Friday, February 10, 2012

India Need Electoral Reforms

American model of electoral system detrimental for democracy in India By Vidya Bhushan Rawat ‘Our Parliament is not functioning’, says Shashi Tharoor adding that we must ensure that the governance is not reduced to a complete paralysis as India’s geo political situation is very delicate with Pakistan on one side and China on the other. Therefore, lack of political will and inability of Parliament to get through important bills and legislations will have serious consequences on our national security and hence we must start thinking better options for democratic governance where executive is not held captive by the ‘parliament’ under various pulls and pressure of different parties in the coalition era. Tharoor does not stop here, he goes further that it is important that ‘knowledgeable’ people must join governance so that they can put their ‘expertise’ for the ‘national’ cause. And what could be the best model for India other than following the presidential form of government that United States of America follow where the Executive led by the president does not need to be in the Congress every day to get their things passed. India is already in the coalition era and will have to learn live under this. Coalition politics these days is being termed as politics of compulsion. Today, all the ills of corruptions are being blamed on coalition politics without ever understanding that in the past we had coalition government lead by prime ministers whose integrity were beyond doubt. Whether it was Morarji Desai or V.P.Singh, one might have differences with their brand of politics but not with their political financial integrities. Both of them did not cling to power by compromising their basic principles or hire purchasing political leaders to save their governments and immediately resigned. In fact, V.P.Singh’s Mandal action formed the foundation of social coalition of various marginalized and oppressed communities to achieve political power through peaceful democratic means. Today, faced with growing assertion of the marginalized sections of people, the mainstream parties are under severe pressure to exceed to their demands. However, the main problems these parties are facing is the growth of the hitherto unrepresented communities for participation in the decision making and power structure which was aptly defined by late Shri Kanshiram, the founder of BSP as vote hamara raj tumhara nahee chalega nahe chalega. Suddenly, the middle classes started an aversion for democracy. With Lalu, Mulayam, Mayawati, Ramvilas Paswan, etc coming to the forefront of politics was highly detested. Unfortunately, in the absence of a statesmanship among the leadership created opportunistic alliances. The leaders of these communities also started opportunistic politics and making alliances with powerful people to remain in power. Power became a tool to further family interest while family became the ‘voice’ and ‘dignity’ of an entire community. Since 1989, India is passing through another phase which is called coalition politics. The power of the strong north Indian based parties dominating India has sharply diminished and regional parties have become voice of the people of their region. This is a good sign as long as these parties pursues politics of people and not centered around individuals but unfortunately things are going from bad to worst as our entire electoral system is based on promoting individualities. The problem is that India was not prepared institutionally to tackle such situations which are arising in the coalition era. It needs political maturity and statesmanship to handle issues out of regional and communal identities as well as parties speaking in the name of their region or communities. Today, these have become regular chant of rhetoric posing serious threat to the stability of the government at the centre. Though, in the states we have option of tackling such a situation with presidential rule, in the centre there are no such mechanism. Coalition governments are not bane at all as Kanshiram said once, but better for the people as the dominating parties would not listen to the people. People have seen how duly elected governments were dismissed in different states by the Congress party in the 1980s. The dismissal of NT Rama Rao government in Andhra Pradesh by governor Ram Lal and then by Jagmohan in Jammu Kashmir are well known to be documented here. Such dictatorial actions of political leaders harm the democracy and ultimately give rise to anti democratic activities in the region. There is a serious democracy deficit in various parts of India. Whether it is Kashmir or North East, Chhatishgarh or Jharkhand, the political parties are unable to take up the challenge of insurgency. The war in Chhattishgarh is a glaring example how we perceive the issue of tribal. There are issues to seriously ponder over as why we have been unable to provide a credible political alternative in the aadivasi areas. Our parliament can discuss the issue of Anna Hazare in a special session with 24 hours news channels but it has no time so far to assuage the feelings of tribal, their issues and therefore their alienation is complete in Central India. The government is withdrawing every where from social sphere which is a phenomenon in post 1990s but in one area where the government is heavily spending is nuclearisation and militarization of our country. Secondly, governments have become virtually real estate agents and were more interested in 9% growth phenomena then looking after the interest of the people. With active support of corporate media, governments ignored the people’s protest against land acquisitions and went on crushing any kind of dissent related to that terming those support protest and rights of tribal as anti national. However, the end result of this process was corruption and more corruption. When the governments become brokers, there is bound to be corruption around. Whether it was land acquisition or privatization process, the level of political corruption has grown so much that for the first time in India, the middle classes felt the punch. With prices of essential commodities hitting over the roof top the voices of protest were growing yet unreported and unconcerned political parties were looking at these issues with ‘ultra-nationalists’ propaganda. As the violent protest increased in the forest of Bastar or regions of Orrisa, Jharkhand and Bengal, industries were pressurizing the government to ‘act’. Amidst this, regional political parties were raising their own vote bank with populist measures and the government at the centre has realized unless something is done drastically, it would be difficult to run the government. As the parliament remain unfunctional on various issues and frankly not on the issue of tribal unrest or land acquisition but on the issue of ‘corruption’, a congress member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, who had worked with United Nations has come out with an idea of switching to American model of presidential system. Tharoor’s idea is not new as in the past former senior Congress leader late Vasant Sathe and BJP minister Arun Shourie has openly advocated to switch over from the current system to American model. It is not just the political parties, in fact the so-called direct democracy concept itself is nothing but promotion of individual based system making the parliament virtually captive to the executive and developing an executive without any accountability to our parliament. What could be the reason for the same? It is clear that status quoits forces are up in arm against the growing assertion of identities. Today, the ‘educated’ and ‘intellectual’ class of upper castes are feeling ‘threatened’ with non passage of various bills which are important for the ‘industry’. How can government get through FDI bill which fell through in Rajya Sabha in the absence of a majority of UPA . In Lok Sabha too, the government has to do a lot of hard work to get things done. Government had many other agenda items to facilitate the international agencies, to industries as well but its inability to do so is costing it the tag of being a ‘credible’ government. It still wants to be a ‘facilitator’ for the industries and coalition politics and numbers are a big worry for it. Hence rather than finding a solution for betterment of this situation, it want to go for a short cut which would be useful to those who can manage media well. India is a diverse country and hence it needs a political system where the interest of minorities, Dalits and Aadviasis are well protected. It still need a system where supremacy of parliament remain but where the parliamentarian must get a minimum of 50% total votes polled to be eligible to be a member of Parliament. How can we accept a winner who has lost his deposit? Is it not a sham democracy then? Can we allow a system where popular governments are being formed on 20-30% votes polled. There is a huge gap between the vote polled and the actual seat won in our assemblies and parliament. Many time the party which has bigger vote share lose the election while party with lesser vote share is in the power. A margin of 2% of votes change the power equations. How can we ensure that these votes convert into seats so that there is no wastage of votes. Therefore, India need to develop a model of its own on the basis of Proportionate Electorate System. Why cant we have some mix member constituencies so that some of those communities which never got a representation are able be there in our power structure? Proportionate Electorate System is needed to a diverse country like India to ensure a representative government. Today, in the name of representation, we have individuals who have been winning from particular constituencies for years. Cant we fix term for our member of parliaments and others so that politics does not become a business for them. The American model will undo whatever we have got due to this lengthy parliamentary process. Today, we are campaigning on the basis of the American model which centres around individuals. With usage of advertising agencies, media and helicopters to reach the masses, the money power is already visible in these elections. It is not just advertisement but the dangers of paid news is already seen by us. The thin line between advertisement and paid news is already blurred as it is difficult to make out for a common man whether it is a paid news or advertisement or actual news. Ads agencies are working over time and parties are spending millions of rupees in it. How can you reduce expenses. The dangers of American model is that the corporate become integral part of your fund raising for the president India can not afford that much of resources by corporate pitching in for political parties. Very easily such crony capitalists will force government to fulfill its agenda. As we know, American president can make any one as his minister who is not necessarily a member of Congress and presidential decisions are not based on Congress as ultimate power of veto lies with him, it would be dangerous for India to have a system where parliament become virtually redundant. We have seen that in 1975 in a dictatorial regime of Indira Gandhi when she imposed emergency on the country. A powerful prime minister without his or her accountability to the Parliament can be a virtual threat to democracy itself. We can not afford to have corporatocracy in this country. The ‘experts’ are looking for greener pasture. The problem with them is that they are winning election because many times hypes are woven around them. Now, the corporates, experts want to become Ministers without going to the people as happens in America. Arun Shourie and the likes feel why should ‘poor’ ‘rustic’ villagers become ministers. ‘Why should those who were always ruled are todays rulers’. ‘ They do not know English, they are corrupt and an obstacle to India shining’. So we need some ‘presentable’ face to attract foreign investment and therefore our cabinet must be covered with these experts who may not like to go to people with folded hands as they might not have done so ever. The parliamentary process makes all the arrogant fellows also to beg for votes and even cry in front of the people though we know these cries are also farcical most of the time. Yet, whether these are called nautankis or not, they have to do it. Our election commissioner mentioned that corruption is the biggest threat to our electoral system. I want to add here that it is only in the proportionate electorate System that state funding could be ensured and no chance of creating hatred and winning votes. Actually, the first past the post system, which are practicing today is quite close to American pattern. Here a Narendra Modi could come with huge mandate of the people without ever careing that people means Muslims, Dalits and Aadivasis too in the similar way as we witnessed the 1985 elections which brought Rajiv Gandhi with huge mandate on the hatred created against Sikhs. If India has to be a truly secular democracy where voices of its marginalized are heard and represented in our democratic institutions then it must go for bigger reform and most importantly think about Indian model of Proportionate Electorate System and not to imitate the American model for its purposes to get rid of the dissenting people. India suffers from democratic deficit and true representation of its marginalized and minorities and an American model imitation would be suicidal for the very health of democracy with unfettering invisible powers in the hands of crony capitalists will only prove detrimental for the idea of India which stand for social justice and democratic values. * The writer is the National Executive Member of Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India ( CERI) which has launched a campaign towards Proportionate Electorate System in India.