Purno Sangma’s daughter Agatha has neither been expelled from the NCP nor from the Manmohan Singh ministry. This despite the fact that she has openly reiterated that she will support her father in his bid at replacing Pratibha Patil in the former Viceregal Palace. Certainly, voices have been raised within the UPA, demanding that a vacancy be created in the ministerial team and it speaks well for NCP president Sharad Pawar, as well as for UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, that they have ignored such voices. Ever since the 1969 victory of V.V. Giri in the presidential elections, and the consequent enthronement of Indira Gandhi as the Empress of India, MPs have increasingly been “whipped” into backing decisions over which they have had no say, and with many of which they disagree. The 1985 anti-defection law legalised the right of the leaders of political parties to decide on the stands to be taken by their legislators, by placing a very high barrier on changes of affiliation from one party to another, except in the case of minuscule entities. Even in the past, with the demise of Vallabbhai Patel in 1950, the road was cleared for Nehru to become the boss of both his party as well as his government, a situation that was briefly under threat for only a short period of time (1966-69) when the party machine was a genuine check on the power of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Since V.V. Giri’s election, the Congress supremo of the day has in effect become the sole proprietor of a private company, with her or his family members being the junior shareholders.

In this age of sole proprietorship of political parties, it is only proper that Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sonia Gandhi have finally become allies, his 1999 refusal to support a bid by her to become Prime Minister of India forgotten. In the Samajwadi Party, the high command comprises Top Shareholder Mulayam Singh Yadav himself and the next-largest holder of voting shares Akhilesh, followed by miscellaneous brothers, cousins, in-laws and more than a sprinkling of outlaws. Not to be left behind, almost all other political parties in India have similarly been transformed into entities run by a single clan or, in the case of those without a family, by a single individual. Observe Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray, although with the falling-out between son Uddhav and nephew Raj, it would appear that the “Hindu Undivided Family” appellation does not any longer apply to the Thackerays.

Ever since the 1969 victory of V.V. Giri in the presidential elections, and the consequent enthronement of Indira Gandhi, MPs have increasingly been whipped into backing decisions over which they have had no say, and with many of which they disagree.

The privatisation of political formations in India has led to an often stifling control over legislators by the respective “High Commands” of various parties. This despite the fact that the candidate himself becomes an important factor in the votes polled, an example being Thiruvananthapuram. Sashi Tharoor’s boyish looks and New York Malayali accent assured him the female vote in 2009. However, once elected, a legislator is expected to hew completely to the line mapped out for him by the party leadership. Differences of opinion become rare, for the simple reason that their vigorous expression — even in private — usually results in the termination of future prospects within the party concerned. Each “High Command” has complete confidence solely in views expressed at family get-togethers. Others are not welcome, except if they marry into a clan, and sometimes not even then, as witnessed in the absence of Vadra family members at any level of the Congress party, despite Robert Vadra being the country’s First Son-in-Law.

The liberty given to Agatha Sangma to defy the UPA’s diktat for the presidential elections may be due to the confidence within the managers of the ruling coalition that Pranab Mukherjee is certain to become the next Rashtrapati. However, in the past, MPs — not to mention ministers — have paid heavily for lesser acts of defiance of edicts of the party leadership. If the Agatha episode heralds a trend that brings back freedom of conscience and of opinion back to legislatures in India, it would deserve mention in our history books.


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