We Indians take pride in being the largest democracy in the world. However, the state of Indian democracy today with more failures than successes to show is anything but encouraging. There are following systemic problems with Indian democracy –
1. There is no way to ensure good candidates contest elections There are no effective qualifications stipulated for a candidate contesting an election. The present stipulations are hardly adequate to ensure that only good candidates will be able to contest. Often, a voter is forced to vote for a bad candidate from amongst the worse, if at all it is possible for a not so well-informed common voter to be so discerning.
2. We have a party system that has many serious shortcomings as follows –
a. Most political parties do not have any intra-party democracy as can be seen from the following –
i. Leaders are not elected by party workers through secret ballot.
ii. Candidates for contesting elections are not nominated democratically.
iii. Issues that have public impact are not discussed in party fora to decide democratically, what the party line should be on a particular matter. Instead, the party stand is based on the personal preferences, and even whims, fancies, selfish interests and conveniences, of a coterie of “top leaders”. In short, decision-making within the parties is far from what can be considered to be transparent or democratic.
iv. Even the chief minister of a state and the entire cabinet is decided by the “central command” (read, “a coterie of handful people”) sitting in Delhi.
b. Government usually is formed by one party or an alliance of a few parties that can claim a simple majority. Even the ruling party or alliance so formed, more often than not, lacks a true mandate because of the first-past-the-post system. A party getting as little as even 20% of the valid votes can have a majority of seats. These 20% votes are, in fact, an even smaller fraction of the total population because not all people are registered voters, and further, because not all registered voters cast their vote. Usually, only 40%-50% of the registered voters cast their vote. As such, a party getting majority in the parliament/state assembly may have actually been voted for by as little as 10% or even less of the population! What kind of a popular mandate can the party claim to have got in such a situation?
c. Many a time, voters may be voting (out of choice or forced to), not for a given candidate but rather for his party. That makes a mockery of the concept of “elected representative.”
d. Every adult is granted a voting right in all the elections, be it a local level panchayat election or a general election for parliament. This, however, ignores the vastly different kinds of judgments required on the part of a voter in electing a candidate at these different levels of elections. For example, a panchayat member needs to have only a limited understanding, namely that of the few local issues. An MP, however, should understand complex national and even global issues. So, an illiterate village voter is not quite equipped to prudently elect an MP.
3. The elected representatives can hardly be called true representatives of the constituency they are elected from for the following reasons –
a. Most of them belong to a party (except for the independents) and have to follow the line prescribed by the party. There is no way for conscience voting on a bill, since the system of party whip forces its members to vote in accordance with the party’s directive.
b. If a particular issue has a local angle that is in conflict with the party’s stand, there is no way the local representative will be able to do much in the interest of his constituency.
4. There is no effective federal system. There is still too much power, political as well as financial, concentrated in the hands of the central government.
In the light of the problems with our democracy as described above, the following modifications are suggested –
1. A much better set of eligibility stipulations are required for candidates contesting elections, especially relating to the educational qualifications, work experience, experience in public life and particularly a spotlessly clean record. It’s not enough to say, as at present, that unless a person has actually been convicted, he is eligible to contest elections.
2. Election funding needs to be seriously thought about to reduce the role of money power. An effective way of supporting all candidates fairly and equitably should be devised by the election commission, that does not entail raising huge funds by the candidates themselves. That will go a long way towards encouraging good people to contest elections. For example, the election commission can make use of the wide reach of TV and think of giving time slots to the candidates for canvassing. This can be funded by the EC. Let there be no public canvassing other than this. Candidates may only be allowed to go door-to-door seeking votes.
3. Voting rights should be granted on the basis of the educational/professional qualifications of a citizen. Lower qualifications should entitle a citizen to a voting right only at lower levels. In effect a qualitative gradation of voting rights on the basis of the qualifications of a voter would serve the purpose of electing deserving candidates more effectively.
4. Political parties must practise internal democracy in all party matters.
5. We need to make all efforts to make registration as a voter as easy and smooth as possible. This will help ensuring that most of the eligible citizens do indeed get registered as voters. Towards this, it should be considered if UID can be used to facilitate proving the identity and eligibility of a voter.
6. We should abolish the party whip, if not quite abolish the party system itself, although the latter also isn’t a bad idea at all. An elected representative should be free to vote on any bill or resolution in the legislature in accordance with his own conscience and preference.
7. Abolishing political parties and having a presidential system with all MPs being independents is also an idea deserving serious consideration. It will make our democracy truly representative.
8. We need much more autonomy for the states, especially given the diversity of India and the need to give enough freedom to the diverse cultures. In fact, the autonomy needs to penetrate right down to the village level. Otherwise, we will only be allowing dissatisfaction to gradually build up among a large section of the vast populace.