But the biggest flaw in (at least) India’s democractic process, is that it is of the representative kind. Meaning, the people only get to choose who will make laws and policies for the next five years, but not what they would be. It is assumed that the political parties which contribute to the formation of a government will keep their pre-election assurances. This assumption, apparently, rides on immense faith in the integrity of those thus elected, and to put it mildly, has proved unfounded. Also, there is a common perception that immense financial expenditure and covert affiliation with shady elements of the society, that winning these elections require, has largely kept out of the electoral ‘race’, those with genuinely good intentions for the country/constituency. I have not yet had the courage to verify for myself if this perception matches the reality.
An idea that has been doing rounds is to issue a unique electronic ID to every citizen.
Though, creating an electronic database for the entire population would take time, the extent to which the information technology (IT) has progressed, should accelerate the process, if the idea is pursued sincerely. And in my opinion, it should not take much longer than an average census (2-3 years) takes.
This, apart from improving security situation in the country, will enable us to start thinking of an almost unheard of thing in Indian political circles–DIRECT DEMOCRACY.
We, after 6 decades of representative democracy have got so obsessed with it, that it surprises me, how direct democracy is talked so little of, which was actually what democracy was supposed to mean!
Some might point out that Panchayati system, with provisions for informal consultation with all the villagers represents the very same idea. True, it does, but somehow, it has not shown results.
But an informal ‘consultation’ does not ever make it binding on the actual village heads to implement the popular decision. Also, I am unsure if the resources that are allocated to such bodies are sufficient to make a real difference.
An idea had occurred to me years back, as to why not have automated teller machine-kind of kiosks to effect direct democracy! Simply meaning that the common man gets to vote on the individual issues, rather than only who would decide on those issues.
This, according to me would have several benefits:
1. Individual policies would be based on majority’s decision. This is the most obvious benefit. For instance, the junta would get to decide if the limited resources that are available should be used for widening a road, or adding a new wing to a hospital, or to open an orphanage, or to say, build statues to beautify a town. Likewise, analogous issues could be presented to the rural population.
2. Enhanced accountability on part of administrators. This would be a very important benefit, but not immediately apparent. The legislators would be obliged to come up with issues on which they would like people’s votes! This itself would ensure that they do some work.
For instance, this degree of audacity has not yet permeated our country’s polity that a politician would truly confess, “Sorry folks! I was busy vacationing with my extended family in Hawaii, so no issues for you to vote on this month!”.
3. End-of-the-term assessment. When a term ends, political parties, the Election Commission, as well as the junta would get a report card on the incumbent legislator’s performance. For instance, how many popular mandates did they overrule, and how many did they respect. This would automatically tell if their incumbent legislator still retains prior popularity.
4. Continuous assessment. If the common people get to decide on given issues, they also get to rate their leader! More importantly, on a continuous basis, say, every half-yearly. This would serve both as incentive and coercion for the legislators to keep the electorate satisfied.
How could direct democracy be implemented?
Of course, I am no expert on political sciences, or art of administration, or legal issues, etc, and needless to say, there would be many loop holes in my ideas, here.
But here, I will try to address a few of foreseeable issues.
1. Who will vote?
Everyone! Of course, those who are eligible to vote in general and local elections. What will allow this is a unique national electronic identity. This will prevent illegitimate voting, as well as prevent duplication of voting.
2. Where would one be able to vote?
The kiosks for voting could be built just like the ATMs, and kept at similar locations. So, could be placed at railway stations, important bus stops, outside public hospitals, even along with ATMs! For villages, they could be placed near the village dairy or post office, etc.
3. What issues would be open to voting?
Issues could be anything–right from if a city should be renamed, to where should (limited) funds be allocated to? Of course, junta cannot be consulted on all issues, but at the end of the term, when a ‘report card’ would be framed, none of the political parties would like to look stupid by having changing names, building statues and demolishing illegal constructions as their only achievements to brag about!
4. What would be the frequency to vote on a new issue?
This portion of the process will have to gradually evolve. I think for starters, one issue per month should be good enough. Gradually as the entire process would become smoothened, voting concurrently on multiple issues could be enabled.
Also, the same kiosk could enable voting at multiple levels–say, voting on a national issue, state level, or even local level.
5. How will the required information on the issue be disseminated?
Of course, to vote on an issue, voters need to be informed about the issue. This could be done through dedicated advertisements on TV channels, FM radio, internet, large screens installed in kiosks, etc.
6. Will it be binding on legislators to ‘obey’ the results?
Initially, it need not be binding. But as explained earlier, it will give a direction for new policies, and also ensure a certain basal level accountability from the legislators.
Also with progress of time, the continued rating system could make it binding on political parties to field better candidates.
It could be so provided that if an elected candidate is ejected from his seat because of abysmally low ratings, he cannot seek re-election, for say, next ten years.
7. How much financial investment would be required?
This is a question I can totally not answer! But it should only suffice to say, that whatever the investment, it would be largely one-time, save the operational costs. Of course, with some shrewdness those operational costs could be recovered through advertising at the kiosks, where, no doubt a large number of aware citizens (with good ‘purchasing capacity’) would throng!
Flaws of the proposed system.
In my limited assessment, fundamentally, this system would have no additional functional flaw that the current representative democracy is not suffering from.
Also, I am not suggesting that this system supplant the ‘normal’ representative democracy, but it can certainly supplement it.
Why was such a system never implemented?
Obviously owing to the technological limitations imposed at the time of drafting of the Constitution.
So, would such a system ever be implemented?
I doubt it. For two reasons. I am not sure if the implementation of this idea would constitute altering the fundamental structure of the Constitution.
Second one is more obvious! I am no genius, much less, well versed to any degree with ideas on politics, administration, etc. It would be conceited to think none of the able civil servants and seasoned politicians would have thought about this before. But if they implement this idea, they will actually have to work for the public’s benefit! And no doubt, be clean and efficient! So, will they ever pass such a bill, that too with two-third majority? What a joke!