Friday, May 30, 2014
Let us think and Act with an Open Mind to
Develop a Vibrant Democracy – Article 1
Introduction: I have identified thirty obstacles which cause a distorted and ineffective democracy and possible solutions for these. Because very few people have time / inclination to read long articles, these are presented in separate brief articles for pointed attention and easier assimilation. I hope this will lead to spreading of awareness and facilitating point by point debate on each of these for saving our sinking democracy.
(Please keep these articles within easy reach for referring back till the series is completed.)
Eligible voters: For good reasons, only adults are allowed to vote in elections to Parliament, Assemblies, Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samithi, Zilla Parishad and Municipalities / Corporations (the pillars of our democracy). But this leaves out a large percentage of our population which unfortunately includes many teenagers who are (unlike in the past) more capable of balanced thinking and energetic action to safeguard democracy than a much larger number of adults, particularly among lakhs of illiterates. Lack of balanced thinking among most eligible voters is forcefully brought out by the Press Council of India Chairperson Justice Markandey Katju’s statements: “Ninety percent Indians vote in droves like sheep and cattle”,…many are ”voting along caste and religious lines.”….many say “I won’t vote because my vote is meaningless.” (Deccan Chronicle dated 31-03-13, page 6). What is worse, many voters are only interested in selling their votes and making a mockery of democracy. This has been emphasized by the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare: “It often happens that after facing injustice, people decide to teach [parties] a lesson in the elections. However, they forget to do so after being treated to a party at a dhaba or after getting a Rs.200 or Rs.500 note.” (The Hindu dated 18-03-14)
A large proportion of educated adults do not vote probably because their votes are meaningless in the context of the overwhelming 90 % who vote in droves or sell their votes without any intention of safeguarding democracy. Callousness or laziness may also play a part. Further, there are errors in voters’ lists (both human and manipulated) which distort elections. Sad to say, effective attempts have not been made to overcome this dismal state of voting, even after about 65 years.
Absence of the truly democratic and sensible right to reject all candidates when none are suitable had swelled the group of uninterested voters. The NOTA option recently allowed by the Supreme Court (SC) order may not change the situation. Those who do not vote because they feel their vote is meaningless (because of the reasons explained above) or out of callousness or laziness may not come forward to exercise the NOTA option. They cannot be blamed because the SC order does not lead to rejection of the election even when NOTA voters form the majority!! In other words NOTA option, which should have been respected as peoples’ voice, has become meaningless. Only a guarantee from the Election Commission that such a clear expression of peoples’ rejection of all unsuitable candidates by majority of voters will lead to fresh election in which the rejected candidates cannot take part will help to get over the feeling of meaninglessness of NOTA.
It is pertinent that while the non-voting group may or may not exercise NOTA option, those who vote in droves or sell their votes will not exercise the NOTA option because they are influenced by other factors and are not at all bothered about safeguarding democracy. The fact is that both these voting groups together form a large proportion of actual voters and will vitiate the aim of elections even with NOTA provision.
To sustain a vibrant democracy, quality of voters is much more important than extent of coverage of multiform adult population.
Inability to confine voting to only voters who are interested in safeguarding democracy and to make them vote is the first obstacle which has resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.
[Note: Since information about elections to the three tiers of Pamchayat Raj institutions is not well publicized, the above remarks about proportions may not be fully relevant for these.]
The main reason for including uninterested and unsuitable voters is blind enforcement of the adult franchise requirement, even when all adults are not interested in voting or are not capable of making proper independent choice. To overcome this to a large extent, while preparing voters’ lists, it should be ascertained from each adult whether he / she wants to exercise his / her night to vote or not, after the responsibility of a voter is explained to him / her. Those who do not want to vote should be considered ineligible for voting by their own choice and asked to sign an affidavit in a prescribed form as a record of their voluntary rejection of their right to vote. A copy of the affidavit should be given to such persons to avoid doctoring of the list. However, chance should be given to withdraw this affidavit during any subsequent revision of voters’ lists.
The remaining interested voters with confirmed eligibility should be told that voting is not only their right but also their responsibility to elect suitable representatives and that if they do not perform their responsibility without valid reasons their right will be withdrawn. Similarly, if there is sufficient reason to believe that a voter has “sold” the vote or has voted in droves, he / she should be educated about the harmful effect of this wrong action and warned not to repeat it. In both cases, the relevant fact should be entered in the list and his / her signature obtained. In case they repeat either of these twice (i.e., the third time), their names should be deleted when revising the voters’ lists. However, they should be given a right to appeal to safeguard against misuse or genuine mistakes.
The above modifications are based on two principles: (1) no right can be thrust upon an uninterested person and then blame him if he does not exercise it and (2) no right is absolute and can be withdrawn if the responsibility arising from this right is not fulfilled or the manner of exercising the right invalidates the reason for giving this right. However, any voter should have the truly democratic and sensible right to really reject all candidates when none are suitable (not notionally as per Supreme Court judgment). Till then non-voter’s name should not be deleted.
As stated earlier, confining eligibility to adults only will exclude a large number of younger persons who are capable of balanced thinking and energetic action to safeguard democracy because of modern (technological) advances in education and knowledge environment. To reduce such illogical exclusions, eligibility should be extended to all those who have completed 15 years of age (United Nations, World Health Organization, China and Australia have fixed the lower limit of age for youth as 15 years.) A better alternative is a lower limit of 14 years because a child is defined as below 14 years for child labour. Among the so defined age group (15+ or 14+), eligibility should be confirmed only for those who have expressed their interest in voting, after the responsibility of a voter is explained to them.
It is a pity that even after more than 65 years, most voters do not have the bend of mind and capacity to use their franchise independently and effectively to develop a sound democracy (resulting in 90% voting in droves or large numbers selling votes – see paragraph 1 of this Article). Most likely, they will not be able to develop these capacities for many more years, in the absence of any mission to rectify matters. Therefore, should we not seriously think with an open mind about other options for exercising peoples’ voice effectively? This aspect will be further explored in later articles.
Amendment of the Constitution will be necessary to introduce these changes in the system.
Comments (especially those which point out errors or deficiencies, if any, in this article and thereby help to improve it) and other suggestions to overcome this obstacle are welcome. Please send these to StartRemovingBlocks@gmail.com. I shall make use of all befitting suggestions to prepare the last two articles of this series – Articled 23 will spell out the basic principles which will guide formulation of the reformed system of democracy and Article 24 will outline the reformed system of democracy for public debate to arrive at a consensus.