Indian Parliamentary Elections 2009

More Mature Electorate but ....


Krishan Tyagi

Food For Thought

As India entered into 2009 elections, the political scenario in the country became dangerously vicious and poisonous.  Not only doesn’t India have a sound two‑party system required for smooth functioning of the parliamentary form of democracy, the two main electoral alliances formed around the Congress party and the BJP crumbled like sand castles. 

It started with Naveen Partnaik’s BJD in Orissa parting company with the NDA after 11 years of collaboration, and then the constant questions being asked about their other constituents’ reliability.  Spectacled leaders of Shiv Sena developed a double vision – one minute they were supporting the NDA, the next minute they wanted to support a Maharashtrian prime minister.  In Bihar, Sharad Yadav was hobnobbing with the Left while being a partner in the NDA. 

However, the real bloodletting took place in the UPA.  The alliance completely broke down in Bihar.  Sonia’s trusted ally Lalu Yadav turned into a raging bull against the Congress party.  Ram Vilas Paswan started to forget that he had supported Dr Manmohan Singh as the prime minister for the next Lok Sabha, and called him only a Congress nominee.  In Tamil Nadu, A Ramadoss broke up his PMK to have an electoral alliance with Jayalalitha’s AIADMK.  But the very next day Mr Ramadoss informs the Congress party that he would be back after the elections!  The politicians of India had no political philosophy and no principles was illustrated by no less than the very senior politician of the country – Sharad Pawar.  Mr Pawar decided to row not in two but three boats at the same time.  Of course, he was with the UPA.  But, as an aspirant to be the first Maharashtrian prime minister he was one of the main contenders for the post in the Third Front, and he was also working to bring BJD into the UPA fold!  All in all, the political formations became very fragmented and fractured.  No one knew who would support whom, and who would stab whom in the back, or rather in the chest.  The dreadful scenario of the likes of Amar Singh blackmailing the national leaders was looming large.  Given the caste and regional loyalties to this multitude of parties, it looked forming a government after the elections could prove to be an insurmountable task.  The prospect of having fresh elections soon after looked like a real possibility.

As the polling came to a close, and the results were awaited, a new game was started by the two main parties – the game to reach out to the unlikely partners.  While the BJP sent emissaries to Jayalalitha, Chandra Babu Naidu and Naveen Patnaik, the Congress party made overtures to the Left, Jayalalitha and Nitish Kumar by overlooking its own allies.  Encouraging people who won with oppositional votes to cross over was not seen as political dishonesty, but as “good management of coalitions”!  As regards principles and ethics, these elections saw Indian politician at his lowest! 

In the face of an unprecedented political unscrupulousness, no doubt, the electorate of India have shown a considerable level of maturity and have pulled the country back from the brink of a great constitutional crisis.  The people first and foremost decimated the Left who were hell bent on creating chaos and instability in the country.  Their total strength in the Lok Sabha has been reduced to 24 seats from 58 seats in 2004.  The other constituents of the Third Front, if it at all existed, were punished too for their opportunism and intended tamasha (spectacle) after the elections.  Similarly the people gave a big blow to the casteist parties.  The self-acclaimed leader of the Dalits of the country, Mayawati, who was daydreaming to be the prime minister of India, got reduced to the third place in her own state.  In the same way, the Fourth Front fell flat on its face.  Lalu, Paswan and Mulayam, who had boasted they would be netting the Yadav, Muslim and Dalit votes in northern India, found themselves in shambles.  Mulayam’s SP got reduced from 36 seats to 24 seats; Lalu’s RJD went down from 24 seats to 4 seats, and Paswan could not even save his own seat. 

So, as is being said, the electorate has behaved responsibly and has voted for performance and stability.  And, there is not much difficulty in the Congress party forming the government. 

But, as described above, the scenario could have been very different.  And, we would have had a constitutional crisis on our hands.  It has been reported that Dr Manmohan Singh was dreading the results.  President Pratibha Patil was already consulting constitutional experts to deal with the impending crisis. 

And even now, the Congress party needs at least 66 non-Congress MPs to support its government.  It may look easy to gather this number today, but who knows how the professional dissident Mamta Banerjee is going to behave in the future.  And, when it comes to the crunch, which side Sharad Pawar would take is anyone’s guess.  

We might have a bit of reprieve now, but the fact remains that since 1989, no single party has been able to gain clear majority in the Lok Sabha.  And, we cannot expect the Congress party, or any other single party, to perform always well in the elections.  We need to have a constitutional system that can deal with every political scenario in the country. 

To that end, the British model of democracy that India adopted after independence – the parliamentary form of democracy, accompanied with ‘first past the post’ method of election – is not suitable for the country. 

In scholars’ judgement, the Westminster model of democracy is only compatible with a two-party system.  Ivor Jennings, an authority on the subject, describes the British constitution as one of the strongest, if not the strongest, in the world. However, he concedes that this assumes a continuance of the two-party system: "If major parties break up, the whole balance of the constitution alters….”   That’s why the Westminster pattern of parliamentary democracy has succeeded only in countries like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, apart from Britain, all of which have a sound two-party system. Despite centuries, these countries and the United States have had strong two parties so that one or the other party represents the majority of the nation in a general election.     

Not only is India the second biggest country in the world, it is also the most diverse country in the world – with three main races, half a dozen main religions, more than fifteen major languages, and hundreds of cultural and ethnic groups.  The thinking of such a mass of diverse people towards social and public affairs cannot be confined to just no‑more‑than‑two political views on each and every issue.   The variety in people’s thinking is bound to be expressed through a variety of political parties.  Even though the casteist parties have suffered a blow in the elections this year, the politics of caste and regionalism is by no means over.  The SP and BSP are not gone, and Ajit Singh’s RLD has actually increased its strength from 3 seats in 2004 to 5 seats now.  In Maharashtra, MNS is gathering momentum.   And, in Tamil Nadu, the Dravidian politics is as strong as ever.  

So, rather than hoping against hope for the growth of just two parties in the country and the demise of the plethora of parties that have mushroomed over the past five decades, we need to devise a system wherein every political view is listened to, and a consensus, or a real majority public opinion, prevails.

For a big and diverse country like India where a multi-party scenario is natural, a combination of a presidential form of government and single transferable vote system would be the right solution.  In the presidential system, a president is elected directly by the people for a fixed term (in the US, it is four years), who appoints his own ministers to run different departments of the government.  Similarly, the parliament (lower house) is elected directly by the people for a fixed term, and, unlike the parliamentary system, it cannot be dissolved before the expiry of its term.  Under that system, politicians would still have the right to form as many parties & alliances as they like, and every political view would be heard.  

We don’t need to replicate the US model, and we can certainly improve upon that.   For instance, in the US a person can be elected as president despite getting fewer votes than his rival(s) because the election depends on the number of seats a candidate gets in the presidential electoral college.  We can ensure that not to happen through direct presidential election and single transferable vote system.  And, under the presidential system there would certainly be no need for opportunistic and dishonest alliances and coalitions.  A president normally serves his full term and is not dependent on the strength of his party in the parliament.  The biggest advantage of the presidential system is that it provides stability of government – necessary for economic, social and national growth. 

Given a better mandate for the Congress party this time, the need for changing the system of democracy might be less acute.  But the need is very much there.  There would be situations when it may not be possible for any party to form a coalition and run a government successfully.  Many of the states are constantly facing the problem of unstable governments.  We cannot afford to bury our head in the sand.  Given the reality of the Indian politics, we cannot continue clinging to the parliamentary system that breeds political dishonesty, horse-trading and corruption. 

To conclude, we should abandon ‘First Past the Post’ method and adopt Single Transferable Vote system for electing our representatives, and we must chuck out the totally unsuitable Parliamentary System of Democracy and adopt the Presidential System of Democracy.  The sooner we do it, the better.

Copyright © 2009 Krishan Tyagi. All Rights Reserved.

This article has also been published in India Link International, Jun 2009-Jul 2009





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