Opinion Columnists 13 Nov 2020 Sanjiwan Sahni | For ...
The writer is a management and economic adviser

Sanjiwan Sahni | Forum of CMs: An idea ‘whose time has come’

Published Nov 13, 2020, 10:40 am IST
Updated Nov 13, 2020, 10:40 am IST
This would be a democratic forum as all members would be representatives chosen on the basis of their success in the electoral process
Collectively, the forum would be representative of 60 per cent of the electorate that had not voted for the ruling party. (PTI)
 Collectively, the forum would be representative of 60 per cent of the electorate that had not voted for the ruling party. (PTI)

“An idea whose time has come”. This was among the responses following my earlier article in these columns, which proposed the creation of a forum comprising the chief ministers and Leaders of the Opposition in states not governed by the ruling party.

The fulcrum would be to reinforce the federal structure, with national issues getting a collective voice, rather than individual efforts. Over time, it was hoped, with more credibility, a potential challenger would emerge.

 

The second dominant response was over implementation, which is even normally problematic and would be a challenge.

Let us look at the proposed alternative in these contexts.

First, the establishment of a forum, if it finds acceptance by even a few CMs or LOPs, will help to create an enabling structure as a first step. Not having to negotiate alliances to join a larger collective would be an advantage. Its membership will be limited to CMs and LOPs, and participation voluntary.  This would extend to issues as well.

In other words, there need not be a consensus on all issues. There could be a consensus on major national issues, where the forum will allow the CMs’ viewpoints to get wider national acceptance than in their areas of influence.  Success could be reinforcing.

 

The point is that this would be a democratic forum as all members would be representatives chosen on the basis of their success in the electoral process in their states. Collectively, the forum would be representative of 60 per cent of the electorate that had not voted for the ruling party. This is a small attempt to address the lacuna in our first-past-the-post system. The majority vote gets divided and permits even a minority to get majoritarian power. A collective forum for the voice of 60 per cent seems worth exploring.

There is enough expertise available in the system to put a structure together that would incentivise and promote collaboration. At the same time, it will leave scope for dissent.  Dissent by abstention from issues isn’t acceptable to some.

 

How could the forum’s voice be more effectively disseminated?

The CMs and LOP will be supported by experts selected by them in multiple domains including but not limited to economics, law, diplomacy and even politics. Ideally, this forum will have a fair measure of younger people, who not only have the relevant domain knowledge but are also articulate and have acceptability at an individual level, that will be enhanced by their collective credibility. Some names that come to mind include Mahua Moitra, Kanhaiya Kumar, Prashant Kishore, Sachin Pilot, Chetan Bhagat, Priyanka Chaturvedi and Raghav Chadha.

 

Another key question: It is all very well to find fault with the government’s viewpoint but what is the alternative vision. Currently, different state-level politics brings out the relevant issues, but restrictively. Nobody has the mandate to credibly propagate an all-India national vision. Besides policy, the administrative capabilities of the states are only well known where they are in power.

Many states have demonstrated progress in multiple but limited spheres of activity.  If this experience is pooled in the forum, the likelihood of national issues gaining acceptance will probably increase exponentially. The forum could generate shared experience. It could also incentivise a competitive streak. Both of these are positives.

 

Where the advisory team can be helpful is in focusing and bringing to the CMs’ and LOPs’ attention, in a structured way, key issues that should be taken up on a priority basis. Its mandate should be to:

a)   Segment -- Economic, defence/foreign affairs, political, administrative reforms, technology, etc. Identify -- Key issues in these segments.

b)   The effort should be to try and arrive at a consensus on three (illustrative) issues in each segment.  This would become the core alternative agenda to propound collectively.

 

This would be a combination of political, managerial and technological prowess. Segmentation and prioritisation would put the focus on what must be done with immediacy across the country.  The powerful team of spokespersons using the best technologies, carrying credibility with the bulk of voters, should make an impact.

For clarity, the team will be required to focus on the positives that need to be done. Political parties will be left to fight their battles independently, as is currently the norm.

The intention is to “cut the clutter” and bring forward issues that pass the test of experiential and intellectual rigour, including multi-disciplinary analysis.

 

Electorally, in a Utopian world, the 60 per cent of the electorate outside the establishment would be incentivised to vote together.  However, in a real world, that is not going to happen.  But, it is hoped this proposed forum will enable better communication, understanding on several issues, a collective desire to effectively reinforce the democratic process, the federal structure, as well as formulate policies relevant to alleviate poverty, to ensure India’s progress in many respects. To summarise, there is a distinct hope and possibility that at least at the national level, not necessarily at state level, even electoral solidarity will become more visible.

 

The hope is that we could help create an institution for the voice of 60 per cent of the non-establishment electorate, create a direction for an alternative vision, bring closer multi-party state leaderships and employ multimedia technology to disseminate positive possibilities.

All this will enable an alternative leadership to become more visible across India. From among this leadership, it is hoped a challenger would emerge.

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