All losers? It’s time to rethink the first-past-the-post system
We need to find a way to remedy the current unfair calling of voters lists. It comes across as an untrustworthy method based entirely on political machinations, under-the-table dealings, and a game of winning instead of representing.
In almost every election, from national, state, local, or even office-level government, one has to play the game of dirty crafts to get a significant vote share in the election. Due to the nature of Indian democracy, votes are cast in caste and religion.
The system currently in place is called the first past the post system (SMU). The candidate with a diversity or plurality of votes is elected. The candidate does not need to have a majority. They just need to have more votes than all the other candidates for the same seat. So if there are four strong candidates with an equal chance of getting representation, the votes are divided into four. The winner could be someone with, say, 26% of the vote; the other candidates having obtained more than 20% have no chance of seeing the grids of the zilla parishad, the municipality, the Assembly or the Parliament.
As a result, political parties present candidates who do not alienate the majority of voters. Since Dalits, Adivasis and women candidates are unlikely to win, parties are discouraged from fielding candidates from minority groups outside the reserved seats.
Under such intense representation protocols, the vote share must be co-opted for a single candidate to win. Thus, disguised transactions are made without the poor voter having the slightest idea of the fate of his vote.
The nature of this politics is such that even notable leaders have been defeated due to the communal division of votes under the SMU system. Even the greatest ruler of his time, Dr. Ambedkar, could not see the doors of the Lok Sabha.
We need to review our electoral model. Are we still following the model of unrepresentative government where its vote share may not be a majority? Take, for example, the BJP in 2014. The party only achieved a 31% vote share, the lowest percentage of any party to win majority seats. How is that democratic? According to the SMUT, the vote share does not correspond to the representation in the seats. If, for example, a party obtains more than 15% of the vote, this does not necessarily reflect its share of seats in Parliament or the Assembly.
EMS can work well in small countries with manageable election logistics. In India, this is not a viable option. The goal of the SMU was to have a two-party system, with smaller minority parties not being troublesome coalition partners. But Indian elections since 1952 have undergone massive social changes. This contributed to each caste political system reclaiming its share, giving rise to coalition governments, thus going against the SMU maxim.
Ideally, people should vote for their candidates. But it does happen in rare circumstances. Local leaders piggyback on national leaders in their election campaigns.
It is only fair to require parties to be represented in Parliament or the Assembly according to their share of the vote. Having a significant vote and not being represented in the House defeats the purpose of voters who voted for their party. If the party loses, does that mean its votes are lost?
Ideally, as seen in the UK and Canada, where EMS operates, the MP is accountable to his constituency. In India, where even a small parliamentary constituency has a population of 1.5 to 2.5 million, it is a stronghold of feudal Indian politics. MPs can also leave their party in the interests of their constituents in the above-mentioned countries. In India, the anti-defection law makes it harder for the candidate to stand with their constituents and instead follow the dictates of their leaders.
Small parties must exist as legitimate partners in Indian electoral politics. However, due to the current system, they are forced either to be co-opted or to align themselves with national party interests, defeating the purpose of federalism and local self-government. The BJP, with its majority, has a responsibility to its citizens. They can correct the current fallout. Today they are in power. Tomorrow they could fight. Thus, a method combining EMS and proportional representation must be mapped out for the health of Indian republicanism.
(Suraj Yengde, the author of Caste Matters, runs the fortnightly “Dalitality” column)