People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 05

February 02, 2014




For Stability and Prosperity


A Coalition of Secular Democratic Alternative

ADDRESSING the nation on the eve of the Republic Day, President Pranab Mukherjee articulated the almost universal concern in the country over the failure to meet people’s aspirations.  Hailing the establishment and evolution of Indian democracy, he said, “I am not a cynic because I know that democracy has this marvellous ability to self-correct. It is the physician that heals itself, and 2014 must become a year of healing after the fractured and contentious politics of the last few years”.

Further he added, “2014 is a precipice moment in our history. We must re-discover that sense of national purpose and patriotism, which lifts the nation above and across the abyss; and back on to the road of prosperity”. And, “This chance will not come if India does not get a stable government. This year, we will witness the 16th General Election to our Lok Sabha. A fractured government, hostage to whimsical opportunists, is always an unhappy eventuality. In 2014, it could be catastrophic. Each one of us is a voter; each one of us has a deep responsibility; we cannot let India down. It is time for introspection and action”.

Emphasising  the need for stability, the President said, “Who wins the coming election is less important than the fact that whosoever wins must have an undiluted commitment to stability, honesty, and the development of India”.  Hinting at his preferences, rightly in the interests of our country and the people, he said, “Communal forces and terrorists will still seek to destabilise the harmony of our people and the integrity of our state but they will never win”.

Thus the president laboured to reason that stability can only be achieved when the government is not “hostage to whimsical opportunists” thereby suggesting that coalitions per se can be subject to such pressures and, hence, instability.


Such a conclusion runs contrary to the experience of our parliamentary democracy for more than two decades now. Coalition governments, by the very nature of Indian politics, have become the order of the day. Often the large number of parties and contestants in the fray is making many draw conclusions of fragmentation of Indian democracy. On the contrary, the large number of  regional parties and those representing various sectional interests is only the reflection of the vast diversity of India's social reality in its polity.  This must be seen as the process of maturation, not regression, of Indian democracy.  This, however, is a nightmare for the always bewildered psephologist whose soundest prediction, reflected in the current plethora of opinion polls, now seems to be that the aggregate shall always be  the sum of the disaggregate. 


This maturation of Indian democracy needs to be accompanied by certain structural changes to enrich  the process further.  Consider the fact that only once in our history since the first general elections in 1952 has a government been formed  which commanded  over 50 per cent of the polled vote. This was when Indira Gandhi advanced the slogan of garibi hatao in 1971. All other governments at the centre had more people voting against them than supporting them. Even the Rajiv Gandhi government, with highest representation ever in the Lok Sabha, in 1984 had polled 48.1 per cent with 415 seats.  The lowest was the 1998 NDA government whose alliance polled 36.2 per cent.  In 2004, both Congress and BJP together polled only 40 per cent.  If democracy is the rule of the majority, then that has not yet been established. 


This merits a serious consideration  of the proportional representation system where people vote for the parties, who, in turn, will send to the parliament the number of MPs, on the basis of a  prior-declared prioritised  list, in proportion to votes they receive. Any government that is formed on this basis by a majority of MPs in the parliament will necessarily reflect the majority as expressed by the electorate.  This issue was seriously debated in the Constituent Assembly, but in its wisdom, it adopted the British `first past the post' system. The 1928 Motilal Nehru Committee report had, in fact,  recommended the system of proportional representation as the best answer to reflect India's social diversity. 


Often the example of Italy's governmental instability as a result of the proportional representation is advanced as an argument against this system.  But, remember, Italy has nevertheless continued to be in the G-7.  In any case, what we are witnessing since 1996 is not very much different even without proportional representation. Apart from the fact that such a system would, to a large extent, minimise compulsions of choosing candidates on the basis of the social composition of the constituency and as also the role of muscle and money power, the question whether this would adequately reflect India's diversity in the parliament needs to be properly assessed.  Every section of Indias vast diversity would naturally aspire to, indeed should, be represented in the parliament.  In the Indian context, therefore, a combination of proportional representation with the present form may be ideal. This could be done, for instance, by clubbing two adjoining constituencies where people, with two votes, vote for individual candidates as well as the parties. 


An additional advantage of this system would be the prescription of a minimum percentage of the national vote required for parties to send their representatives  to the parliament as per the submitted list.  They, of course, can be represented by individual candidates who may win.  In the coalition era, this would be of immense relief to foil unreasonable pressures and demands, or, as the president says, being hostage to whimsical opportunists. 


As Indian democracy matures, such fine tuning must be seriously undertaken by the government that follows these elections.  One would have wished that the president had made such a reference to fine-tune our parliamentary democracy.  Unfortunately, this was not to be.


However, the president touched on another important aspect. Stating that democracy is the “fundamental right of every citizen; for those in power, democracy is a sacred trust”, he hinted at more when he said “…our democracy has never been betrayed by the people; its fault-lines, where they exist, are the handiwork of those who have made power gateway to greed.”   And, “If we hear sometimes an anthem of despair from the street, it is because people feel that a sacred trust is being violated.”  Stating that by the time he will address the nation once again, there will be a new government, he said that governments must deliver, “what they were elected to deliver; social and economic progress, not at a snail’s space, but with the speed of a racehorse”.  In order to do this, he suggested, “Give them (our youth) a chance and you will marvel at the India they can create”. 


The moot point is that how is all this going to be achieved? How and from where/whom are the resources going to be mobilised? What are the mechanisms and vehicles that are available or will be created to achieve this?  Neither the president nor the principal political parties – Congress or BJP – obviously with reason, do not talk of the fine print.  Hence, such proclamations remain mere declarations of intent – unrealisable unless accompanied by a blueprint of an action programme.  This remained unaddressed.


Prior to the just concluded Davos, World Economic  Forum, described by the London Mayor as “a constellation of egos and an orgy of adulation”, the Oxfam presented a paper showing that 85 richest billionaires in the world “own the wealth of half the world’s population”.  Such growing inequality helps “the richest undermine democratic processes  and drive policies that promote their interests at the expense of everyone else”.  Does this not sound chillingly familiar to all of us in India? Who, hon’ble president, is then violating the `sacred trust’ of Indian democracy? At Davos, none of the world’s leaders suggested any new regulations to check such obscene profit maximisation and, thus, strengthened the ground for a continued global economic slowdown and crisis.


Such widening inequalities feeding recurrent crisis  and economic slowdown multiplying people’s miseries can be prevented in India, insulating us from  the impending extended global crisis only by an alternative economic vision -  alternative to both the Congress and the BJP. A vision where the resources available in the country are prevented from being looted through mega corruption scams, or, being doled out to the rich as massive tax concessions and, instead, are mobilised for massive public investments to build our much-needed infrastructure.  This would generate substantial additional employment, significantly enhance the purchasing power in the hands of our people, laying the basis for a sustainable and more equitable economic growth trajectory. 


The president concluded his address by saying, “1950 saw the birth of our Republic. I am sure that 2014 will be the year of resurgence”.  Such a resurgence, eminently feasible, can only happen, hon’ble president, when 2014 will ensure that such an alternative policy trajectory is put into practice. This can necessarily happen only with a coalition of parties that can offer a secular democratic political alternative sans the Congress and the BJP.  This alone is the alternative that can answer the questions posed by the president and provide both stability and prosperity for  our country and our people.


(January 29, 2014)