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Revisiting Indian Electoral System

M C Raj

Congress Party has come to power in India in the just concluded elections to
the Parliament. Some eminent people have chosen to describe this as the
victory of Indian democracy comparing the quality of democracy in India to the
democratic practices in the neighbouring countries in Asia. Democracy has to
bear fruit to the people on whose behalf it is being practiced and not in
comparison to what it does for the neighbours. Congress has come to power
with 28.6% of votes. This is only a marginal increase of over 2% from the
2004 elections. A few other regional parties have managed to increase their
share of votes but have decreasing returns in terms of seat share.
It is reported in the Times of India of 04 June that Bhola Singh (BJP) has won
the Nawada Parliamentary seat in Bihar with less than 10% votes. The
Constituency has a total of 14 lakhs with an estimated population of about 24
lakhs. He won the seat by gaining only 1.3 lakh votes. 145 out of 573 elected
members in the latest elections have won with less than 20% votes. Murli
Manohar Joshi, Lalji Tandon and Hukumdeo Narayan won with only one eigth
of the votes. Salman Kursheed and Farooq Abdullah also got similar number
of votes. Meira Kumar got only one seventh of votes. Only five MPs,
Nagaland, Sikkim, two Tripura and one from West Bengal (Tamluk) got more
than 50% of votes. The average MP this time got only one fourth of the vote
share.
This is the anomaly of Indian democracy that its practice is incongruent with
its profession. Indian democracy is self styled as one of the best int he world
but Nepal has tarred this image by taking recourse to a proportionale
representation system in their democratic praxis. In the Indian electoral
system people are making their choices. There is no doubt about it. But they
are forced to make a choice within certain dominantly designed boundaries of
which they are ignorant. That somebody with less than 10% of votes can get
into the Parliament is a democratic anomaly in its character of representation.
That a party that manages to scrape through with 28.6% of vote share is
hailed as the harbinger of political hope of a nation is a democratic anomaly in
its representational character. If actual representation is removed from the
praxis of democracy it is bound to be farce. Unfortunately the trajectory of
modern democracy has this farcical dimension inbuilt into its from the time of
its evolution from an enlightenment-cum-colonial period in history.

Fortunately some of these countries caught up in the churning out of a


dominanat variant of democracy and representation have realized the flaw in
the trajectory and have shifted their electoral system to the Proporitonate one.
21 out of 28 Western Eruropean Nations have reformed their electoral system
to usher in proportionate representation in their Parliaments. Some of these
countries have done model setting in termas of enhancing representation of
citizens in the Instruments and Mechanisms of democracy in their respective
countries. New Zealand has made provisions for separate electorate for the
ndigenous Maori people within their PR system. Norway has officially
recognized the Parliament of the Sami indigenous people as a mark of
democratic recognition of the right of the indigenous people to have their own
internal governance. Germany has provided reservation to the Danish people
in one of its northern states.

India has been witnessing sproadic clamour for electoral reforms. Such
clamour has been restricted to cleaning up the existing system and has not
been extended to critically examining the legitimacy of the same in the praxis
of a mature democracy. There is one section of Intelligentsia in India that is
not even aware of the nuances of other electoral systems that are in vogue in
many democracies. There is another section of intelligentsia that is aware of
the existence of other forms of electoral systems but know intuitively that it is
going to provide space for many marginalized communities of people in India.
This is something that the chemistry in their bodies naturally resist and
therefre, such intellectuals have shunned any public debate on the First Past
The Post or the Majoritarian Electoral System.

Another set of intellectuals have clamoured for the American type of two party
democracy in India. The USA, UK and India are major democracies that still
cling on to the Majoritarian Electoral System though dialectics are in
advanced stage in the former two countries for ushering in a Proportionate
Electoral System. Arun Shouried belongs to this school of thought though he
stretches his argument a bit further and argues for the power of governance to
be handed over to the executive. The underlying argumentation is that
representatives of common people should not be vested with the power to
govern the country.

According to Atul Thakur and Shankar Raghuram the argument in favour of


two party system does not hold water as West Bengal and Kerala with multy
party have gained the maximum average percentage. West Bengal has 41%
and Kerala has 36%. The other state that has got one third of votes for
average MPs is Tamilnadu with also multy party. In contrast States
where the fight was straight between Congress and BJP such
as Gujarat, MP, Chhattisgarh, Uttarkhand and Rajasthan the
average is 25% and below. Only in Delhi and Himachal with
bipolar contest the situation is better.

India’s FPTP electoral system has reservation for the Dalits and
Adivasis/Tribals. But within the Majoritarian system reservation has only
become a handy tool in the hands of the dominant parties to politically
neutralize Dalit/Adivasi leadership. In the FPTP system seats in the
Parliament are not proportionate to the percentage of votes that a party gains
thus leaving out a vast majority of voters unrepresented in governance. Some
of the States in the North Eastern part of India are woefully under-
represented. There are many Tribal groups in many of these States and
except Assam all other States have only one or two seats in the Parliament. If
multi member electoral districts are introduced as in the PR system these
States will have the possibility of sending more than six to eight
representatives to the Parliament from each State. In this case the strength of
the Parliament will have to be increased within manageable levels. Germany
with about 40 million people has more than six hundred members of
Parliament.

Nepal has introduced PR system in their praxis of democracy with the support
of the Maoists. Big effort is going on there to integrate it into the new
Constitution of Nepal. In subsequent elections, before the PR system was
introduced in Nepal only one Dalit candidate was able to enter the Parliament.
With the introduction of PR system it was possible for the Dalit community in
Nepal to send 49 Dalit candidates into their Parliament in the last general
elections.

Proportionate Electoral System does not go by any uniformity though there


are many common threads in all its variants. Not only the system but also the
counting of votes and apportioning representation to every voter is a major
mechanism in the countries that practice PR system. Democracy is about
providing space for all citizens in the Instruments and Mechanisms of
governance. The present electoral system in India constricts the political
space of the poor and culturally marginalized communities of India by making
it possible for a party to come to power with even less than 27% of total votes
cast. If such communities make coalitions among themselves through their
respective parties taking on board also some religious minority communities
and fight elections as coalition partners within the ambience of the PR system
it is going to spell the rise of the hitherto excluded and downtrodden people
and mark the ushering in of a mature democracy.

The Rural Education for Development Society and the Booshakthi Kendra in
India have made a research on the Proportionate Electoral System as it is in
German democracy and have published “Dalitocracy” as a result of their
research. This was done after due reflection on the demand for separate
electorate and the need for other viable alternatives. Subsequently they have
also launched a Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India (CERI) to bring
about a Proportionate Electoral System. CERI is making further researches
on the Norwegian model of Parliament and the New Zealand electoral system.
India is also badly in need of adapting an electoral system that will checkmate
efforts to infuse Indian democracy with fascism. CERI is spearheaded by a
group of senior leaders of civil society drawn from different parts of India.
Proportionate Electoral System is not a panacea for all the woes of a
struggling democracy. However, many nations of the world have proved
beyond doubt that it provides a just and legitimate space in governance for
citizens.

It is in this context that the demand of Mr. Sitaram Yechury on the first day of
the present Parliament gains credence and weight. He has asserted that only
a party or a coalition that gains more than 50% of votes in elections should
come to govern the nation. Though this demand is woefully inadequate it has
already laid the foundation for a possible constitutional amendment to bring
about a Proportionate Electoral System in India.