By Sumit Kumar:
Brexit, which happened as a result of a referendum, has reinforced the hollowness of the very instrument of referendum in a democratic society. A referendum is an instrument of a direct democracy in which the electorate votes directly on issues of critical importance. This is practiced in countries like the UK, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Greece and other countries. The rationale behind a referendum is that it embraces the participation of the electorate on issues and so, it embodies rule of people in the most tangible manner possible. Rightly so, a robust democracy stands on the fulcrum of people’s participation and the referendum is the most appropriate tool to assure the same.
While the tool of referendum hails the cause of public opinion and voting, it neglects the protection of minority values in it’s structure per se. Democracy does not stand solely based on the public opinion of the majority of the electorate but it also seeks to protect the rights and values of the minority communities, howsoever minuscule it may be. Even on matters like foreign policy, economic policy or any other matter which may not even seem to harm any community, in my opinion, the Indian government should never go with a referendum because I believe that people often go with rhetoric and blatant lies propagated by demagogues and end up harming themselves only to lament post-result declaration. I feel that electorates, unlike their representatives, don’t have the pragmatic knowledge on many issues and so, they end up believing and accepting what the cynical and self-driven chauvinists feed into their brains.
In the aftermath of Brexit results, Arvind Kejriwal, Chief Minister of Delhi, tweeted that he will hold a referendum on the issue of granting full statehood to his state. Though, prima facie, it does not look problematic, the fact is that a referendum has the potential to jeopardise the very structure of the Indian Constitution. The Constituent assembly did not explicitly provide for referendums in the Constitution because they knew that it would open a pandora box and peril the societal order.
For instance, imagine a situation where separatists start demanding referendums to secede from the Indian Union (as some already are) or what would happen if a referendum is conducted on the Ayodhya dispute? The result of which, I believe, would be very simple. It would disintegrate India, instigate riots, deteriorate multiplicity and much more. The socio-political literacy of a bulk of Indians are dismal and so the practice of referendum in India must be kept out of the books.
Being the Chief Minister of Delhi and an ex-IRS officer, Arvind Kejriwal should’ve thought twice before coming up with such a contentious idea.