Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dear fellow citizens,

Our democracy has become an object of ridicule. Only if we become active and put our heads and shoulders together we can save our democracy.

YES.  WE CAN.   If we believe in this and act with conviction.

In doing so with conviction, let us be guided by the following thoughts also:
1. Have vision: A blind person asked Swami Vivekananda: Can there be anything worse than losing eye sight?"   He replied: "Yes, losing your vision!"
2. Be bold: “Boldness has genius, power and magic in it” - Goethe

3. Learn from history: “Never forget that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; it is the only way that ever does.”  -  Margaret Mead

4. Make efforts: “There can be efforts that fail but there should not be a failure of efforts”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Anonymous
5. Have an ethics of care: “Developing an ethics of care for the suffering millions will not clash                with your legitimate self interests and will make you happy.” -  Anonymous

I am reproducing below the first article in a series of 22 articles entitled “Let us think and Act with an open mind to Develop a Vibrant Democracywhich draw attention to 30 obstacles which cause a distorted and ineffective democracy and possible solutions for these. You can help to save democracy by making as many people as possible aware of these obstacles and possible solutions, through e-mail and social media like face book and twitter so that we can have healthy debates and arrive at some innovative ideas to save our democracy.

Making use of some of these innovative ideas, I intend to finish this series with two more articles - Articled 23 will spell out the basic principles which will guide formulation of the reformed system of democracy and Article 24 will outline the reformed system of democracy for public debate to arrive at a consensus.
A citizen who cares

Note: Evolving ideas to save democracy after debates on these 22 articles will take some months. To immediately save democracy to some extent, I hope you will actively support the two suggestions given at the end of Article 1 for voting during 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Let us think and Act with an open mind to
Develop a Vibrant Democracy – Article 1

Introduction: I have identified thirty obstacles which cause a distorted and ineffective democracy and possible solutions for these. Because very few people have time / inclination to read long articles, these are presented in separate brief articles for pointed attention and easier assimilation. I hope this will lead to spreading of awareness and facilitating point by point debate on each of these for saving our democracy.
(Please keep these articles within easy reach for referring back till the series is completed.)

Eligible voters: For good reasons, only adults are allowed to vote in elections to Parliament, Assemblies, Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samithi, Zilla Parishad and Municipalities / Corporations (the pillars of our democracy). But this leaves out a large percentage of our population which unfortunately includes many teenagers who are (unlike in the past) more capable of balanced thinking and energetic action to safeguard democracy than a much larger number of adults, particularly among lakhs of illiterates. Lack of balanced thinking among most eligible voters is forcefully brought out by the Press Council of India Chairperson Justice Markandey Katju’s statements: “Ninety percent Indians vote in droves like sheep and cattle”,…many are ”voting along caste and religious lines.”….many say “I won’t vote because my vote is meaningless.” (Deccan Chronicle dated 31-03-13, page 6). What is worse, many voters are only interested in selling their votes and making a mockery of democracy. This has been emphasized by the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare: “It often happens that after facing injustice, people decide to teach [parties] a lesson in the elections. However, they forget to do so after being treated to a party at a dhaba or after getting Rs.200 or a Rs .500 note.” (The Hindu dated 18-03-14)

A large proportion of educated adults do not vote probably because their votes are meaningless in the context of the overwhelming 90 % who vote in droves or sell their votes without any intention of safeguarding  democracy.  Callousness or laziness may also play a part. Further, there are errors in voters’ lists (both human and manipulated) which distort elections. Sad to say, effective attempts have not been made to overcome this dismal state of voting, even after about 65 years.

Absence of the truly democratic and sensible right to reject all candidates when none are suitable had swelled the group of uninterested voters.  The NOTA option recently allowed by the Supreme Court (SC) order may not change the situation. Those who do not vote because they feel their vote is meaningless (because of the reasons explained above) or out of callousness or laziness may not come forward to exercise the NOTA option. They cannot be blamed because the SC order does not lead to rejection of the election even when NOTA voters form the majority!! In other words NOTA option, which should have been respected as peoples’ voice, has become meaningless. Only a guarantee from the Election Commission that such a clear expression of peoples’ rejection of all unsuitable candidates  by  majority of voters will lead to fresh election in which the rejected candidates cannot take part will help to get over the feeling of meaninglessness of NOTA

It is pertinent that while the non-voting group may or may not exercise NOTA option, those who vote in droves or sell their votes will not exercise the NOTA option because they are influenced by other factors and are not at all bothered about safeguarding democracy. The fact is that both these voting groups together form a large proportion of actual voters and will vitiate the aim of elections even with NOTA provision.

To sustain a vibrant democracy, quality of voters is much more important than extent of coverage of multiform adult population.

Inability to confine voting to only voters who are interested in safeguarding democracy and to make them vote is the first obstacle which has resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.
[Note: Since information about elections to the three tiers of Pamchayat Raj institutions is not well publicized, the above remarks about proportions may not be fully relevant for these.]

The main reason for including uninterested and unsuitable voters is blind enforcement of the adult franchise requirement, even when all adults are not interested in voting or are not capable of making proper independent choice. To overcome this, while preparing voters’ lists, it should be ascertained from each adult whether he / she wants to exercise his / her night to vote or not, after the responsibility of a voter is explained to him / her. Those who do not want to vote should be considered ineligible for voting by their own choice and asked to sign an affidavit in a prescribed form as a record of their voluntary rejection of their right to vote. A copy of the affidavit should be given to such persons to avoid doctoring of the list. However, chance should be given to withdraw this affidavit during any subsequent revision of voters’ lists.

The remaining interested voters with confirmed eligibility should be told that voting is not only their right but also their responsibility to elect suitable representatives and that if they do not perform their responsibility without valid reasons their right will be withdrawn. Similarly, if there is sufficient reason to believe that a voter has “sold” the vote or has voted in droves, he / she should be educated about the harmful effect of this wrong action and warned not to repeat it.  In both cases, the relevant fact should be entered in the list and his / her signature obtained. In case they repeat either of these twice (i.e., the third time), their names should be deleted when revising the voters’ lists. However, they should be given a right to appeal to safeguard against misuse or genuine mistakes.

The above modifications are based on two principles: (1) no right can be thrust upon an uninterested person and then blame him if he does not exercise it and (2) no right is absolute and can be withdrawn if the responsibility arising from this right is not fulfilled or the manner of exercising the right invalidates the reason for giving this right. However, any voter should have the truly democratic and sensible right to really reject all candidates when none are suitable (not notionally as per Supreme Court judgment). Till then non-voter’s name should not be deleted.

As stated earlier, confining eligibility to adults only will exclude a large number of younger persons who are capable of balanced thinking and energetic action to safeguard democracy because of modern (technological) advances in education and knowledge environment. To reduce such illogical exclusions, eligibility should be extended to all those who have completed 15 years of age (United Nations, World Health Organization, China and Australia have fixed the lower limit of age for youth as 15 years.) A better alternative is a lower limit of 14 years because a child is defined as below 14 years for child labour. Among the so defined age group (15+ or 14+), eligibility should be confirmed only for those who have expressed their interest in voting, after the responsibility of a voter is explained to them.

It is a pity that even after more than 65 years, most voters do not have the bend of mind and capacity to use their franchise independently and effectively  to develop a sound democracy (resulting in 90% voting in droves or large numbers selling votes – see paragraph 1 of this Article). Most likely, they will not be able to develop these capacities for many more years, in the absence of any mission to rectify matters. Therefore, should we not seriously think with an open mind about other options for exercising peoples’ voice effectively? This aspect will be further explored in later articles.

Amendment of the Constitution will be necessary to introduce these changes in the system. Meanwhile, we can save democracy to some extent if voters apply their mind to the following aspects before casting their vote during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections:

Expertise required to win an election is different from that needed for good governance. Moreover, while the former needs capacity only for one hectic effort, the latter needs capacity for sustained efforts for many years. Another aspect is that politicians who help to win elections by mesmerizing voters by their oratory and false promises are unlikely to be effective in governance. The above lacunae explain why experts in winning elections have often failed even to make good use of a reasonably good administration system to provide good governance. An efficient voter has to watch out to prevent being duped by experts in winning elections. They should demand for facts about their capacity for good governance and merely blaming others and hate speeches should be considered as disqualifications.

All voters interested in saving democracy should use the NOTA option during the coming Lok Sabha elections as told by the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare “if they did not find a right candidate with character and clean image”(The Hindu dated 18-03-14). They should insist on fresh elections after excluding all present candidates who have been rejected by majority of voters by NOTA option. Those who want to save democracy should not only consciously use NOTA option in the coming Lok Sabha elections but also educate and motivate others to do so. During the coming election, a responsible voter should reject even right candidates if they belong to a political party which is observed to  be giving money incentives or has sponsored candidates with criminal background elsewhere. This is very important because, after election, even these “right persons” will be forced to support party interests at the cost of peoples’ interests, for example give support to the party in not punishing those who are corrupt or have misused their power to help vested interests.

Comments (especially those which point out errors or deficiencies, if any, in this article and thereby help to improve it) and other suggestions to overcome this obstacle are welcome. Please send these to I shall make use of all befitting suggestions to prepare the last two articles of this series – Articled 23 will spell out the basic principles which will guide formulation of the reformed system of democracy and Article 24 will outline the reformed system of democracy for public debate to arrive at a consensus.