Much has already been said of the essential flaws of democracy, including most famously by Britain’s all-time favourite leader, Winston Churchill that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”. Nobody will deny democracy is good, but few will ever say it is perfect. Indeed there are many serious flaws in it. By democracy we mean the political system where people are given the power to refresh the mandate of their government periodically, and thereby every one of their leaders has to work hard to earn this mandate to rule. This qualification is important, for communist governments too claim theirs is a far more meaningful democracy, capable of guaranteeing justice and equality for their people like no other. Without going into this other debate, we will restrict ourselves to discussing the form of democratic government that we understand to be a government by the people, for the people and of the people, for it is even this system which is seriously flawed. We are interested in this discussion in the wake of the pathetic dissidence movement in the Congress government in Manipur on the eve of the Assembly election next year sometime in February.
One of these flaws has been discussed quite in details, and in fact this debate resurfaces at the end of every general Parliamentary election. This flaw has to do with the question of parties winning majority seats in the Parliament without actually winning the majority votes. That is, in the Anglo-Saxon system of democracy India follows, also known as “first-past-the-post” system, a party can win majority seats in the Parliament or state legislature without winning the vote of a majority of the voters. Conversely, a party can win the votes of the majority voters without winning a single seat. Consider a party which fields a candidate in every constituency but comes second in every one of them, therefore not win a single seat. Contrast this with a party which fields only one or two candidates and wins both the seats. In the Parliament, the second party will have a presence, but the former would not. But in terms of votes polled, the former with a single seat probably would beat the latter party hands down. Is this fair? Is this democracy? This question was asked in the last Parliamentary election too, where the BJP won majority seats in the Parliament though having garnered only 31 percent of the votes. This means 61 percent voters did not vote for the BJP, yet by the system we follow, the BJP is in power.
The alternate democracy model to this “first-past-the-post” system is the one followed in continental Europe – that of “proportional representation”. Very simply, here, the voters vote for the party not individual candidates, and depending on the percentage of votes a party wins, it will be entitled to send the same percentage of deputies to the legislature. If this system had been followed in India, in the last election, because the BJP won 31 percent votes, it would have been entitled to send MP to fill only 31 percent of the seats in Parliament. However, this system too is not without its flaws. A particular constituency may not like a local politician to represent them, but if the politician’s party comes to power, they can still end up being represented by the same politician. If its flaws were to be overlooked, one attribute of this system which would have scored over the “first-past-the-post” system would be, defection rendered redundant and no MP or MLA can defect. The MPs and MLAs are mere deputies of the party they belong to, and if they are unhappy with their party, or if the party is unhappy with them, they can simply be replaced by the party with other members, without upsetting the balance in the Parliament or legislature, or threatening the fall of governments.
Witnessing what just happened in Arunachal Pradesh, and what is happening now in Manipur, where dissenting MLAs are given the power to hold Assemblies and the elected governments to ransom by their threats of despicable disloyalty, it is difficult not to wonder if the continental variety of democracy would not be better to control this selfish and immature politics. This would allow any MLA who is not happy with the political alignments or arrangements to leave at their own sweet will so that their parties can replace them with other deputies, without upsetting the functioning of the Assembly or the government.