“If Voting Could Change Anything, It Would’ve Been Illegal”: Is Democracy A Good Idea?

Posted on September 8, 2015 in Politics

By Priyanjana Roy Das:

As Lincoln suggested and as we learned, “Democracy is of the people, for the people, by the people”. This has been confirmed by some as the best definition of democracy. Moving into the nitty-gritty of it, democracy essentially has a few characteristic features:

1. Free and fair elections.
2. Representation of people
3. A better structure of the government
4. Protects human rights and liberties

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

We have all been taught at some point or the other about the goodness of democracy and, how it brings justice and liberty to its citizens. We have not moved beyond it to discover a system or a model which is more acceptable and inclusive because democracy, in its definition, feeds itself as the best form of government any government must fight to establish and practice.

Considering the case of India. We have fought our way to establish democracy that is representative of the views of our people. Recently I saw a poster in one of the protests in Davos, Switzerland, which said “if voting could change anything, it would have been illegal”. It is an extremely cynical take on democracy to begin with. What could possibly be wrong with the best form of government? And what could be so wrong with voting, for which we had to fight our way out of colonialism, and which is necessarily the essence of a democratic government?

The election commission, an independent body, is responsible for conducting the free and fair elections in a vast country like India. However, the findings of last Lok Sabha elections will tell us how the elections, even if free, are most definitely not fair.

Even after having a prescribed limit on spending by Election Commission in the Representation of People Act, the estimated amount of money spent by the government, the candidates and the parties in the last Lok Sabha election according to Centre for Media Studies was nothing less than 30,000 crore rupees, of which official spending by government and parties was only 8000 crores rupees. We have an ocean of black money circulating in the political nexus, and while some turn to bribes others turn to distributing liquor during elections. In India, elections, are nothing short of a festival. The candidates become gods for some and demons for few. The menace of this huge amount of black money cannot be curbed and controlled by the Election Commission of India alone. It would include syncing the audit standards of various acts like the IT Act, the FEMA, the Companies Act, the Prevention of money laundering Act, Banking regulations Act, the Cooperative Society laws, with the Representation of People Act. It would also need the political will and citizen participation to transform, and curb the circulation and transaction of illegal funds of the political parties. With a system of election which is so discrete in its funding process, democracy definitely is not very reliable.

As far as representation goes, our members in the largest house, i.e., the Lok Sabha, are elected by the first-past-the-post system. The problem with this system is that majority of people do not find representation. The elected candidate is the one who has the majority support from a particular constituency, and the person with a minority support or a person holding a different viewpoint will be left out in this system of representation. By this logic, democracy is not the most representative system form of government. It is often a certain section of the society that influences the formation of government while other sections are left without representation.

And again, when the elections are finally over and the government is formed, they stay for a good five years with privileges and some immunity. In the meantime, some candidates prefer to work for the interests of all while others  prefer to work on their next election, and only keep their vote bank satisfied. For the former section, to get a bill passed, again needs approval of the majority of the house. If the government formed has a clear majority in the house the probability of getting a bill passed in the interest of sections with little representation becomes a difficult situation to surpass.

Democracy gives us a better structure of government is what some people like to believe and argue. Undeniably, it does provide us with a system of executive, judiciary and legislature which ensures that checks and balances are in place. We have independent bodies like the UPSC and the Election Commission, the CAG to further strengthen the system of checks and balances. But despite these measures, we have fissures in the system. This also is not something which is a distinguishing characteristic of democracy alone.

I have encountered a viewpoint often, which says, a majority party rule of a government helps in taking political discussions faster, getting bills passed quickly and helps in faster economic development and growth. This however holds true to some extent but it is not representative of everyone’s view, and it is not a benefit provided by a democratic form of government alone. Most autocratic governments would reach a consensus earlier and get projects approved faster. They will also not hesitate in using force to ensure their implementation. I am not speaking in favour of an autocratic government here, but trying to convey that certain benefits are not provided by democracy alone.

Democracy claims to accommodate various viewpoints and ensures to extend human rights and protection to everybody in the state. Here in India, we have a democracy that boasts of being highly representative of all sections of the people in the country, of securing social and welfare needs of the state, of extending the right of judicial justice to everyone and of providing rights to its citizens’. However we are a very young democracy and our democracy has not reached the sweet spot yet- there are still underdeveloped rural areas, cartoonists are still being sent to jail for expressing dissent through art, media houses are owned by the biggest corporate houses, people still live on the streets, bereft of hope, devoid of rights and most importantly, we still have a judiciary which is accused of being corrupt.

Our democracy is young and we should experiment with it, focusing on participative democracy- a democracy which is accommodating of all the citizens, that does not get threatened by the rise of population of a minority community, that holds elections without having a whole parallel economy being involved in the process. What we must be looking at is not democracy alone but at ‘inclusive democracy’. We must aim for a country that represents the minority that gets left out in the first-past-the-post system, where the parliamentary majority passes bills in securing the interest of the minority community, where dissent is tolerated and heard, and a country that along with passing bills on gender equality also includes women’s participation in the parliament, without bias or alternate representation. What we need to look at is a country without the fear of the fallouts of democracy, a country that understands the fissures of Indian democracy and attempts at correcting it.