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