If today was yesterday, how would we look back on this time from an imagined future? Not a distant, perfect future but one within grasp, where we’ve found a path and feel good about where we’re going:
From an insecure and dependent people to a secure and self reliant one,
From a corrupt and entitled society to a honest and generous one,
From an unfair and opaque system to a fair and transparent one,
From a feudal and environmentally indifferent mindset to an egalitarian and environmentally harmonious one,
From lust for power to owning responsibility.
Time will pass and change will happen. There is default growth (going with the flow) and there is intentional growth (vision of a collective future). It feels like we’ve been in default mode for a long time, governed yes, but without a vision of a collective future.
If we wanted, how would we go about getting a government that bodes well for our collective future?
Some people say good milk gives good cream. That if we have an educated and aware public, our elected representatives will be enlightened people. Others ask who is going to create the systems and conditions for good education to happen? Chicken and egg.
Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle: that we’re on our way to being an educated and aware people, who are still trying to find a way to get to better Governance. Architects and designers confronted with complex puzzles seek out an idea or a concept that presents a perspective that unlocks answers. It can be simple, but it is usually not obvious. ‘Thinking out of the box’, same thing.
The Government has 3 arms:
Political: To make policies and legislation
Administration: To implement the policies
Judiciary: To uphold law and the Constitution.
Our elected representatives, the cream of our milk, are the people who can get us out of default mode and put us on a path to a better future. That is our way in to break the impasse: our elected representatives. In fact it’s the only possibility to affect transformational change. Therefore, our task is clear: to elect the best amongst us as our political representatives. What prevents us from doing so?
- Personality-based party politics, where candidates are selected by and are subservient to the high command and have to toe the Party line. They can only be as good as the Party.
- The need for money in the present political scene keeps good people away from politics. Disposable money is rarely in the hands of people concerned with the greater good. Money as a powerful political tool helps entrench people with vested interests and hidden agendas in power.
- Elites who have good political intentions and calibre are disconnected from grassroots people
Peeling back the layers reveals an idea that seems too simple at first to be true, yet it feels fresh, new and with potential:
If electing 32 trustworthy and capable representatives is our task, why don’t we ask the people directly? After all, each constituency is not more than a few thousand households. Why can’t we ourselves propose names, endorse them, take that to an online ballot, and lo! We have our candidate! We would know the candidates personally and if this is done diligently, the candidate would probably win. In the event more than 16 of them win, the winning candidates could organise themselves internally to form the Government. No fuss, no drama. They would be capable and trustworthy people and expected to act responsibly and ethically. After all they are the people’s genuine choice. Sikkim’s size and the reach of social media make it viable enough for us to consider this as a feasible option.
Would we need political parties and would they have any usefulness for the ordinary apolitical citizen then? At a national level, political parties are necessary in a multi party system, appropriate for a vast country like India with its huge variation in languages, cultures, peoples and regions. Sikkim’s size does not necessitate different parties for different regions or peoples, they all represent Sikkim. Sikkim’s issues are not manifold and divergent either. So why the need for political parties? The more you think about it the more you start to feel their irrelevancy. In fact, they appear to be the obstacle between us and better governance.
The problem with party politics
Political parties create social entities with boundaries. The high stakes electoral competition harden these boundaries causing social polarisation leading to violence. ‘Victimisation’ and the environment of fear, poor indicators of our democratic health, is a direct result of the culture of party politics. While differences based on ideologies are understandable and necessary, our political battles are territorial, often based on personal grudges.
Most parties in Sikkim are based on self interest. Ideologies and values, if any, are cosmetic and for public perception. Parties are basically a band of people who have contributed in cash or kind to the organisation so that they can leverage power later on to access lucrative opportunities, part of which is plowed back in sustaining the party. It is a self sustaining ecosystem and the status-quo political culture, disturbingly similar to a cartel. Good governance is not a priority. Long-term vision and strategic planning are nowhere in sight.
We still seem stuck with the feudal mindset of prostrating at the feet of individuals and offloading our problems and hopes on them. The first principle of Democracy is Equality. We are all different and born with varying capacities, but we are all equal in status and in the eyes of the law. Surrendering our equality for subservience is to disrespect ourselves and go backward in time. Personality worship of our elected representatives is a fundamentally immoral act in a democracy.
Sycophancy is another trap of party politics. Political parties, in their bid to win support, end up harbouring a wide spectrum of people, most of whom expect benefits from their association with those in power by weaning favours from them. It creates a system of nepotism, where favouritism, based on party loyalty is rewarded. Besides being unfair and undermining the system, its spawns a culture of easy money, mediocrity and entitlement, killing the potential of people, especially the youth who need an enabling environment to realise their potential more than the shelter of parties based on cult personalities.
Sikkim’s size is also a curse in that a small electorate can be bought. Money is a political tool to win elections by directly paying the electorate for their votes. Money is also needed by political parties to sustain their organisation. Bigger the party, more the money needed. Corruption is directly related to the effectiveness of money as a political tool. This leads to an unhealthy alliance between business and governance with businessmen, contractors, and political entrepreneurs funding parties and proliferating our governance system. This is hollowing out Sikkim before we’ve started to think about our collective future. Opacity and the lack of transparency exists to hide institutionalised corruption, directly affecting our moral landscape and the quality of governance. This, the unfettered use of money as a political tool, is a fundamental structural flaw in our electoral system that needs fixing: how can one fight and win elections without money from vested interests? If we solve that problem, we’re on our way to better times.
Political parties need to come to power and stay in power. That’s why they exist. Elections are fought with a vengeance and is always on their minds, translating to a win at any cost mindset that results in:
- Short term thinking
- Resorting to lies deceit and manipulation to deflect wrongdoing and mislead public – violence and intimidation
- Vote-bank politics
- Propaganda to look good
- Social media troll warfare, etc
- Corruption and graft for cash to be used in elections.
For the party worker, the party is always right, even if they are in the wrong. Party loyalty trumps allegiance to Sikkim. Their candidates are answerable to the party and not the people who elected them. Switching parties post elections, horse trading, lack of credible opposition in the Assembly are fallouts of party politics. Party loyalty is also valued and rewarded over competence creating a lack of capacity and intelligence within the party which affects governance.
Political parties create centralisation of power and money, with a top-down monolithic organisational structure with decision making powers in the hands of a few. It misses nuance and diversity that gives everybody the chance to be represented, the essence of a Democracy.
A case for party-less politics
Why go through so much trouble when you can do something more simply? When you understand the difference and the relationship between power and responsibility, there is a shift in perspective. It is the difference between Leader [Neta] and Elected Representative [Pipon]. Can we upscale the Dzomsa system with the help of the internet and social media? Let’s explore: The public select independent candidates by online polls to contest assembly elections.
The idea is to make it easy for people with competence, integrity and talent to participate in politics by eradicating dependency on money in elections. Social media opens up the possibility to make that happen.
- The idea is to bypass the need to have a party and go for ‘Direct Democracy’, where the [non-aligned] public award ‘tickets’ to their candidates of choice. There is no intermediary [political party] between the public and their elected representatives. The focus will be on Governance and responsibility, not power and personality.
We can organise debates, Q&As, townhalls etc. with the aspiring candidates for us to evaluate and assess them before making an informed choice. If the public are given a choice of capable, trustworthy candidates and a fair chance to evaluate them before arriving at a consensus candidate, traditional canvassing, involving the use of money, may not be necessary at elections since the people would have already made up their minds.
- We can conduct surveys and organise referendums to make collective decisions that are of public interest.
If 17 such candidates win the next assembly election, they could form a Government that is completely free of encumbrances, not beholden to business interests nor Party or Party workers, just elected representatives of the people working freely for our better collective future. It will be at once clean and right.
- This would bring much needed hope and cheer to the youth and nudge them towards more participation in affairs that affect their future.
It would transform Sikkim back to something closer to our true selves while moving forward by embracing innovative ideas and technology. Continuity and change.
Why this has a good chance
- There are a growing number of people who are deeply anguished by the present scenario and are desperately seeking political alternatives.
Sikkim’s size is an advantage in this regard, you need to convince less people about new ideas that can bring about fundamental social and political change. Easy access to programmes through social media can give the public opportunities to assess their prospective candidates. Candidates that the majority of people have chosen on their own free will, would have wider acceptability and better chances than party candidates. They would also need less publicity and canvassing, reducing campaign costs, making the idea of ‘party-less politics’ viable.
- Besides being educated, the young generation are emotionally more secure, with therefore less ego which makes them more open to new ideas. They would recognise they have more stake in our collective future and may embrace innovations that lead to a promising tomorrow.
The recent happenings sparked by the Supreme Court judgement and the organic emergence of JAC has shown that there is no dearth of good leaders in society, yet we perceive a poverty in leadership and Governance. Party-less Politics can create a path for people with the right stuff to have a seat at the table for making decisions that affect our future.
- Sikkim is not a stranger to Direct Democracy. The Dzomsa – Pipon system of Lachen Lachung is a textbook example of it. We can tap into that experience.
This is not new, Direct Democracy has been working very well, especially in small countries like Switzerland, Liechtenstein and in many States in the USA.
How do we make it happen?
- Launch and sustain a smart online campaign that succinctly explains the concept to create a hype and buzz about the idea. Package this keeping the educated youth in mind as the primary target, as they would probably be most accepting of new ideas.
- For this to be realistic, we should select one or two strong independent candidates per constituency to contest the elections. Having too many independents will distribute the anti-incumbency votes, favoring the big political parties.
- Plan and execute a prototype electoral process with the smart use of social media, designed to circumvent the need for money and politic effectively with minimal resources. This will directly impact high level corruption by electing clean and incorruptible representatives. When there is transparency at the top, the rest of the system will cleanse itself.
- Help each other technically and organisationally so that all constituencies are adequately equipped to select their candidates in a fair and effective manner.
- Identify an organisation or set up a team to design and execute the online system. Raise the resources to operate and sustain this from the public. Ensure its autonomy. Upload financials in the public domain and maintain transparency.
What can we do individually?
- Understand and recognise prevailing political culture and become super aware of political activity pushed by the naked use of money. Question and understand where this money is coming from.
- Call out and boycott political parties that brazenly use money and muscle as manipulation tactics to prop themselves up. It is not difficult to spot.
- Turn the other way from people with a lust for power, wanting to be leaders. Shift the narrative; support and push credible people to take responsibility and contest elections as public representatives instead.
- Youth can be a time of confusion. A sense of being on your own upon leaving the nest. It feels secure to be part of a group or crowd. it can also give one a sense of identity. Personal identity is a precious thing and if you have to give it at all, better to give it to something bigger and deeper than a Political Party who are essentially using you for their narrow motives and to project their political strength. Align yourself to Sikkim and our collective future instead.
The beauty of Democracy is that it has the framework to allow ideological changes and directional shifts to happen on our evolutionary journey. This, no doubt, comes with challenges and obstacles that need to be confronted and overcome:
The prevalent system emphasizes the link between the lack of capacity in our society with higher social aspirations and living standards, making many incapable of participating in an ethical ecosystem. This status quo is lustily preserved by those who benefit and thrive under the umbrella of Political Parties. I don’t believe this is as deep-rooted and entrenched as it seems. It is simply the consequence of a mindset. It is not the cause, but the effect. When there is a tilt in mindset, the political culture will also shift. Educated youth, the rise of social media, and a growing middle class is shifting our collective consciousness as we speak. The question is whether we have reached a tipping point and are ready for the next phase in our evolution as a society. There is no way of knowing this. Even if we have not, social change starts with a change in our thought patterns. This change will happen one person at a time, slowly at first. Those who feel the urgency of the situation will push this till the ripple becomes a wave.
- Social change requires courage. It is not easy to swim against the current and there will be the danger of violence, intimidation and appropriation from powers who stand to gain from keeping the status quo. But hey, a cause worth dying for makes a life worth living 🙂
How to overcome technical difficulties of delineating online engagement constituency-wise for online polls to select candidates?
- Figure out preventive measures against vested interests infiltrating the online public space.
Some may think that this is nothing but a ploy for me to find a way into power. I’m not interested in that, but I am interested in finding a way that can set us free from the clutches of a political system that is broken and needs fixing. In the end, what we want is better Governance. Not a Government that is constantly telling us how good they’re doing but a Government that we trust and know is always doing what is best for us and for Sikkim. What it really is, is Governance by ourselves for ourselves. Right now it feels like we’re sub-contracting Governance out to some compromised Political Party. A classic case of the tail wagging the dog. While governance is of vital importance, at the end of the day, it is also just a job that needs to be done well. We need to make the shift in our minds that we are not electing royalty, but just our representatives in Governance for the next 5 years. If they do well, we can re-elect them, if not we can replace them. Keep it simple.
In our newfound identity, as we venture out from ‘tribe to super tribe’, the true spirit of who we are will lie in how we govern ourselves. The Government is the truest expression of ourselves. It is a reflection of who we are. As we forge our own model of what works best for us, not blindly aping others, what we do is as important as what we don’t. Learning not to repeat the mistakes we are making today is what Human Evolution has always been about.
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Sikkim, with its manageable size, nature’s endowments and our immense untapped human potential, has all the ingredients for a promising future if we find our path and follow it.
If it came down to making a decision about your future, would you take this leap of faith? Do you have other ideas that can help us get out of this hole we’ve dug for ourselves? What can we do to break the status quo? Let us start talking about it.
Kailash Pradhan is an architect by profession and a resident of Gangtok. Views are personal.
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