October 26, 2014

Election Results Show Need for Radical Electoral reforms

FOLLOWING the recent elections to the state assemblies, the BJP is all set to form a government on the basis of its own strength in Haryana and a government led by it in Maharashtra. These results have come after the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) were in government for a long fifteen years and a Congress government in Haryana for two successive times lasting ten years. This has been the people’s verdict in these assembly elections which was, by far, fair and free given that there were no major complaints by any of the contesting parties. Under a democracy like ours, thus, such people’s verdict is the final authority. The Congress and the NCP fought the elections separately with the latter probably anticipating the negative fallout of the 15 year long anti-incumbency factor, apart from others. In the event, the Congress won 42 seats polling 18 percent and NCP 41 seats polling 17 percent of the votes. In Haryana, BJP procured a straight forward simple majority winning 47 out of 90 seats. The BJP seems to be by now perfecting the art of securing for itself a majority, under multi-polar electoral contests while receiving a third or less percentage of people’s support. In the Parliament election, it had won a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha polling just 31 percent of the votes cast. In Haryana, it has now won a majority by polling 33 percent of the polled vote. In Maharashtra, it has won 123 seats polling only 29 percent. “Contesting as allies, the NCP and the Congress polled 40 and 37 percent votes respectively in 2004 and 2009. This time, contesting separately, they together polled 35 percent. From 144, their seats have come down to 83, while the BJP has jumped from 46 to 123.” (The Indian Express, October 20, 2014) Such are the anomalies of the `first-past-the post’ system, which we had discussed earlier in these columns in the wake of the parliamentary elections. The urgency to enforce radical changes in our electoral system, including, moving towards a proportional representation through may be, initially, a `partial proportional representation’ system that is practiced in several western democracies today. The results of these state assemblies have, once again, underlined the urgency to initiate such reforms in order to strengthen our system of parliamentary democracy and make it truly democratic – rule of the majority. Instead, we now have continuously at the centre and in a majority of states, a situation when parties/coalitions control the government polling less votes in their favour than the votes polled against them. Such a distortion of democracy needs urgent correction. Thus, in this given situation, for the BJP leaders to claim that the `Modi wave’ has turned into a `Modi tsunami’ sounds a little hollow. Further, one shudders to comprehend the devastation to our social harmony, unity and integrity that such a `tsunami’ could cause were it to actually happen (more later). Further, these results also show that there has been a decline for the BJP, since the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP and Shiv Sena which contested Lok Sabha elections together had led in 245 of 288 assembly segments at that time. This time around, the BJP won 123 and Shiv Sena 63, together 186 in comparison. Even taking into account a highly disputed theory that together they may have won more seats, this shortfall is still significant. According to The Hindu (October 20, 2014), “The results, however, have not exactly been sweeping. Even in constituencies where Modi held huge rallies, the party could not covert them into wins. In Brahmapuri, where Modi held a rally, the Congress wrested the seat from the BJP by 14,000 votes. In Tuljapur, where Mr. Modi predicted that the NCP and the Congress would not secure more than ten votes each, the Congress comfortably managed to retain its seat.” In Kalwan constituency, the CPI(M) wrested the seat from the sitting NCP by polling 67,795 votes. The BJP polled 25,457 votes here. The claims of growing BJP support in the country needs also to be tempered by the fact that in Maharashtra, it can only form the government by forging an alliance with some other parties. The NCP, which shared power as an important ally, holding `prize’ ministries, in the UPA government headed by the Congress at the centre for long ten years, has offered an `unqualified’ (may be not an unconditional) outside support to the BJP. The Shiv Sena, which has been the longest BJP ally in the country claiming to be more committed to `Hindutva’, is in negotiations to share power in the government once again as we go to press. One need not be surprised if this materialises, irrespective of whether the whole `truth’ of the deal will be publicly known. Under these circumstances, the claims by the BJP leaders that the era of coalition is over sounds incredulous. Recollect that after the Lok Sabha elections, Modi had famously remarked that the time for coalition governments is over, now is the time for coalitions to muster a viable opposition! The BJP cannot escape from forming a coalition government in Maharashtra today, unless, of course, it indulges in the worst form of `horse-trading’ to muster a majority on its own. One indication of the sort of devastation that a `Modi tsunami’ can cause to our syncretic social order has, once again, come from its mentor, the RSS. Addressing the media at the end of a three day national council meeting of the RSS, its spokesman said, once again, despite all evidence to the contrary that appeared in the media, “Hindu samaj (society)” had been facing the “shame” of “love jihad”. On the construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya, referring to the BJP’s election manifesto, the RSS spokesperson claimed that the government would remove all obstacles to build the temple. Brushing aside all allegations of communalism, he said, “Had it been so, then the RSS would not have been able to expand its base” (The Hindu, October 21, 2014). The truth is that the RSS is “expanding its base” precisely by sharpening communal polarisation in the country. It is, thus, ably ensuring its political arm, the BJP, to reap electoral benefits by practicing the worst form of `vote bank politics’ – seeking the consolidation of the majority Hindu vote through sharpening communal polarisation. Unless resisted and resoundingly isolated, the unity and harmony of our society of rich socio-cultural-religious-linguistic diversity will be seriously threatened. The Indian people will, therefore, have to unitedly resist such an assault on the secular democratic foundations of our Republic. (October 21, 2014)