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India: Need for radical electoral reforms

by Vidya Bhushan Rawat, 9 March 2012

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Uttar-Pradesh’s poll results are out. Every body claiming their poll predictions have come true. The election commission has been able to maintain its dignity and impartiality in handling the situation though political parties which are at the receiving end of the Commission’s reprimand normally blame the commission for being bias against them. However, barring some small incidents they have handled the situation better so far. Yet, despite all this, the role of illicit money has not been curbed during the elections and every day we receive reports of money being confiscated by the police in these states.

After the results are out Uttar-Pradesh has seen an unprecedented tense situation in the ground zero which is its rural areas. The Samajwadi party workers and BSP workers have clashed at many places. Those who understand Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar, know it well that the litmus test for Samajwadi party now comes in Uttar-Pradesh. Elections are not development as suggested by our electoral analysts but sharing in power. And it is this which has resulted in fight among different communities and manipulations by political parties. It is not just political parties, communities are too engaged in these manipulations to gain political power and hence alliances are developed and ‘villains’ are ‘constructed’. For millions of BSP supporters all over the country, Mulayam Singh was the villain number one but today it is Behajni’s term to face the wrath. The problem is that in the great ego of political leaders, it is the poor which is facing the brunt of the mafias and goons. It must stop now.

Though, parties have been manipulating castes to get into parliament or assemblies and our media and election commission thumping its chest even if the poll percentage was just around 60, in fact in many places it was below 60%, it is time to seriously think about a better and alternative system. The system which will give dignity to even smaller group or communities rather than taking them as either a vote bank or enemy who will be thrashed once the results are out as happening in Uttar-Pradesh at the moment. We need a serious analysis of the community wise representation in the assemblies.

A preliminary analysis of the data showed that Samajwadi party got 29% votes of the total vote polled yet got 56% seats i.e. 225 in an assembly of 403 while BSP which got just less than 3% votes than Samajwadi party got just 19% seats. Congress Party’s vote share in UP was 14% but the seat it could secure was just 9%.

While in Uttar-Pradesh the tragedy of vote polled and seat secured is not visible that way as it shows in Punjab where Akali Dal secured 34.75% votes and got 56 seats (nearly 48%) while Congress Party got 41% votes yet 46 seats which is around 39% of the seat secured.

While Poll observers may eagerly explain the ‘dance’ of ‘greatest’ democracy in Uttar-Pradesh which is a laboratory for all the experiments based on caste, religious and region. In the past twenty years, Uttar-Pradesh has the political parties which used these terminologies for their own purposes whether it is empowerment of Dalits or Bahujan but the fact is that in the past assembly Uttar-Pradesh did not have a single MLA from Balmiki community which is very large community mainly confined in urban areas of the state. There are other most marginalized communities among the Dalits, Muslims and backward communities which would never ever get representation unless something is done to protect their interest. Tharus, one of the tribe community in the Tarai of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, right from Maharajganj, Baharaich, Lakhimpurkhiri and Khatima have virtually no representation in the assembly except for one Tharu MLA in Uttarakhand from Khatima constituency, though latest report is that he too lost during these elections. Boxas, one of the primitive tribe groups of Uttarakhand, Kols, a tribal group in Bundelkhand (Ironically, Kol crossing over to Madhya Pradesh are tribal in government list and in Uttar-Pradesh are scheduled castes) are virtually unrepresented in assemblies and parliament. Such situation exists for many other marginalized communities among Muslims as well as backward classes.

The concern over reducing Muslim representation in our parliament and assemblies is not without any reasons for they do not even have reserved constituencies though the Dalits and Aadivasis in particular feel that reserved constituencies have not really worked for the political empowerments of these sections of society but a few individuals from these communities who are elected on the votes of all electorates and therefore in this age of caste polarization, it is the other vote that matter as political leaders take their own community votes for granted. This was the reason for Dr Ambedkar asking for separate electorate for the Dalits in the famous round table conference in London in 1932.

There is a dire need to address the follies of our electoral system which has not been able to curtail political corruption. Today, candidate are fielded not just to win, but to get some particular candidate defeated in the constituency. Money is being paid hugely to field bogus candidate who are called ‘vote katua’ whose sole aim would be to get his community vote and indirectly benefit to the opponent. This apart, some parties benefit from low turn out of the voters while some other benefit from neutral voters. There is no benefit to people who boycott a candidate as some other would vote and these voters who boycott would be used by the opponent or supporters according to their political loyalty. To curtail such an unhealthy practice and making communities as vote bank or vote katua, mixed member constituencies could be created to provide representations to those communities who remain unrepresented despite their huge number.

Various suggestions are being put forward to improve the system but the fault line is our parliamentary system which is based on First Past the Post System. This system gives enough chances of manipulations to powerful groups and moneybag holders. There is no ceiling of getting minimum votes for winning a constituency which has resulted in a shocking trend of manipulation to win the election by using different methods of caste, religion and moneybags. The biggest fault of this system is that the winner vote through a minority vote resulting in a vast majority of voters voting against the candidate as unrepresented and uncounted. Is not it an irony that out of 542 members of Lok Sabha, we do not even have 2% of the members whose winning margin is over 50% of the total vote polled in his constituency. Similarly, there is a huge anomaly in voting percentage (national average or state average) and the seat won in the assembly. That too results in hugely unrepresented votes. For example, in the 2009 general elections, Congress party got 28.55% votes out of the total vote polled but it got 37.94% seats ( 206), similarly BJP got 18.80 votes but 21% seats. Contrary to this, the party’s which belong to particular segments of our society and have been trying to create a niche for the poor remain marginalized. The Bahujan Samaj Party got 6.17% of the total votes but got only 3.87% of the seats in Lok Sabha while CPI (M) got 5.33% of the total vote polled yet got 16 seats which is 2.95% of the total seat won. Such vast gap between the votes polled and seat won need to be questioned if we want to reduce political corruption. Is not it a great joke that Nitish Kumar is the most popular leader with just 21% of total vote polled while CPI(M) is ‘wiped out’ with 40% vote polled.

It is time to address these fault lines so that every party get seat according to vote polled and every winning candidate must get over 50% of the total valid votes in his constituency. Democracy in India need to go beyond symbolism and therefore it would be advisable that we slowly switch over to Proportionate Electorate System (PES) which could address these anomalies and provide us a truly representative character of democracy. PES is widely being the main electorate system in Europe and many other parts of the world and India must start thinking on it before it is too late for us to handle the situation.

After the Punjab fiasco Congress must have courage to look into it and ponder over Proportionate Electoral System and its benefits. India must adopt a political system which strengthen its integrity yet be more representative. It is also a fact that if BSP support PES, it has larger chances in the electoral system. Even today, as far as vote share is concern, Mayawati has got 26% of total votes polled in UP which should have given her 105 seats in the current assembly in PES. India will pay a heavy price if we do not shift to a better political alternative which is more representative in nature and yet unite India and its diverse communities where those who do not vote to a particular parties do not get thrashed as happening in Uttar-Pradesh at the moment., a system which give minorities their right to participate in power on equitable term and not at the mercy of a dominant community. The current trend of democracy revolve around ‘particular’ community in each states which cobble together a few others ‘like minded’ while pitched in against those who ‘differ’. This has resulted in chaos and virtual caste war in different parts of the country which media may be reporting some time and hiding at other. Uttar-Pradesh will go through this phase now and it is the biggest challenge but then the poll results of Uttar-Pradesh and Punjab are an opportunity for those who fights for genuine representative democracy to push forward agenda for Proportionate Electorate System.

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