Sunday, May 03, 2009
Indian Democracy: Need for a radical change
Two elderly ladies going to cast their vote in Madhya Pradesh
Now that the electoral dust seems to have settled in Maharashtra with the end of phase III, it’s time we turn our attention to some serious issues plaguing politics, voting and democracy.
The average Indian still does not understand the power of voting. He thinks that a single vote is not going to make much difference because rarely does in India a single vote decide the fate of aspiring politicians. Not many Indians would have heard of Saifuddin Soz whose single vote toppled Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government in 1999. The average Indian voter interprets national politics through the narrow prism of his individual problem. He forgets that his micro problem is part and parcel of India’s macro problem. He is fed of the same old politicians making same old promises. He thinks the only way out is to skip voting. In some areas including Sonia Gandhi’s Amethi constituency, people have boycotted polls. Boycott is a legitimate tool of protest in a democracy but poll boycott is not driven by mere hopelessness alone; it is fuelled by illiteracy. The Indian voter has started believing in the saying ‘If voting changed anything, they would make it illegal’. The only way to remove this erroneous perception is by mass awareness regarding the power of just one vote.
A careful reading of history reveals that one vote has changed fate of many nations across the world. Indians have forgotten that Adolf Hitler became president of Nazi party of Germany in 1934 just because of one vote. Indian Muslims seem to have forgotten this but Jews still remember it. It was the power of just one vote that caused the execution of Charles I, King of England, in 1649. It was just because of one vote that France became a republic from monarchy in 1875. It was because of a single vote that Texas became part of United States in 1845. It was one vote that saved Andrew Johnson, 17th President of America from impeachment in 1868. One vote per precinct would have elected Richard Nixon, rather than John Kennedy, President of America in 1960. And finally it was the power of one vote that brought down Atal Bihari government in 1999. Indian Muslims must remember these historical instances because those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
Given the importance of just one vote, should voting be made mandatory?
Making it mandatory may have some merits; like people would be compelled to vote out of no choice. But it has some demerits as well. Indian democracy would edge towards authoritarianism. Only on two conditions voting must be made mandatory. Firstly there must be inclusion of the concept of negative voting like negative marking in competitive exams. Secondly, there should be an option where a voter can press the button ‘none of the above’. In simple words, he can register his protest that he does not find any of the candidates suitable for the job of representation. If this option gets the maximum number of votes, there should be a reelection in the concerned constituency.
This provision will certainly empower an ordinary voter who feels let down by politicians all the time.
Now to balance our argument we must ask this question: how should we deal with political parties and politicians who go on making lengthy promises which read like a scroll of honour?
Political manifestos are inaugurated with much fanfare; but once the parties form government, it goes in the dustbin of history. Can we apply some provision of Indian Contract Act, 1872? Can political manifestos be accorded the status of a civil contract? In simple words, the contents of a manifesto should be treated like an offer; a proposal made with the intention to fulfill it. Anybody who votes for a particular party would be accepting the proposal laid down in the manifesto. Once such a ‘contract’ takes place, it should be enforceable in a court of law! Voters will have the right to implement the contents of political manifestos!
Some might term this as impractical political romanticism; but something urgently needs to be done in this regard because politicians take voters for granted. The current voting system does not encourage voters because he can’t do anything after pressing the voting button. Arundhati Roy had raised this issue in an interview once. She had said, “The stupid thing about democracy is that you go into the voting booth and push the button and you have fulfilled your duty. Now for the next five years you can sit back and allow your candidate whatever he wants.”
These matters are of serious nature and in the interests of the voters. Whoever comes to power at Centre, these issues must be raised, discussed and debated in Indian parliament because essence of democracy lies in welfare of the people.
The mood of the voter in the ongoing election can be summed up thus: Don’t vote for the best candidate, vote for the candidate who will do the least harm!