Overhauling the Indian Democracy

By | July 23, 2008

The UPA government succeeded in winning the trust vote in Parliament, but June 22, 2008 would go down in the annals of Indian democratic & parliamentary histories as one of the saddest days. The reason: MPs flaunting crores of Rupees in cash that is claimed to be given to them as a bribe to stay out of the trust vote. Whether these allegations are true or not is a story for another day. The Indian democracy looks like it needs an overhaul, and soon.

Let us take the story back to 1947 when India had just got its Independence, and the founding fathers of our nation were huddled in a room discussing the constitution of our nation. The most important question they had was, how to model a democratic environment in India? At that time there were only two major democracies that were successful, American democracy & the British democracy.

Now the American democratic system is a complex one. The US Congress, which is essentially like the Indian Parliament has senators who are elected representatives of the people. However, the US President is directly elected via a separate electoral process. The President then appoints his (there have been no female presidents in the USA yet) cabinet of secretaries similar to the cabinet of ministers appointed in India. Now this is a complex democratic system, where the President can stay in his post even if his party is out of majority in the congress.

The other democracy was the British democracy. This system had two houses, the House of Commons & the House of Lords. Representatives in the House of Commons are elected representatives of the people and those in the House of Lords are appointed representatives. Then of course, there is the Queen.

As is clear from the above explanation, the Indian democratic system is a spin-off from the British democratic system. We have two houses of Parliament, Lok Sabha & Rajya Sabha. Even their names are plain translations of their British counterparts. But what our founding fathers missed out was, that it is not such a simple model to scale.

India is a diverse country. Even the Indian Constitution acknowledges this diversity of cultures, regions and religions in India. However, it is this diversity that is being exploited by politicians and political parties of the day to their profit.

Let me pull up some statistics from the last general elections held in 2004(data from Election Commission’s report on 2004 elections).

1. Number of participating political parties : 230
2. Size of electorate (eligible voters) : 67,14,87,930
3. Voter turnout : 58.07%
4. Number of candidates : 5435

It gets more interesting now..

Performance(seats contested) :-
1. National Parties – Contested 1351 Won 364 Percentage 26.94%
2. State Parties – Contested 801 Won 159 Percentage 19.85%
3. Registered(unrecognized) Parties – Contested 898 Won 15 Percentage 1.67%

Performance(% of votes polled):-
1. National Parties – 62.89%
2. State Parties – 28.90%
3. Registered(unrecognized) Parties – 3.96%

The one factor I’ve left out here are the independent candidates, as I wanted to focus more on the parties. If you see the percentages of seats won, the numbers of national & regional parties are quite close (26.94% as compared to 19.85%). Now see the number of votes polled in favor of these parties and the huge gap becomes visible – national parties have 35% more votes polled for them as compared to the regional parties!!

Now for some data on the parties who were key players in the confidence vote held yesterday:

1. INC – Our ruling party, the congress that also heads the UPA with the maximum number of seats. Their 2004 elections stats are the best of the lot : Contested 417 Won 145 Votes% 26.53%
2. BJP – The main opposition party, also heads the NDA (now defunct alliance 😉 ) that was in power before 2004. Their election stats: Contested 364 Won 138 Votes% 22.16%
3. Left Parties (CPI + CPM) – They were comrades in arms of the UPA till the 123 dance began. Then pulled out support and caused the confidence vote to happen. Their combined stats : Contested 34(CPI) + 69(CPM) Won 53 Votes% 7.07%

So effectively, a set of parties who have polled only 7% of the vote managed to destablize the government. But this has happened before as well, parties that have a small vote share have time and again proven their mettle at destablizing governments.

The question now is, should these parties even be in the parliament?

The stature of a political party (national/state) is decided by its presence in states and also by the number of constituencies where it is fielding it candidates. This is the reason why parties like CPI, CPM and BSP are classified as national parties and not regional/state parties. But if detailed numbers are seen, their voting percentages are strong in only a handful of states and very weak in most others(as also apparent by the overall percentages). A national party, by definition, should be one that represents the interests of the nation and not a particular state. Consider the data for BSP(Bahujan Samaj Party) in this regards:

Classification – National
Stats – Contested 435 Won 19 Win% 4.37% Votes% 5.33%
Seat division by state – Uttar Pradesh – 19

So, all 19 seats that BSP won were in UP. Even though it clearly represents only one state, the 2004 election commission report lists it as a National Party!

Most of the parties sitting in the Parliament today have no concern about the nation. Parties like TRS(demanding a separate Telangana state), BSP(it won all its seats only in one state), JMM(demand for a separate Jharkhand that has now been granted) and so on, are all regional parties. Even the CPI + CPM have won seats only in 5 states. It is the INC(Congress) & BJP who have won seats in more than 10 states & UTs.

For the last 10 years, Indian Parliament has seen one coalition after another. Be it the NDA, UPA or whatever, coalition politics seems to be the way forward for our democracy. But is it a healthy way forward?

The whole point of electing a party to power is that the masses believe in the party’s manifesto, and want it to implement the same. A coalition puts restrictions on parties implementing their manifestos. This was clear during the rule of the BJP led NDA, and now during the Congress led UPA, where smaller parties who have the critical 20 odd seats hold the government to ransom. And if the government does not yield to their demands, they withdraw support from the government, leaving the nation to witness desecration of the holiest institution of democracy, the parliament.

The nations progress will be slowed down if we allow coalition politics to rule the roost. Hence, I propose a radical, yet simple solution.

Only parties that have over 10% of national vote share in an election should be allowed to contest elections for the Parliament. Of course, independent candidates should still be allowed, but parties who have representation of one/few states should be limited to playing at the state level only. This will ensure that India has stable governments who are able to rule by their party’s agenda, and the Indian public has a clear choice when they go to vote at the general elections. As of 2004, there were an average of 10 candidates per constituency. If what I suggest here is implemented, there will be two candidates from national parties, and the others independents. This will make the choice of the electorate much simpler.

What this will also do is give India a clear direction when it comes to issues of foreign policy, financial policy, home affairs & defense policy. Also, it will ensure that a government lasts for its full term, and that parliamentary sessions are productive. With a stable, single party government, Indian democracy will finally be the voice of the nation that it serves.

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