5 Birthday Gifts We Must Give Our Constitution

Posted by Avinash Tavares in Politics, Society, Staff Picks
January 29, 2018

This has been a tragic week for our democracy. The week started off with the Karni Sena going on a rampage – terrorising children and burning theatres, shops and everything else that lay in their path. At the same time, we all saw our Prime Minister speak proudly of India’s diversity.

In the period before January 25, the Karni Sena continued to terrorise parts of north India, while the middle class celebrated the release of the movie “Padmaavat” (on January 25). I wonder how many people can see the causality between who we voted for and the rise of the Karni Sena.

Anyway, recently, it has dawned on me that our Constitution is a living entity which is growing, evolving and maturing just like a human being. But like many Indians, I had a dry academic sentiment towards the Consitution and the Republic Day.

Since the next day is my birthday, as a child, the holiday on January 26 was a day on which my relatives would visit and give me birthday gifts. As an adult, I still get birthday wishes, but I don’t get any gifts – just like our Constitution. This made me wonder – what would be the best gift to give our 68-year-old Constitution?

I guess the best gift we can give her is a government that respects her. Many would ask – aren’t we doing that already? We are trying, but the inherent flaws in the electoral system have allowed a bunch of people who, in my opinion, despise our Constitution and still form democratically-elected governments. The solution to these flaws will be the ultimate gifts we can give our beloved Constitution.

After thinking long and hard, I have created a list of five such gifts. They are all available with one authority – the Election Commission of India (ECI). But all of us will need to pitch in to have them granted.

1. Compulsory Counting Of VVPAT Paper Ballots

The ECI is shying away from counting the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) ballots of every booth in an election. Like many other engineers, I have no doubt that the EVM machines can be manipulated. There are many theories on how this can be done.

The ECI, on the other hand, has taken a hilarious, almost cult-like dogmatic stance concerning the incorruptibility of EVM machines. In my opinion, this has raised further doubts and apprehensions.

The easiest solution to this is that, on the voting day, both the EVMs and the paper ballots from all the booths have to be counted. This will help eliminate the drawbacks of relying solely on EVMs or the traditional paper ballots. It may take a day or two to count the paper ballots – but isn’t our democracy worth it?

2. Setting Fixed Timelines For The Election Schedule

Every election, the numbers of days between the declaration of the election dates and the actual date of voting is shrinking. For instance, during the 2017 Goa elections, the candidates got just 15 days to campaign, between the date of scrutiny (January 19, 2017) and the date of voting (February 4, 2017).

Independent candidates suffer the most since it takes at least 3-5 days after the scrutiny to get their symbols and print the handouts with the symbols. It is almost impossible to cover an entire constituency in such a short time.

The ECI has to come up with a fixed schedule which ideally gives Lok Sabha candidates a minimum of four weeks between the day of scrutiny and the counting of votes. Vidhan Sabha candidates should ideally have at least three weeks here. Candidates in the local body elections need at least two weeks between the day of scrutiny and the day of the counting of votes. Otherwise, there’s a high possibility that only the party candidates with the most wealth, power and media influence will win the elections.

Our Constitution really needs these gifts if it wants to sustain Indian democracy. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

3. Linking Voter Cards To Biometrics

Another issue which has been plaguing our electoral system is duplicate voters. In 2015, an estimated 85 million voter names were found to be either fake or duplicate. The new Election Commissioner recently stated that he favours the linking of Aadhar card to the voter card. However, I believe that linking Aadhaar to the voter’s card will create a major security risk.

There is another safer solution. Biometric registration of voters has already been implemented in countries like Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Peru, Mozambique and several others. If India has to catch up, the ECI should launch a smart card-based voters’ ID which stores the biometric information on the card itself, in addition to a central database.

The central database must have two functions:

1. To ensure that no duplicate voters are registered.

2. To feed information into card-reading machines which will be used at every booth to verify the voter’s card. The voter’s information in the card-reading machine must be limited to the one which is in the designated booth.

At the time of voting, the card should be scanned in order to verify the voters. No biometric data should be scanned at the time of voting. This ensures that every voter who has the smart voting card will be able to vote. The booth officials won’t have to face issues like failed internet connections or failed biometric scans or even the manual entry of voter names on paper slips.

4. Stop Gerrymandering And Make Delimitation Transparent

Another major fraud committed against voters is the process of manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favour one party or class. This is called gerrymandering.

During the process of delimitation, each constituency should ideally also be a geographically-compact area – with administrative units, facilities of communication and public convenience.  If you look at the maps of the constituencies in Goa, you’ll find many constituencies that are stretched vertically or horizontally. These are not compact areas. The issues faced by villages at one end are very different from the issued faces by villages at the other end.

Gerrymandering is often done to dilute the influence of a particular community or group while creating a majority vote base. It’s very easy to spot gerrymandering just by the distorted shape of individual constituencies. It’s often seen that gerrymandering is particularly prevalent before every municipal and panchayat election, where the ruling state governments are often seen to have extensive influence over the state election commissions.

In certain cases, families living next door have been separated into two different wards. There is a need for transparency and public participation in the delimitation process to stop gerrymandering.

5. Implementing The Preferential Voting System

The Modi-Amit Shah juggernaut won the 2014 Lok Sabha election by just winning 31% of the votes of the Indian electorate. Even though they have won many states since then, their vote share has remained roughly the same.

It’s my belief that such governments are not representative of the whole population. Giving absolute power to a government supported by less than one-third of the population is one of the cardinal sins that we (as a country) are committing.

I don’t think that people always vote for the person who they know is the best candidate. A voter might vote for their relative or for a candidate who shares the same religion or caste. They may also vote because the candidate helped the voter or a family member get a government job. They may even have been paid by the candidate for their vote.

I don’t believe that parties like the BJP aspire to win 100% of the votes. In my opinion, their campaign is primarily focused on winning 35% of the votes in every constituency. Their secondary campaign is focused on dividing the other 65%, so that no one party gets more than 35% votes. They do this by fielding as many candidates as possible. These people may belong to different religions and castes. They may even field rebels from other parties in order to divide their opponents’ votes. Here, even a 3-5% shift in votes is sufficient to guarantee a win.

The current electoral system, with all the flaws mentioned above, is not equipped counter this strategy and ensure a free and fair election. In my opinion, the only solution to this problem is the implementation of the preferential voting system.

Preferential voting is a system of voting in which voters indicate their first, second, and lower choices among the several candidates contesting in a constituency. If no candidate receives a majority, the second choices are added to the first choices, until one candidate has a majority. With this system, even if the voter is obligated to vote for a candidate other than the deserving candidate, they have the opportunity to vote for the deserving candidate as their second preference. In this way, political parties who use dirty tricks to divide voters will not be able to easily guarantee a win anymore. The system has been successfully implemented in countries like Australia.

The system may appear complicated at first – but I believe that a country that has implemented complicated systems like the EVM and the Aadhaar can surely implement this system. The ECI has already experimented with this system in the recent MLC elections in December 2017.

I think that within the next 10 years, the ECI has to implement the preferential voting system in order to ensure that candidates who get elected are preferred by more than 50% of the voters – and therefore, only the most popular governments are formed.

If you share my views, please share them with others so that we the people can strengthen our democracy together and truly celebrate the birthday of our beloved Constitution.


Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images