CRACKING THE WHIP: THE DELIBERATIVE COSTS OF STRICT PARTY DISCIPLINE

ARTICLE REVIEW

This article written by Udit Bhatia tells us about deliberative costs incurred when political parties rely on strict discipline to attain unity. Now the meaning of a political party is a group of people or collective individuals representing a set of voters and perhaps their similar mindsets through an established party occupying the space of a legislative party, Example: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In the first paragraph of the article, the author mentions about the anti defection law in India which was enacted to ensure that a party member does not violate the mandate of the party and in case he does so, he will lose his membership of the House. On the pretext of the anti defection law the author leads us into the concept of strict party discipline which basically is a constitutional convention that requires the complete loyalty of members of parliament to the party leadership and the party decisions. It also means that dissent can be met by sanctions imposed by the party leader.

The author of this article clearly stresses about the difference between party discipline and Party cohesion. Now what can one infer from party cohesion? Party cohesion, unlike party discipline, does not lean too much on the concept of final word of the leader of the legislative party but a cumulative preference list by all the legislators which can subsequently follow the ideals of the party and not ignore any ideas that are not in line with the party’s agenda. This type of an arrangement does not give the complete power to one person to decide the subject of the matter but instead all must be heard. When this type of an arrangement is followed there is little or no need to appoint a party head since the ideas of almost all the members have been heard and all of them have an equal say to all subject matters.

Unlike party discipline, party cohesion does not require a full bound loyalty to the party leaders and hence the expression of opinion can be more effective and wholesome.

The author in this passage does not want to criticize the concept of parties in the legislative sphere since it is more than important to have parties or a collective group of people who can be held accountable for any mishaps or false promises made/done after which the political party had come to power due to the votes of the people who trusted their ideals. He also mentions that a collective group of people of the same ideologies or a party is better than having only a single person responsible to make the pivotal decisions since if only a single person is left in power, his or her interests blur the shortcomings of a wrong decision.

He further goes on to criticize strict party discipline describing it as an atmosphere in which the leader has the power to override the preferences of the legislators, punishing the ones that oppose and rewarding the ones that don’t. He mentions the two types of legislative or constitutional rules, the first one which the Cross voting type in which all the party members are forced to vote in the said manner determined by the party leader and the second set of anti-defection laws which is the party expulsion type refers to rules whereby legislators who are disqualified by their political party also lose their membership of the legislative assembly.

Strict party discipline can play a strong part in hindering the formation of dissent, since the opinion of one person cannot be freely expressed since strict discipline can restrict the formation of opinions contrary to one’s party. When the members of any party are hindered from expressing any opinion that he or she has due to reasons of opposing thoughts in relation to the party leader's ideology, the formation of right and effective opinions will be a bigger task. Strict discipline can also stifle the expression of views of the party members if it is not in accordance or contrary to the expression of the party leader and in fact party leaders can impose punishments for the members who oppose the leader’s expression and gift the members who do not oppose.

The author in this article crucially criticizes the concept of strict party discipline and gives us insights on how they can be repulsive to the growth of a nation.

The author stresses on an epistemic approach to political arguments in which the better argument wins i.e the argument which according to the most number of reasonable people will suffice in a political shortcoming, hence aiming to provide an argument which in overall is the best possible argument. He also mentions the epistemic advantages of having a legislature of such a massive size consisting of several hundreds of people. He believes that the more number of people will lead to a more widened scope of thinking and the power of thought of many people is better than just the power of thought of just a few.

He also takes the judiciary as an example and states that the parliament or the legislature being the more sizable one has more of a widened scope of thinking than the judiciary system of India, providing a wider scope than courts to arguments.

The author then talks about the epistemic value of bicameralism; bicameralism is the practice of having two Houses of Parliament. At the State level, the equivalent of the Lok Sabha is the Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly), and that of the Rajya Sabha is the Vidhan Parishad (Legislative Council). He says that the concept of bicameralism is a good way of getting the work done but also poses a counter argument stating that if bicameralism followed strict discipline, the logical benefits of having a bicameral legislature is omitted.

He says that the value of bicameralism lies on the multiple opportunities of correcting as many errors as possible and in order for this to be achieved the second chambers should not be the more powerful chamber and both the chambers should work independently with each other excising equal power and hence the most effective way of maintaining a bicameral system. This involves allowing both the chambers to consider a bill simultaneously and as each party has independent judgment, they both together can provide a much lesser room for error and a more effective way to detect flaws.

The author states that in a parliament the opposing party should be taken more into consideration rather than just diminishing the arguments with votes against it, since it can be a very pivotal point which changes the course of the law. The author uses this pretext to criticize the concept of strict party discipline which also plays a role in diminishing the counter arguments placed by the opposition in the parliament.

Now, the author proceeds to explain the advantages of intra-party deliberation. Here he states that the power to take up the decisions should not only be exercised by a small group of bosses but by different groups handling different areas looking into the best possible outcome for the entire system.

This helps in giving a broader scope of judgment and remoteness of error. He also states that intra party deliberation could highly boost the productivity of bicameral legislation. Intra-party deliberation could potentially reduce some of the deliberative costs imposed by strict party discipline.

In conclusion, the author Udit Bhatia expresses the many disadvantages of the concept of strict party discipline and has argued that even systems without anti-defection legislation, which rely excessively on party discipline to unite legislative parties, are likely to suffer significant deliberative costs and also stating that the one of the main challenges that the parliament of India faces is the failure to represent all the citizens. Finally stating that, even if the demographic profiles of Parliament were more representative, and legislators did not disrupt proceedings, the anti-defection law would continue to impose significant deliberative costs on the Indian legislature.


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Article link: https://ora.ox.ac.uk/catalog/uuid:bd53afa4-c222-4de6-a056-4cf237f64a9b/download_file?file_format=application%2Fpdf&safe_filename=Bhatia%2BCracking%2Bthe%2Bwhip.pdf



This article Reviewed By John George of SYMBIOSIS LAW SCHOOL, NAGPUR.

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