The title is meant to provoke ! But look at the elections to Parliament and State Assemblies over the last 10 years and you will know how the system of representation in the first past the post system has gone horribly wrong.
Don’t believe me ? Lets look at the numbers for Govindnagar Assembly (2007) seat in Uttar Pradesh.
Total Electors – 2.42 lakh
Votes Polled – 1.10 lakh
Winner – 28,993 votes
In short only 12% of total electorate voted for the winning candidate. Similarly in Lok Sabha (2004), the percentage of support for winning candidate from the electorate across a few Parliamentary seats was abysmal.
Basti – 11%
Robertsganj – 11.4%
Mohanlal Ganj – 11.6%
Mirzapur – 12.4%
Aligarh – 12.5%
Arun Shourie in his book The Parliamentary System made a very pithy comment on the results of 2004 Lok Sabha elections.
“In a word, 99% of the members got into the Lok Sabha by getting less than half the electors to vote for them. Almost 60% got in with the endorsement of less than 30% of electors in their constituencies.”
Before you ask – results of 2009 Lok Sabha have not been any different.
If you are looking to reason out this phenomenon, don’t bother because you – the electorate is responsible for this. I must also add that disdain for democracy is more pronounced among the majority community. The minorities on the other hand approach it enthusiastically. This is not specific to India but a global phenomenon.
Majority in most democracies is apathetic to anti-democratic trends, influences and pressures. They remain in denial and hope that the problems will go away. Over time democracy mutates from being rule of majority to rule of minority.
Don’t agree ?
Lets look around and see how political parties are playing out their politics. SP and RJD ride on Muslim – Yadav combine, BSP is focused on Dalits with Muslims giving it the extra push, down south JD(S) has pulled up a Vokkaliga plus Muslim combination and Congress’s strategy is to keep its Muslim block intact and rope in anyone else they can trick.
In every equation, Muslim vote bank is the constant factor. It tells us something about their numbers and voting pattern. They constitute 15% of electorate in each State and hence Hindu caste based parties seek them out. Ironically no other minority enjoys such an exalted status when it comes to electoral considerations.
The combined impact of majority community’s apathy and minority’s (Muslims in particular) zealous participation has resulted in ours being a democracy of the minorities. As a result Nehruvian secularism flourishes and appeasement has become a norm, which is hurting our country.
So what is the solution ?
The National Commission to Review Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) under Justice M N Venkatachaliah suggested that there must be a run off contest between the first two candidates in an election so that the winner has support of more than 50% voters. The commission believed that against the first past the post system, a run off contest would be more representative.
The suggestion however did not find favour given the layered structure of governance and many elections in India.
The answer to our problem lies in compulsory voting.
Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) says that 33 countries have made voting compulsory. These, among others, include Switzerland, Australia, Singapore, Argentina, Austria, Cyprus, Peru, Greece and Bolivia.
Punitive action is initiated against those who fail to vote. Some countries impose monetary fine, others adopt methods, which are more suited to its population. For instance Australia imposes monetary fine. Those who can’t pay are sent to prison. Similarly Switzerland, Australia, Cyprus and Peru too impose fines. Belgium disenfranchises, Singapore removes you from the voting list, Bolivia resorts to salary cuts and Greece imposes harsher conditions for securing passport or driving license.
India can device a law that suits its genius. It could consider incentivizing people by providing tax rebates or incremental access to PDS. It could also impose financial cost on defaulters at the time of seeking passport, driving license, ration card etc.
It is imperative that India seeks to redress the situation it seems to be falling in and make its democracy more robust and representative. It is not a surprise that the only politician who has suggested this is Narendra Modi. Compulsory voting will threaten the equilibrium religion, region and caste based parties have mastered to perfection. Besides it will lead to redefining appeasement politics perpetuated in the garb of seeking equity for the minorities. Those vested in the system have little incentive to disrupt the ecosystem.
Therefore it is obvious that one man who has come closest to the idea will only have the conviction to execute it. May he rise to the highest public office in order to usher in this critical electoral reform, among other things, that will make Indian democracy more representative and inclusive.