Frailty of Indian electoral model: Comparison, performance and alternatives
A A Latief U Zaman Deva
Since the beginning of the odyssey by Prophet Adam the yearnings/ temptations have been visible and dominant in the creatures for individual freedom and liberty within the permissible areas from the strict jackets regulating their activities on the globe which, after subsuming a chain of changes churned out in the form of codes in different parts of the world followed by regional approaches till reformation and renaissance, relegated the cradle of civilizations into secondary positions.
Almost all the Prophets and other Messengers preached about respect for will of faithful and social contract with non- believers for ushering in a peaceful social order. After passing through millennia and various civilizations came the call from prophet Mohammad (saw) wherein later on, quite distinct from monarchy, the doctrine of seeking allegiance from the governed by the Caliph was introduced, provided he is acknowledged generally as ‘’Sadeq and Amen” from amongst the eligible people.
The cardinal principles laid down include right to profess one‘s religion and practice also, universal fraternity, code for neighbourly relations irrespective of religion, type of relationship with the far and near Countries and other facets of life and family (temporal and spiritual) in the society as minimalist without any restriction for improvements and enlargements within the parameters fixed under Shariat.
This way the oldest ‘’Deen” culminated into fruition governing the way one is supposed to live in the world being aggregation of all that has been revealed from Adam to Mohammad (saw).
In tandem the ancient English to the days of Anglo- Saxons also protected individual rights in a limited sense till usurped following the Norman invasion of 1066 leading subsequently to the Magna carta signed by King John on 15th of June 1215 guaranteeing there under the political liberties of feudal and protection and freedom of Church rights but annulled and renewed intermittently later on till 16th century.
The developments of 1782, 1830, Reforms Act 1832, Acts of 1867, 1884,1918 and 1928 resulted into a Parliamentary democracy based on adult suffrage which is a system of democratic governance where the executive can survive till it commands the confidence of the legislature and is also accountable to it and hereditary monarchy is ceremonial only as the real powers vest in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet but remember the democracy as a concept envisages majority rule without any compromise on minority rights.
Ad therefore in the parliamentary democracy the rule of majority is not at the peril of minorities but majority works with the minority enabling the government to represent the general aspirations and views on the policies of the Polity based on the system of political parties wedded with democracy and fair representation to all segments of the population without fearing backlash from the general public who, for historical reasons and over 800 years romance with democracy supplemented by the cult of political parties, are ideologically committed to carrying all along the democratic ladder unlike the pretence of democracy in Countries riven in feudal order or castism/communalism or ethnicism.
In all civilizations the focus has had been on general masses without playing one against the other and in a way this approach was largely responsible for human progression otherwise the monopolizing by one or the other would have finished humans in their early stages of transformation from erect man.
Indian model and its performance
The British Parliamentary system is regarded as mother of parliaments and acts as a model for other Parliamentary systems across the globe. Its success is attributable to host of factors-the prominent from amongst them in existing world order is acceptance of the necessity of compromise apart from respect for equality, minority community rights in no way inferior to the domain enjoyed by the majority, system of political parties devoid of ideologies bordering polarisation and marked distance of the government from the Church.
Indian model was conceived by the Constituent Assembly as an embodiment of British system and therefore as a representative democracy but the multiplicity of Political parties, shifting ideologies from core creeds to attune with accrual of electoral dividends, lack of conviction in politicians being highly careerists, burgeoning poverty on the planks of socioeconomic status of civilizations commencing their tryst almost with India, non-reconciliation between majority rule and minority rights and lack of tolerance for dissent and consequential lack of sense of participation by Principal minority have made mockery of it.
On the basis of projected population Muslims constitute about 15% of the total country population and in an accommodative polity their strength in the Lok- Sabah (LS) ought to be 82 members representing various political dispensations. But in 16th and 17th LS it was and is 23 and 27 respectively.
Similarly the position in State Assemblies is not reassuring which is corroborated by the number of electable/ elected members in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, UP, Bihar and Telangana State Assemblies having 34%, 27%, 26%, 20%,16.9% and 13% Muslim population but have ended up with 30, 59,23, 28, 20 and 08 slots against due proportionate share of 42+,81, 80+, 34+,40& 15+ respectively.
Another dimension of the problem in 2019 Parliamentary elections has been that the Bhartia Janata Party (BJP) got 303 berths in the LS by fetching 229076879 votes and Indian National Congress (INC) 52 seats although obtaining 119495214 votes. In terms of representative character BJP got 25.16 % of total electorate and 37.76% over total valid votes polled and INC 13.12% and 19.7% respectively but wide mismatch between the actual seats each got.
Contrary to the position spelt out above the Hindu population in JK is to the extent of 28.44% and can further go down to 24.98% once the non- natives are excluded for the purpose of getting registered as voters but in the legislative Assembly from out of 83 seats 25 are assured as their community pocket boroughs (30.12%) and in another 02 Segments the fortune can turn in favour of either community owing to wafer thin numerical strength over their position enjoyed by the majority community.
British and USA parallels
The 2018 demographic survey of UK suggests 53.6 % of total population as Christians, 30.3% Agnostics, 09.9% Atheists, 4.8% Muslims and .1.5 % Hindu but subsequently Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and Muslim % notified as 01, 01, 1.5 &4.8 respectively. The strength of the House of commons is 650 and no of candidates elected to it from the minority communities is 17 Jewish, 13 Muslims and 08 Hindus against the respective share of 06 to 07, 31 to 32 and 10 to 11, but the redeeming feature of the working of Political parties and their sensibility towards minorities mostly immigrants is highly praiseworthy as the Jews have three times the representation otherwise due to them and Hindus 80%.
Even though the Muslim presence in the House of commons is not commensurate with their population yet the 40% in itself is worth mentioning given their dispersal and kind of political awakening together with less assimilation in local political setups.
In USA, population the Jews account for 1.9 %, Muslims 0.9%, Hindus0.7 % and Buddhists 0.7 % and there are respectively 34,03,03 and 02 members from the four communities in the House of Representatives comprising of 535 members portraying negligible shortfalls which by itself is spectacular for immigrants for whom USA is neither their Punya bumi nor matri bumi.
In India the introduction of representative democracy was instant, and not gradual as in UK, on the basis of adult suffrage aiming at the acquisition of constitutional right to vote in the elections by every citizen not less than 18 years of age and the system of elections is based on the factum of ‘the first past the post system’ i-e amongst the contestants whosoever obtains the highest number of votes is declared elected even if the votes polled by the candidate declared successful may not cross the threshold of 50% of voters polled in the Constituency.
Since in the sub-continent the democratic institutions have not evolved by infusion of democratic temper and outlook we are therefore lugged into hero worship and during elections people vote for charismatic leaders without any appraisal of the candidates fielded.
Be it elections held under stewardship of Pandit Nehru, Indra Ghandi and now Narendra Modi the candidates selected by the political parties have generally had to excel in the loyalty criterion towards the leadership more than the ideology of the party. The winability of a candidate is a camouflage as the exercise undertaken doesn’t contain the parameters for ascertaining the popular image of candidates selected by the parties.
In the Parliamentary elections 2014 and 2019 and Assembly elections in states and UTs thereafter the majority of the candidates elected don’t inspire the confidence in the general electorate about their personnel capabilities but stamp of approval for the candidature by Modi the clenching factor and same holds valid for other parties especially regional ones.
In Pakistan the senior and veteran leaders of Muslim League and the Pakistan People’s Party have lined up around scions of Sharifs and Zardaris even as in highly transparent accountability process both the dynasties are prima facie main architects and beneficiaries of money laundering but have gumption to mislead the public whose gullibility can be pitied only.
The dynastic life line is perpetually evident in Awami National Party and Jamiet ul Islam Fazal and the Noorani in Pakistan and Awami League &BNP in Bangladesh. Sri Lanka is no exception but Afghanistan is barring the leadership of Northern Alliance.
Dynastic continuity is also prevalent in USA and UK but with marked differences as siblings andoff springs of great leaders have not been imposed by their patriarchs but made their presence felt by dint of hard work and mass appeal and have so far emerged from party primaries in stiff competitions.
In Indian perspective the hollow sloganeering for inclusive participation in Nation building is established by the data about meager presence of single largest minority in Parliament and State Assemblies and BJP under N Modi could have changed the scenario but for the mantras of consolidation of majority community on imaginary issues the option was not available.
While celebrating the success of Kamla Harris in USA elections and couple of Indian origin persons making the way to the Congress and House of commons or European parliament the moral for emulation back home is consigned to flames.
Admittedly it is broad mindedness of white skinned voters and political parties supported by them that something unbelievable in sub-continent is happening in these foreign turfs. In UP Assembly elections the biggest achievement claimed by the ruling dispensation was about not fielding a candidate from the Muslim community and the speeches relating to retribution in horrendous crimes including rapes need no mention as that would amount to spraying salts on wounds inflicted by hate speeches which too didn’t attract admonitions from the leadership of the party nor by the institutions mandated to enforce rule of law.
The number of votes got and candidates elected from BJP and INC during 2019 elections points out how the distribution of winning seats is not reflecting the real sub-text of elections and hence a paradigm shift both in political parties and the model of electoral system.
American and the British treatment towards the Asian and African settlers in their respective polities should stir the conscience of political power yielders in India for taking demography into consideration while selecting the candidates in elections to Parliament and State Assemblies as the minority communities have same origin as the majority community whether the first organised settlers are associated with out of Africa on move to east or from far east to west and the reversion to the ordained Deen’s ideology can in no way make the minorities particularly Muslims and Christians less Indians.
The conduct of Political parties by earmarking proportionate share for minorities can lead to establishing of healthy conventions/ precedents resulting in empowerment of hitherto disempowered sections of the country falling on the margins of the electoral process. This type of arrangement shall neither necessitate amendments in laws nor infringe in any way the secular features of the Constitution.
However, the multi- party system has proved as a bane instead of being boon and therefore the need for realignment of political parties into ‘Rightists, Centralists and Leftists’ in which the centralists shall invariably find commonality with the left and seldom combination of first and the second grouping.
Having figured out the voting % of BJP & INC the share of the two political parties in Lok Sabah should have been 2/3rd and 1/3rd respectively from out of seats won by the two parties but in presence of the electoral system in vogue the INC gets pushed back to the wall sans any regard for the 119495214 votes secured by it and pari-passu holds good in respect of other parties.
An analogous position forced some westerners to part with the ‘first past the post system’ and replaced it with the proportional representation (PR) aiming to allocate the seats approximately in proportion to the number of votes secured by the political parties. Depending upon the peculiarities of each country the method of PR has been adopted.
Thomas Jefferson initially introduced the system of PR in USA in 1792 and Belgian mathematician Victor D’Hondt detailed the methodology in 1878. The countries like Sri-Lanka, Turkey, Venezuela,Switzerland, Spain, Romania, Finland, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Japan, Israel and in Nepal in 2008 and Indonesia in 2019have adopted D’Hondt method and Germany with a different method called ‘Webster / Saint league which has been found to have produced smallest standard deviations in European Parliament elections as against the D ‘Hondt supposedly favouring large parties and coalitions while in the former the middle sized parties are claimed to be the beneficiaries at the expense of large and small parties.
The models available for proportional representation have merits as well as demerits as is also the scenario under the stems prevalent in representative democracies which has provided grit for debate on advisability of perpetuating the faulty models without addressing the fault lines with the aim for strengthening the democracy representing the greater numbers in terms of election of candidates having obtained more than 50% of votes polled and simultaneously the seats proportionally apportioned among the participating parties on the basis of State/UT as a unit for central legislative body and natural geographical regions for federating units.
A debate on reforms both in respect of minimizing the number of political parties or realignment of burgeoning existing political parties under three axis described elsewhere in the write up and introduction of proportional representation by adopting one or the other method or combination of the two or more is long due for realizing the objectives set apart herein above.
(The author is IAS (Retd) and former Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Public service Commission)