Saturday, December 27, 2008
"I know the title of this post does sound a little childish, but that's how our Parliament is. I'm sure many of you saw proceedings of the trust vote in Parliament today. UPA did win finally, but not before a lot of hoopla about side-switching, back-stabbing and bribing on either side. In order to survive, the Government had to woo hitherto nationally unimportant leaders like Shibu Soren by promising him a berth in Union Cabinet. Ditto with some obscure MPs from the North-East who had to be offered fancy perks. The opposition, on the other hand, had to allegedly bow to Ajit Singh's demand of naming Lucknow airport after his father [he is the leader of RLD, a party with a paltry 3-4 MPs in Parliament]. There were also reports of many of the Samajwadi MPs being successfully poached by BSP. On the other hand, TRS said that they would vote for or against the nuclear deal depending on who amongst NDA and UPA will listen to their demand of a separate state of Telangana. So, a party is deciding its stance on an inter-nation agreement depending upon what happens to their state-level demand. There are lot more of such stories doing the rounds, and one cannot say all are completely false.
I feel we're in such a mess because of existence of too many parties in India. Every time a crisis occurs, party bosses begin making groups. In the process, every party promises to support that group which will concede to it's demands. If the demands are not met, the party removes support and tries to break the group and form a new one. So essentially our democracy is about group-making, putting some idiotic regional/local issues as conditions for support, having endless negotiations and ultimately breaking up because after all, not everyone's demands can be met. When shall we get time to do constructive work after all this? Our democracy spends more time in making and breaking alliances and debating. Instead, if there were only 2 or a maximum of 3 parties [as a rule], wouldn't we be more productive? Look at USA's democratic model. In our country, if a leader like Raj Thackeray feels "hurt" or "neglected" in a regional party like Shiv Sena, he leaves the party and forms an even smaller outfit like MNS. And it is parties like these which have 2-3 MPs up there who become the deal-makers or breakers in crucial situations like the nuclear deal. The sad thing is that they do not take decisions based on what's good for the country, but on how much effective their actions will be for their local level petty politics."
Friday, December 19, 2008
Article 1, when speaking of major parties..
The two party system in America is a farce. There is one party, and it is a two headed snake called the Business party, which masquerades as the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. When push comes to shove, the vast majorities of Democrats and Republicans side with big business. Our two party system is so undemocratic that when Ralph Nader or Cynthia McKinney (Independent ticket and Green party tickets respectively) attempt to run for President, they are forced to sue some states just to get on the ballot. American campaigns are fueled by money. Third party candidates are forced to spend the majority of the paltry sums of money they are able to collect, (due to the Media's snubbing of them, as well as the all out war that the Democrats and Republicans constantly wage against them), on lawsuits. The goal of the lawsuits is to simply be allowed to have one's name on a ballot, the Democrats and Republicans have made it extremely difficult legally to run on a ticket other than RNC or DNC. And so I must say that there is plenty of favoritism, autocracy and dynastic politics in America. With a special note on dynastic politics, I should say that the introduction of Caroline Kennedy for appointment to Senator Hillary Clinton's soon to be vacated seat is preposterous. Never in her life has she demonstrated an interest in politics, and in fact she has displayed a disdain for them, if she wants the seat she should campaign for it and earn it in 2010. I should also note that a recent poll of New Yorkers has shown that Andrew Coumo has popular support over Kennedy, it would be a gross affront to constituents if she was put there simply because of her father's and uncle's legacy (though the differences in the Kennedy's domination of American politics are markedly less then the Nehru-Gandhi domination of Indian politics).
Article 4, of debates..
The three level Presidential Debate system is a mediocrity. They ban all third party candidates from participating, (and I should add that Independence party candidate Ralph Nader was denied entrance even to watch the affair, in spite of the fact that he had an admission ticket, he was told by police that he would be arrested if he didn't vacate the premises), they are blocking off a whole segment of options to the American people. Third party candidates won't raise nearly enough money to compete in an election if they cannot even be seen with the more 'prominent' participants of an election whether they are Democrats or Republicans. There was no semblance of intelligence at most of the Presidential and especially the Vice Presidential debates this year. The candidates constantly lied, twisted facts, or dodged questions, most famously when Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin told Senator Biden, "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear". While some of the candidates are very well read and are good debators, Barack Obama initially during the primaries (he owes Hillary Clinton quite a bit of thanks for steeling him during the debates), Sarah Palin and John McCain throughout the campaigns seemed very unlearned (since they were constantly dodging questions, or the answers they gave had nothing to do with the questions). And there is a significant chance of the wrong guy becoming President. Even after all that Bush has wrought upon the world and America, a huge segment of the population still supported John McCain who throughout the campaign differed very little from Bush. Lastly, I would add that the majority of Americans, in a recent poll, support participation of third party candidates in the Presidential Debates, but since the Debate Commission (which controls all of the large debates in America) is literally owned by the Democrats and Republicans and is a private institution, Democratic and Republican politicians go against the will of their constituents (as they so often do) and bar third party candidates from participation (and in the case of Ralph Nader as I previously mentioned, they wouldn't even allow him to sit in the audience).
Article 5, of campaign contributions..
Not too much to say on this, I would just note that Sarah Palin spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars on hair, makeup, and clothing (for her and her whole family), which to this day all of which has still not been returned to the RNC. She was told by an aide to spend 20,000 dollars on clothing, so none of the RNC or McCain campaign donors, and not even the entirety of the McCain staff for that matter, was aware of her spending spree, quite a good use of campaign funds don't you think?
Americans aren't stupid, they simply are lacking in the following: the option of electing a good candidate, the option of watching all participants in elections at debates, the will to change the system (as it would be a daunting endeavor), and the proper tool to remind elected officials (in years that they aren't worried about campaigns) who they work for.
-Please forgive the numerous grammatical errors and run on sentences.
*Please don't hesitate to comment or ask for sources, I will do my best to produce them for you.
Of many things that concern us as Indians today, the foremost one is the state of our political leadership. This was evident when hundreds of thousands of people across the country came out in streets to question the very basis of our democratic system—the political leadership of this country. Public outrage knew no bounds as banners like ‘We would prefer a dog visit our house than a politician’ made their way in street manifestations. It all makes us wonder what has gone wrong in this country, and what can be done to save it from anarchical rule. The root of the problem lies in our electoral process, which is in a desperate need of reform.
Here is an eye-opening model that explains how our rulers are not true representatives of our people, thus rendering our democracy toothless and giving rise to problems like corruption and communalism. This calls for striking at the root of a flawed system.
A hypothetical example of general election scenario in India can make the point clear:
Suppose, there was 55% voting for a Lok Sabha seat (which is the usual average), also let us assume that four candidates contested from the constituency, thus dividing the vote-bank. Candidate A, with 18 votes is declared as a winner MP.
· The winning candidate gets less than 20% support from the total voting population. In the case of a coalition government the ruling party comes to power with less than 15% support of total voting population.
· Nearly half the voting population does not cast its vote—out of sheer lethargy and hopelessness. One of the prime reasons being that many a times none of the candidates are found suitable for the post.
· The difference of votes between the winning candidate and the next best candidate is merely 5 to 10%.
· Our elected political leaders cannot be held as true representatives of our people.
· People have begun to lose their faith in our democratic processes and the leadership that it produces. This is a dangerous trend for the survival of any democracy and needs to be reversed not through more promises but through result oriented action.
· The root of many Evils: While most of us people genuinely care for an honest, development oriented government, it is the manipulation of marginal 5-10% votes that can drastically swing election results. The manipulation comes in many forms: politics of division, communalism, violence, pressure tactics, buying votes, handing out liquor and other sops, bogus voting etc. Winning an election becomes a wealth and power game, giving rise to a spiral of corruption and mal-practices at all levels of the system. Candidates that cannot draw those decisive marginal votes through above mentioned illegal practices; stand little chance of winning an election.
· The above model proves that with less than 15 to 20% support from total voting population, a political party can hope to come to power / share power in a coalition form of government. Each party therefore strives to carve a ‘niche’ for itself in the voter’s market. The focus of our democratic system thus shifts to vote-bank politics, fragmenting our nation into narrow minded self-interests rather than developmental issues that ought to take center-stage in any election.
· The political equations force many of our well-meaning leaders and potential candidates to either opt out of the political system, or continue to take the ‘rogue’ route. In the long term, it serves nobody except the system itself.
The people of India, including our political leadership, have become victims of a system that tends to reward corruption, divisive politics and ferocity. Therefore, we all need to unite together to reform the system itself. Proposed are a set of revolutionary changes in our electoral process that hold tremendous potential to give more meaning to our democracy.
· Make voting compulsory to all above the age of 18. This is a fundamental duty of every citizen. Punitive measures such charging a fine or denying certain public privileges to those who do not vote without a genuine reason need to be enforced. This will make our democracy truly representative and participative one.
· With compulsory voting, comes the right to cast a negative/neutral vote i.e. the option to choose ‘none of the candidates’ as a deserving candidate to get elected. In case this option gets majority voting, all the contesting candidates shall be denied the right to run for the same post for at least next 5 years and there shall be a re-election. This will ensure that only quality candidates contest the election.
· It shall be made a pre-requisite for a candidate to win a minimum of 30% of total votes in order for him/her to get elected for the post, which will mean that candidates will contest the election on the basis of inclusive developmental issues, for the larger good. The divisive vote-bank politics will have no place in such a system. This becomes all very important to unite the people in a diverse country such as ours.
A beginning can be made by enforcing these reforms in one state as a pilot project.
Indian democracy, despite many of its flaws, has survived six decades of existence thanks to many of its innate strengths. It is time we leap ahead to build on these strengths and correct the existing flaws. Revolutionary legislation such as the Right to Information has proven how a systematic change can bring about a positive impact in our governance. It is very much possible in our lifetime to strengthen the system, if only we rise up collectively and make our voice heard.
Please: Contribute your views on http://www.reformourdemocracy.blogspot.com/
To be sent to: The Election Commission of India and all concerned change-makers.
--Vipul Shaha, Baramati, Business Graduate from Symbiosis International University, Pune
Thursday, December 18, 2008
"What can be called as a good election? As America votes on Nov. 4 to elect their new leader, in the midst of all the politically charged speeches, huge public rallies, glitzy TV ads and unprecedented patriotic fervor, I guess only an outsider like me will think of such a question. I have been following the the election proceedings for so many months now, and I have only praise for it. Polls repeatedly suggest that the Democrats are heading towards a massive win, but nobody can firmly say much. I don't want to get into who is better suited to win the election for two reasons - firstly, because it's hardly going to change my life in any direct way (!), and secondly, I am no political pundit to write about it! There are many capable men round the world who are doing this job right now!
But I can definitely write about the positives of this election from a 3rd person's point of view. Here they are -
1) The way each major party (there are 2 to be precise, and I am a major advocate of this idea) chooses it's Presidential candidate is commendable. There are inter-party primaries in which candidates contest against each other and the winner is selected in a fully democratic fashion. This hardly leaves any room for favoritism, autocracy and "dynastic" politics.
2) Most of the law-makers there are either Democrats, Republicans or Independents. However, they do not blindly follow the party diktat; if they disagree on some issue, they won't budge to oppose it openly. These actions are not overtly opportunistic either. Take for example Colin Powell's (Secy. Of State under George Bush Jr.) endorsement of Barack Obama as President; or Alan Greenspan's (who considers himself a "Libertarian Republican") (Chairman of the Fed. Reserve who served under George Bush Jr.) comments about Bill Clinton, a Democrat, being the best President he worked for. Ditto with Joe Lieberman, a Democrat who went to the RNC to endorse McCain in this election.
3) The DNC (Democratic National Convention) and RNC (Republican National Convention) are very big events there, and are telecast on TV just the way a football match would be. What struck me most about these events was not just the grandeur or the candidates' fiery speeches, but the fact that these leaders make it a point to introduce their families to the public. They make sure the public knows what their family members do, big or small, and that they themselves are family-oriented candidates.
4) The 3-level Presidential Debate system is a very good feature. Sponsored by the 'Commission of Presidential Debates', these debates are telecast on TV and watched by literally millions of people. The content of the debates is completely relevant to the pressing problems Americans face, rather than stupid personal accusations and political talk. Common people like us send their questions beforehand, and the best of them are posed to the candidates. This not only gives the people a clear idea of the contestants' experience and education, it also tells them what stand they are taking on various issues. The candidates also appear extremely well-read because of the way they present their points and give statistics to counter the opponent. Their views and utterances are scrutinized sometimes by the media to the point of ridiculousness. From the point of view of Americans, there is really very dim scope of the wrong guy becoming the right guy (George Bush is an exception, though!).
5) Political parties have very effective ways of lapping up supporters and volunteers. Also worth noting is the open-ness of campaign funding. There is remarkable transparency about how much money has been collected, how it is being used, who all has contributed etc. By this, the people not only know who has advantage, but also how their donated money is being used. A snapshot of the campaign money different candidates managed to collect (From the NY Times)-
The money is also used in a decent way. They spend it on
a) Hiring well qualified finance experts, foreign policy experts and election managers who tutor them.
b) Ads which are almost completely substance oriented
c) Creating highly informative websites for the people to make their decision (snapshot attached. From www.alexa.com)
A very good system is public donation to campaigns. Eg: Axelrod's (Obama's campaign adviser) elaborate use of the Internet helped Obama to organize under-30 voters and build over 475,000 donors in 2007, most of whom were Internet donors contributing less than $100 each (source- Wiki). As a passing remark, it's worthy to mention that Barack Obama broke all previous records of campaign money collection.
6) The poll ratings are pretty much correct, if not perfect.
All this dispelled some misconceptions about the common American that I had. They are not fools as much as they appear to be. When it comes to the matters most important, they are very clinical and careful. As far as Presidency goes, after such exhausting campaigns in which they dissect each word and expression of yours, one may wonder if the winner is even left with the energy to run the 'mess' for 4 years. But history shows they do. It is a tough test, but that's precisely the reason why you come to be regarded as the most powerful person on the planet."
I am Pratish Gandhi, a native of Pune presently studying Maths and Comp. Science at CMI, Chennai. I won't spend much time introducing myself on this forum because this ain't a personal blog, but a blog with a mission.
The articles here shall be serious,thought provoking (hopefully!) and will be aimed at exchanging ideas,views and in general, establishing a national consensus on issues related to our democracy. This entire exercise should generate an unstoppable momentum; a voice which will be the voice of the common people like you and me; something which would have to be taken note of by the political class of India. If you're very keen on knowing about me and my life, visit this personal blog of mine - http://pratishgandhi.blogspot.com.
Now enough of my personal advertisement [;)]. Let's get started. I welcome you all to this forum. I request you all to actively contribute. At the same time, I also sincerely hope that people will respect each other's views and not get into accusations and personal taunts the way I get to see in the comments' section of popular websites like Youtube.