model, which places a premium on propriety, India’s experience showcases a stark reversal, rendering the MCC ineffective without robust legal backing. Political defections and ethical breaches have become all too common, shattering the very foundations of democratic integrity.

Despite its inception in 1960 and subsequent amendments, the MCC has failed to curb electoral misconduct. Provisions intended to foster fair play and transparency have been routinely flouted, evidenced by the dismal display during the 2019 Lok Sabha and subsequent assembly elections. Caste-based appeals, character assassination, voter coercion, and other egregious violations have become the norm, casting a shadow over the electoral process.

The need for comprehensive electoral reform cannot be overstated. It demands introspection from political parties, judicial intervention, media scrutiny, and societal engagement. The Election Commission, entrusted with the solemn duty of safeguarding democratic principles, must undergo a radical transformation to regain public trust and fulfill its constitutional mandate.

Calls for a revamped MCC, crafted through public discourse and consensus, echo the sentiment of a disillusioned populace. The arbitrary expenditure limit of Rs. 70 lakh per candidate in parliamentary polls serves as a mockery of democratic ideals, breeding corruption and subverting the will of the electorate. Public financing of elections, coupled with increased expenditure ceilings, represents a tangible step towards restoring electoral integrity.

The composition of the Election Commission warrants immediate scrutiny. The exclusion of the Chief Justice of India from the selection panel, a blatant maneuver by the Narendra Modi government, underscores the need for a more democratic and transparent appointment process. Advocates for a collegium system argue for greater independence and credibility, shielding the institution from partisan influence.

Furthermore, the infusion of legal expertise, such as retired Supreme Court judges, into the Election Commission is imperative. Given its quasi-judicial responsibilities, including the adjudication of disqualifications and interpretation of electoral laws, the commission requires a robust legal framework to guide its decisions. The prevalence of overturned rulings and wavering authority undermines the sanctity of electoral governance.

The Election Commission must shed its passive observer persona and embrace its constitutional role as a vigilant referee. Endowed with substantial resources and powers, it must exhibit unwavering resolve in upholding electoral integrity, free from external pressures or political interference. The urgency for reform is undeniable, with the credibility of Indian democracy hanging in the balance.

In conclusion, the time for action is now. Electoral reform is not a luxury but a necessity, imperative for the preservation of democratic ideals. The Election Commission, as the custodian of electoral integrity, must rise to the occasion, fortified by legal clarity, institutional independence, and unwavering commitment to fairness. Only through concerted efforts can India reclaim its status as a beacon of democracy, ensuring that the voices of its citizens resonate loud and clear through the ballot box.

Q: Are democratic institutions in the country effectively fulfilling their responsibilities under the current administration?

A: The political parties seem to be the ones with the tools to tackle this issue head-on! But let’s be real here – many of them are dropping the ball when it comes to basic decency and political correctness, all while they’re supposed to be upholding their legal duties. It’s a sorry state of affairs, and there’s no clear way to hold them accountable. Even the media, meant to keep everyone in check, has turned into a hot mess of political bias and ineffectiveness.

Q: Could you analyze the prevailing political alliances, both within the ruling party and the opposition, as we approach the 2024 general elections?

A: The chaos and turmoil rampant among the opposition are entirely self-inflicted. Nitish Kumar’s shameless flip-flopping may be reprehensible, but it was facilitated by the spineless acquiescence of the Congress-led India alliance. Since its inception in June 2023, the INDI Alliance (INDIA) has been a cesspool of committee dictatorship, internal power struggles, blatant one-upmanship, and a complete breakdown of communication within its own ranks—a recipe for disaster from the start.

In a bizarre twist, the Congress, for reasons unknown and inexplicable, obstructed its own party chief, Mallikarjun Kharge, from assuming either the role of prime ministerial candidate or chairman of the INDIA bloc. It actively worked against granting a regional leader the position of convenor, establishing an Alliance secretariat, or resolving leadership disputes.

The Indian National Congress and the Gandhis, particularly Rahul Gandhi, bear the brunt of responsibility for this debacle. Rahul’s misguided priorities, influenced by the likes of Jairam Ramesh, Yogendra Yadav, and Sudheendra Kulkarni, have disregarded the seasoned counsel of party stalwarts like Shashi Tharoor, Prithviraj Chavan, Sachin Pilot, and Manish Tiwari.

Furthermore, Rahul Gandhi’s role within the opposition has devolved from leader to mere ’cause’ after his disqualification from the Lok Sabha. It’s widely understood that Rahul harbors no ambition for the prime ministerial office in 2024 unless the Congress performs miraculously well. The opposition, therefore, recognizes that the prime ministership is within grasp for any regional leader capable of securing significant parliamentary seats and garnering acceptance among non-Congress factions.

Meanwhile, the ruling NDA under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership is poised for smooth sailing. Modi’s formidable brand and unwavering credibility with voters ensure that they will vote for him rather than individual MPs or BJP candidates. The crucial battlegrounds of Maharashtra, Bihar, Bengal, and Karnataka will determine the outcome of the Lok Sabha polls. Should the Modi-led BJP falter in these states, it would signal a glimmer of hope for the opposition.

Even if the NDA secures a working majority, it would demonstrate that Modi is not invincible and can be challenged and defeated by regional forces. The opposition’s strategy hinges on winning as many states as possible, with Haryana and Maharashtra serving as initial battlegrounds in the October 2024 assembly polls.

Q: How do you assess the potential success of the INDI Alliance in the upcoming 2024 general elections?

A: The INDIA block has evolved into a coalition of individuals basking in their discontent. They’re actively plotting a post-May 2024 narrative, intending to shift blame onto the Congress. Inside the esteemed party, ardent backers of Rahul Gandhi are eagerly gearing up to hold AICC chief Mallikarjun Kharge responsible, defying the prevailing sentiment within the Congress that opposes Rahul Gandhi.

Q: What are your views regarding the significant influence wielded by law enforcement bodies like the CBI and ED amidst the present political challenges?

A: The ongoing saga is a grievous travesty. We must refuse to cast doubt and suspicion upon esteemed professional institutions like the CBI and ED. Though accusations of political meddling in their operations have perennially surfaced, the extent of such interference has now reached alarming proportions, breeding profound disquiet. We must confront the grim reality that our political landscape is infested with corruption, with parties shamelessly resorting to black money to sway elections. Acknowledging this stark truth, the reprehensible practice of targeting and persecuting opposition figures during elections must cease, for corruption knows no partisan allegiance.

The glaring absence of scrutiny on members of the ruling party by the CBI and ED raises pertinent questions, as does the abysmal rate of convictions. The administration of justice must be conducted with unyielding professionalism and detachment. The opposition would be wise to establish an independent citizens’ commission, leveraging the expertise of retired Supreme Court justices and harnessing mainstream media to disseminate its findings.

Q: What are your predictions regarding the potential outcomes of the 2024 general elections, and how might they influence the trajectory of our democracy?

A: Voters face a stark decision: either opt for a prime ministerial democracy or evaluate the Narendra Modi government’s performance with unyielding scrutiny, viewing the glass as either half full or half empty. A mere majority for Modi-NDA (approximately 272-300 seats) would provide an opportunity for the opposition to reassemble and strategize for 2029. However, an overwhelming mandate of 350-380 Lok Sabha seats is poised to revolutionize the very essence and workings of the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy.

Rasheed Kidwai’s Magnum Opus “Ballot - Ten Episodes that have Shaped India's Democracy
Rasheed Kidwai’s Magnum Opus “Ballot – Ten Episodes that have Shaped India’s Democracy”
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