The Maharashtra Mess of October-November 2019 is yet another evidence that not everything is right about Indian democracy. Call it democrazy, if you will.
But wait, aren’t we given to understand that INDIA IS …:
a land of 5,000-year-old great civilization, deep philosophy and spirituality
the world’s largest democracy
an IT superpower
a wannabe global economic superpower aiming for a $5 trillion GDP by 2024
Oh, come on. Maharashtra 2019 is the latest instance that highlights the flaws that bedevil the “largest democracy”: majoritarianism reigns; people’s mandate gets overshadowed by number-games relating to number of seats won – there is no correlation between the two: power is grossly disproportionate to the mandate received (check the table below).
Number of registered voters in Maharashtra for Oct. 2019 assembly elections:
89.7 million (46.8 million men; 42.8 million women; 2,634 transgender voters)
61.3%, down from 63.3% in 2014
Vote share of the four major parties and others, relative to the previous general election in 2014
To start with: not all citizens vote. Only 61.3% was the turnout in Oct 2019, the lowest in five years.
Why can’t the IT superpower empower citizens to vote securely from anywhere using mobile-tech?
Citizens love to take to social media, etc, to criticize and troll governments, political parties, bureaucracy, politicians, policies, etc.
Why don’t they vote well, and give a clear mandate?
Pre-poll alliances based on ideologies and manifestos, which are responsible for voters’ support, suddenly become inconsequential after the results are announced.
Even if some government is formed by cobbling together a post-poll coalition of convenience, can it be considered legitimate, in terms of having people’s mandate in the “largest democracy”? Is this democracy? When the necessary technology is already available, why are not voters consulted after the election on the way forward? Is vote in a general election a carte blanche, a license to forge any post-poll coalition just to grab power, irrespective of idealogies and manifestos? Look at the seat-share and vote-share of independents and smaller parties! The data table above should make India think hard, think deep.
So should the tendency of mainstream TV news channels to trivialize, well, news -- is a democracy-destructive episode like Maharashtra an entertainment event that even panelists have to sing Bollywood songs to describe it, as if those hideous cartoon-animation parodies are not doing enough damage already?
Indeed, it is time to think hard, think deep. Like:
How the Maharashtra Mess of November 2019 could have been handled better; or, better still, how it could have been avoided in the first place:
1) Ballot paper should enable the voter to indicate his/her preference as to whom or which party the elected representative should support in the event of post-results impasse or stalemate.
2) Governor/President should act not in isolation or vacuum but factor in the changing, up-to-the-minute dynamics of the larger ecosystem. For example: On Nov 23, when Ajit Pawar submitted a letter with 54 signatures, Maharashtra Governor should have checked with NCP boss Sharad Pawar, given that on the previous night, the NCP had already announced that Uddhav T of the Shiv Sena will be the new CM. A good practice would be for the legislature party (group of MLAs) concerned to first pass a resolution to support another party. Only then should the legislature party leader (leader of party's elected representatives) have the right to submit a letter to Governor offering support to another party. The process of establishing authenticity of signature, documents, etc, should be transparent, accountable and fool-proof, with no scope of individual discretion or subjective interpretations of rules and laws at any level.
3) All post-poll alliances that are opportunistic and run contrary to pre-poll alliances/coalitions, manifestos and ideologies should be banned, if they are forged only to form the next government.
4) No post-poll / post-results defections (support to other parties arbitrarily) should be allowed at both individual and collective level, be it one-third or two-third of a party's elected representatives. Such defections should necessarily be preceded by resignations and fresh elections.
5) On Nov 23, 24 or 25, Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress-I should have brought all their MLAs collectively at one place and organized national live coverage, clearly establishing each MLA's identity and their voluntary (coercion-free) allegiance to the coalition, thereby calling BJP-Ajit bluff, if they really had the numbers. Although this may not have any legal validity, any subsequent volte-face by any MLA during the floor-test would have exposed them.
6) In a context like that of Nov 2019 Maharashtra, There is no need for floor-test in the first place, given the technologies available to collect just 288 votes instantly. Either the Governor or the Assembly Secretariat, or the National Home Secretary, or the State Home Secretary, or the Pro-tem Speaker could have done this in a jiffy. Such votes can still be secret, using encryption, bio-metric and QR/bar codes. Or, as the Supreme Court ruled later, key votes like those cast in a critical floor test need not be secret, to strengthen democracy.
7) Supreme Court could have simply checked two facts instantly with state Governor: A) Whether or not the 54 NCP MLAs' signatures submitted to Governor on Nov 23 are authentic, and for the express purpose of extending support to the BJP. B) Whether or not it was essential for the floor-test to be put off till Nov 30 rather than being held instantly/immediately. It’s just a matter of a telephone call or a video-conference. Use the technology available. In the 21st-century digitalized world, things need to be infinitely quick, especially in matters relating to safeguarding of democracy.
8) The floor test should be transparent, with no scope for hanky-panky, violence, bedlam. Not voice vote, not vote by raising hand, but electronic vote, with no abstentions, NOTA, etc, and without any hacking of or tampering with EVMs. Unless dead, every MLA/MP has to cast vote in a confidence vote, irrespective of his physical location. For this, technology should be used. And the votes thus cast in a floor test should be non-secretive, but subject to party whip. And any lawmaker/elected representative defying the party whip should individually explain the reasons for his/her choice, and subject himself/herself to recall decision by the electorate concerned.
9) Like in a referendum, people should get a second chance to vote in case of an impasse / stalemate / hung assembly/parliament.
Actually, mass-scale voting should be made simple, inexpensive, easy to organize at short notice, using available technologies. No need for elaborate logistics, canvassing, etc. Just use mobile tech, bio-metric, QR code, bar code, etc, or come up with some innovative fool-proof tech that involves no more than a simple (landline) telephone call, not even internet, not even mobile phone.
10) Decisions needs to be quick, including court judgement. Updating of records has to be expedited. Judges should upgrade their skills and knowledge on an ongoing basis even as they stick to established practices, precedents, past judgements as reference points. In a case like that of Maharashtra in November 2019, they should track the goings-on on an ongoing basis, to understand the specific context, and not try to generalize excessively. Only then can the judgement truly reflect truth. All laws need to be re-written in ‘lite’ version – in simple language so even a common citizen could understand. And they need to be updated, to be in tune with the 21st-century realities. That’s the job of lawmakers and the judiciary.
Is it time to rethink and recast the flawed type of Indian democracy?
In our Natter sessions, we brainstorm on such questions that every right-thinking citizen should ponder, and explore ways of fixing this kind of mess once and for all.