Issues

Need for radical electoral reforms

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 politically empowered them.

After Uttar-Pradesh’s poll results every body is 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 biased against them. However, barring some small incidents they have handled the situation well so far. Yet, despite all this, the role of illicit money has not been curbed during the elections and every day we received reports of such money being confiscated by the police in these states.

After the results were out Uttar Pradesh saw an unprecedented tense situation in the ground zero which is its rural areas. Samajwadi party and BSP workers have clashed at many places. Those who understand Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, know 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 power. And it is this which has resulted in the fight among different communities and manipulations by political parties. It is not just political parties, communities too are 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 music. The problem is that in the great ego clash of political leaders, it is the poor who bear the brunt of the mafias and goons. This must stop now.

Parties have been manipulating castes to get into Parliament and assemblies. Our media and election commission are thumping their chests even if the poll percentage was just around 60, in fact in many places it was below 60 percent’. It is time to seriously think about a better and alternative system which will give dignity to even smaller groups and communities rather than taking them as either a votebank or enemy who will be thrashed once the results are out as is happening in Uttar-Pradesh at the moment. We need a serious analysis of the communitywise representation in the assemblies.

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

While in Uttar-Pradesh, the tragedy of votes polled and seats secured is not very visible as it is in Punjab where Akali Dal secured 34.75 percent votes and got 56 seats (nearly 48 percent) while the Congress Party got 41 percent votes yet only 46 seats which is around 39 percent of the seats secured.

While poll observers may eagerly explain the ‘dance’ of the “greatest democracy” in  Uttar-Pradesh which is a laboratory for all the experiments based on caste, religion and region. In the past two decades, Uttar Pradesh had political parties which used these terminologies for their own purposes whether it is empowerment of Dalits or Bahujan but the fact is that the previous U.P. assembly did not have a single MLA from the Balmiki community which is a very large community mainly confined in urban areas of the state. There are other most marginalized communities among Dalits, Muslims and backward communities which would never get representation unless something is done to protect their interests. Tharus, one of the tribal communities 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 he too lost during the latest elections. Boxas, one of the primitive tribal groups of Uttarakhand, Kols, a tribal group in Bundelkhand are virtually unrepresented in assemblies and parliament (ironically, in Madhya Pradesh Kols are listed as tribal in government list and in Uttar Pradesh they are scheduled castes). 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 as a few individuals from these communities get elected but fail to serve their communities.

In this age of caste polarization, it is the other vote that matters 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, candidates are fielded not just to win, but to get some particular candidate defeated. Huge money is paid to field bogus candidates who are called ‘vote katua’ whose sole aim would be to get some of his community votes and indirectly benefit the opponent from another party. This apart, some parties benefit from low turn out of the voters while some 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 opponents or supporters according to their political loyalty. To curtail such an unhealthy practice and making communities as votebanks or vote katua, mixed constituencies could be created to provide representations to those communities who remain unrepresented despite their huge numbers.

Various suggestions are being put forward to improve the system but the faultline is our parliamentary system which is based on First Past the Post System. This 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 money power.  The biggest fault of this system is that the winner though a minority renders a majority of voters as unrepresented and uncounted. Is not it an irony that out of 542 members of Lok Sabha, we do not even have 2 percent of the members whose winning margin is over 50 percent of the total votes polled in their constituencies. Similarly, there is a huge anomaly in voting percentage (national average or state average) and the seats won in the assembly. That too results in hugely unrepresented votes. For example, in the 2009 general elections, Congress party got 28.55 percent votes out of the total votes polled but it got 37.94 percent seats (206). Similarly BJP got 18.80 votes but 21 percent seats. Contrary to this, the parties which belong to particular segments of society and have been trying to create a niche for the poor remain marginalized. The Bahujan Samaj Party got 6.17 percent of the total votes but got only 3.87 percent of the seats in Lok Sabha while CPI (M) got 5.33 percent of the total votes polled yet got only 16 seats which is 2.95 percent of the total seats won. Such a vast gap between the votes polled and seats won needs to be questioned if we want to reduce political corruption. Is it not a big joke that Nitish Kumar is the most popular leader with just 21 percent of total votes polled while CPI(M) is ‘wiped out’ while securing 40 percent votes polled.

It is time to address these fault lines so that every party gets seats according to votes polled and every winning candidate must get over 50 percent 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 the 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 PES and its benefits. India must adopt a more representative political system which strengthens its integrity. It is also a fact that if BSP supports PES, it will have better chances in the electoral system. Even today, as far as vote share is concerned, Mayawati has got 26 percent of total votes polled in UP which should have given her 105 seats in the current assembly under 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 unites India and its diverse communities where those who do not vote to a particular party do not get thrashed as is happening in Uttar Pradesh at the moment, a system which gives minorities their right to participate in power on equitable terms and not at the mercy of a dominant community. The current trend of democracy revolves around ‘particular’ community in each state which cobbles together a few other ‘like-minded’ groups while pitching 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. The poll results of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are an opportunity for those who fight for genuine representative democracy to push forward the idea of PES.

The authour blogs at manukhsi.blogspot.com and may be reached at vbrawat[]gmail.com

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