Direct Democracy in India: a Possibility?

While in one of my recent posts (click), I had questioned the validity of this subconscious idea that “consensus by majority is the best way to reach decisions for a huge heterogeneous community, like the Indian population”, no other method that could replace populist decision-making seems plausible. So, democracy is here to stay.

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!

Wikipedia article on direct democracy (click).

41 thoughts on “Direct Democracy in India: a Possibility?

  1. I read through all the 4 parts. Honestly; its a novel idea what you propose and it should definitely work; if not fully; much better than the present system.

    One thing that I have always wondered. India being one of the largest democracy; and a diversified nation; why is the method of choosing a premier; still representational?

    Obviously; politics is money raking business. Not many have real good intentions to work for the welfare of the people. Few good men who wants to are nipped in the bud.

    Would this work? You hit the nail; as to why it wont work. Technological reasons and outright rejection. Politicians and bureaucrats only reason to come into politics is snatched away; so they wont approve

    But we dont have to do much homework if we decide to implement. 2 party systems and people having direct power to vote a premier very much exists in some of the democracies. We can learn from them and tweak the policy to suit Indian diversity.

    And yeah, there should be a retirement age as in every other profession for politicians. We need dynamic people who would go that extra mile.

  2. There is a simple reason why your suggestions would be considered novel but impractical.

    Economic opportunism: Why does any party want to come to power? As easy the answer might be, no one has the guts or the money power to hold these people acountable or questions their motives. No amount law making would help because there are *always* holes. Madhu Koda and the BJP fiasco in Karnataka are the best examples now. Remove the incentives of being in politics and the country will just have mafias… not political parties.

    Might is right, that’s Indian democracy now mostly.

  3. Also, I do not agree with this concept of “majority is always right”. A majority in a group of fools and rascals means no value to the society.

    We need intellectuals, who KNOW what is good and are ready to DO it.

    Having to go vote on every single policy is impractical. When 40% of the population doesn’t come to vote once a year or once in 5 years, would they care to do so on a monthly or weekly basis? The potential for fraud runs too high…

  4. you should go write a book . if you don’t, it’ll only be total waste of talent !let’s see if you can guess me from ur rss feeds

  5. @ Insignia:

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    As to the technical aspects, I had thought of them as limitations only 6 decades back! Now I think we have sufficiently advanced technology. If email accounts and electronic transactions are on the whole working pretty securely, then there should not be much reason for worry. But of course, you know much, much better about IT. 🙂 Maybe, the government would require servers as large as that of Google, Yahoo!, or Wikipedia, but procuring and making them work shouldn’t be such a problem.

    Also, if you see, there won’t be a very strong incentive to rig the results here. And if rigging can occur under the proposed system, then rigging must be occurring in present-day elections, too!

    But of course, this system would never be implemented, simply because of the reasons you, Ambi and I agree on. 🙂

    I think retirement age won’t be required ‘cuz those who’re inefficient, irrespective of their age would be weeded out. Imagine, R. Mahajan was going to be a budding, bright politician. Alas, unlike other budding colleagues, he got caught! Too bad for him! 😉


    @ Ambi:

    I’m totally aware of the financial (and other forms of) incentive that the current form of governance offers to aspiring legislators and bureaucrats, that’s why I ended my post with “what a joke!”.

    I do not have much knowledge about technical aspects of possible security lapses (frauds), but do read my response to Insignia in that regard…

  6. …Regarding majority, you might like reading my post by the same name that has been linked in the first part of this post. In summary, I totally agree with you on that. 🙂

    Well, with regard to voting, I believe, if the entire process would be simplified by providing many more points to vote from (say, voting kiosks), then people would be more likely to vote. Plus, an issue would be open to voting for a month.

    Also, there’s very high amount of cynicism with regard to representative democracy, because at the end of the day everyone knows that whoever ‘represents’ you is hardly going to do any real work. But if it is a real issue (like, buying a new helicopter for the CM v/s building a new school), then people are more likely to vote. Also, today people are voting more for vague religious ideologies (including pseudo-secularism) or for charisma of individuals rather than any tangible, target-oriented, time-bound policy-related issues. But I repeat, I know such idea won’t be implemented, exactly for the reason you pointed out. 🙂

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    @ Anonymous aka TLOP aka Tragic life of pi aka AG aka ABG aka Abhishek Gupta aka Anonymous who also goofed up on a very wise organism’s blog:

    Yes, I could easily recognize you simply from your comment. Though, that’s not the only tool I have to make out it’s you.

    Anyway, thanks for the compliment, but if an idea is never going to be implemented, writing an entire book on it would be an even greater waste of talent than writing this humble piece of blog post for my personal entertainment. 😉 Well, that’s my humble opinion. 🙂


  7. Well, Ketan, what you’re suggesting isnt difficult to carry out at all..

    In fact, this version of democracy is practiced in the world’s oldest democracy..

    America has something called a citizen’s referendum in those states that choose to have it..

    Where citizens can vote “Yes” or “No” on policy decisions..

    For example,

    The State of California in 2008 had the famous Proposition 8 about legalising homosexual marriages..

    Now, the AMA is pushing for legalising marijuana in the state..

    I’m sure you’re aware of these instances..they work on a premise similar to what you’re suggesting..if I’ve understood you correctly..

    Very interesting post I must say..

    I must congratulate your made for excellent reading.. 🙂

  8. and sorry, for subjecting you to “victimization” trust me, it wasnt deliberate..I intended to keep the conversation in my drafts but I hit “publish post” as is my usual habit.

    Why you even persisted in reading that is beyond me tho..dont make it the reason to give LOTR a skip..its a most fantastic series of books, and wud totally appeal to ur kinda intellect.. 😀

    trust me on this one, and put the girl talk out of ur mind.. 😉

  9. Ketan, I think this is an excellent idea. I mean, if it were to be implemented, it would result in some real progress.
    But then, do you really think it would be feasible?
    With India’s area and population, a large number of these kiosks would have to be set up.
    That is still okay.
    But a major part of the population is still illiterate and a large amount of money would be required to explain each policy to the people through advertisements.
    As you say, the frequency would increase gradually. That would require even more money.
    After reading TUIB’s comment, I looked up California’s ballot proposition system and I wasn’t aware that such a system even existed!
    I think its wonderful but it must be noted that California’s population is relatively more literate than India’s.
    And thats just one state.
    A nation-wide system like this one would require a lot more resources.
    Nevertheless, this is an awesome idea and if it were to be implemented, I’d love to vote!
    Once I turn 18, that is.

  10. its like asking kids to choose whether they want vaccination or ice creams:D
    we already have politicians promosing tvs and other goodies to get vote, and leaving the exchequer in debt, wouldn’t the need to please push it further?

    i think the better option would be more transparency and simplicity. for eg more power to the RTI

  11. Edmund Burke, an Irish member of the English Parliament and one of the few who argued that the American Colonies were justified in their rebellion, once said, “A representative owes the People not only his industry, but his judgment, and he betrays them if he sacrifices it to their opinion.”

    in us, they have state referendums on issues like gay marriage etc..and i think it depends on the issue. i am not against this direct democracy idea.
    there is a thin line between populist and democratic..
    ultimately we get the politicians we deserve..and if people started payin attentio and involving themselves at the council level..things could improve..

  12. @ TUIB:

    Nitwit Nastik in his comment on my post–‘My morality’ had precisely given those two examples, but back then I had not known they were integrally connected to the idea of direct democracy.

    But how is public referendum practiced there? I mean, the specifics? Is it secret ballot in polling booths, or some other mechanism? In what I’m proposing, I would like to see these decision-makings to become so commonplace that except for the initial setup no elaborate plans would’ve to be made. As I explained in the post, it won’t be a one-off affair, but pretty routine.

    Please do also read my responses to Srishti and Wise Donkey (WDM).

    And yes, 4 posts typed from cell phone, and then linked in perfect alignment with a gprs connection that had decided to act up, some effort was definitely required, so thanks! 🙂 This idea had come to my mind long back, more than 5 years back.

    Yes, might try LOTR… If you insist! 😉

    @ Srishti:

    Thanks for raising the feasibility issue. I’ll try to discuss it here in brief. Of course qualification-wise, I’m the wrong most person to speculate on these ideas, but let me try.

    Kiosk: Let’s say, there would be one kiosk for a population of every 1000 persons (the average population of a small village). The interface will not cost much more than Rs. 10000. This is ‘cuz it will not require much memory or processing power. Nor unlike an ATM will it require to have a safe to protect money. So, it will be like any monitor with keyboard….

  13. …The enclosure does not require to be very safe/foolproof, etc, simply because this affair of voting would become so routine, and seemingly inconsequential, that someone trying to physically threaten people to vote on one choice v/s the other for 365 days a year would not be feasible or even attractive! It can have a recognition system based on swipe card, password or finger print (for illiterate/low vision)–all of which enabled through unique national id. Let’s say all this costs around Rs. 50000. Now, land for placing the kiosk would have to be bought. In my opinion, the space does not require to be much larger than a telephone booth. This much space, even at the most expensive rates (commercial rates for Nariman point, Mumbai) will not exceed Rs. 1 lakh. But in some remote village, this much land would cost just Rs. 1000! So let’s take average cost as Rs. 10 000.

    I also don’t think lot of wiring would be required if we connect these to ‘a central server’ through mobile tower-like things. An average mobile tower costs Rs. 20 lakh. But of course, this mobile tower could serve approximately 10 kiosks. So, cost per kiosk would be Rs. 2 lakh. Adding all this comes to at most Rs. 3 lakh per kiosk.

    Server is something that simply stores data, and makes it available on request. In my very simplistic understanding, it is just like a huge hard disk. Of course, Insignia and Ambi could clarify on this.

    So, initial investment per 1000 persons is Rs. 3 lakh. For single person this comes to Rs. 300….

  14. …Let’s assume there are costs I’ve not been able to think of. To make maximum leeway, let’s say the actual expenditure when also adding the cost of servers would be 5 times! Which would make the per person cost–Rs. 1.5 thousand.

    India’s approximate population is 100 crores.

    So total cost comes to 150 thousand crores!

    Okay, on simple inspection the figure looks huge, but is it?

    Let’s see. It is less than the combined worth of Ambani brothers.

    In a recently unearthed scam of Madhu Koda, who had been CM of a poor state like Jharkhand only for one year, his ‘officially’ unearthed money from that was 4 thousand crores. And let me tell you, Koda is definitely a very small fish in the read of Indian politics. So just 75 such fishes! 😉

    To put in a different perspective, there are 1.55 lakh post offices in India! And we need 10 lakh such kiosks. But obviously, a post office would cost much more than a simple kiosk!

    Railways had sanctioned Rs. 5,000 crores simply for modernization of New Delhi railway station! So it means, this would be equivalent to modernizing only 30 such railway stations in India.

    So obviously, the amount is not much. And that too considering it would be a one-time investment!

    Advertising would not be expensive at all! And though, I’d used the word ‘advertisement’, better word would be notification. Govermenet can make it binding on TV channels to devote 10 min every day to these notifications. Same for newspapers, magazines, radio stations…

  15. …And there is an inherent regulatory mechanism.

    If a legislator/government act smart, i.e., do not explain their agenda well, they’ll get low ratings after the 6 monthly assessment. 😉

    And a lot of money required to run kiosks (electricity, etc.) would actually be recovered through the kind of ads that you get to see at bus stops, railway stations (outdoor publicity).

    Plus, there would be other money saving mechanisms. Imagine, at the end of a five year-term, people of a constituency would get to re-elect their legislator, simply by pressing ‘satisfied’ button. This itself will save a lot of money. Also, during any term if any legislator is expelled, the person who had come second in vote counting in the election could automatically be given the post, provided, the margin of victory would’ve been small.

    Regarding literacy, I explained in the post itself, that the proposed system would not suffer from any additional flaw that the current one is not suffering from! Is the same appreciably illiterate population even today not electing governments at all levels? 😉

    Also, this might sound far-fetched, but with enabling of password, voting could be done through emails and sms! 😉 Seriously!

    Thanks for the encouragement, and am very happy you’re engaging in this discussion, and raising valid technical issues. 🙂


  16. WDM,

    @ the ice cream v/s vaccination analogy: 😀 You’re right!

    But then, isn’t the current system like asking the same children to choose their parents? And aren’t these children choosing the prospective parents only the basis of whether they’re offering ice cream or vaccination? Or still worse, nothing at all? And actually, it’s not even choosing one’s parent. It’s like choosing the class bully! 😛

    Which responsibility is bigger? Choosing class bully from multiple (bad) options, or choosing between ice cream and vaccination?

    So obviously, things are not that simple. And yes BTW, if you remember from my own post on majority, I don’t trust the idea much.

    In what follows, I’ll attempt to explain why this system would work better.

    Pre-election promises are one-off. And things like TV sets that you’re talking of, are given before election. Have you wondered why such gifts/bribes work? The basic through process is like this:

    I know that the candidate even after getting elected is not going to do anything for me! So, why not vote for the candidate that actually gives me something at least! So what if it is only a bike or a TV. Something is better than nothing!

    But in the proposed system, even if a candidate promises ice cream, he can’t deliver it every month! Remember, issues for voting would be up every month, and ratings would happen every six months!…

  17. …And let’s see what this ice cream could be.

    Worst possible thing could be a legislator promising free distribution of alcohol! 😉 But if candidates have not been officially making such promises in their pre-election manifesto, then how would a legislator promise such things publicly and officially on tv? Remember, all the issues raised would be documented by a nodal agency, like the EC.

    Of course, you’re suggesting something like subsidies, and increased pays, etc.

    Of course, even at the risk of depletion of national treasury, these promises would have to be fulfilled! Otherwise, the six-monthly rating would act like a latakti talwar (sword hanging over the head).

    And I guess, we should put a bit more trust over the sensibility of the electorate. CMs who have done well, and made their people’s lives better have got re-elected. Examples are Gujarat, Orissa, Bihar, Delhi, etc. And where they’d performed badly, despite powerful charismatic persona of the CM, there was a downfall, e.g., Rajasthan. Also, if union elections are any indications to go by, WB and UP also seem to be rejecting their ‘mistakes’.

    And there’s an entirely different perspective to ‘transparency’ and ‘rigor’. To effect both of them, you need unquestionable degree of integrity at the very top of a regulatory body! Which means it would have to be a human! But humans have failed us!…

  18. …Tell me practically, what could be done to increase transparency and strictness in RTI?

    I’ll tell you very fundamental problem with administration in India:

    Employee A does not work properly, you complain to senior B. But senior B also does not work properly! Now you complain to an independent body (judiciary)–J. But they also don’t listen to you! Why?

    ‘cuz even if A, B or J work properly or not, they will get exactly the same salary! Simple!

    Also, if A asks for bribe, you can’t complain to B. Because corruption works on the principle of food chain. There are 10 As who report to one B. And all of them send up a share of their bribe to B. Now thousands of such Bs report and send up their bribe to the CM. CM and J are hand-in-glove, so they don’t listen to you! And in the meantime, next election arrives! And after a few cycles. It is CM’s son who is the CM now, and on equally ‘good terms’ with J.

    Where do you break this chain?

    Any truly honest (not the ones ‘hero-ized’ by the media) employee, would effectively decrease the CM’s and other seniors’ earnings, and would be weeded out!

    How do you introduce transparency?

    Unless and until by huge stroke of luck you get a CM who him/herself is not much interested in money?

    So though, ‘transparency’ and ‘power to RTI’ sound simple solutions, they cannot be practically effected!

    With regard to Edmund Burke’s opinion, I do not believe that an assertion becomes appealing only because it would have been spoken by a great personality….

  19. …That very statement could be easily used to justify dictatorship, then!

    Yes of course, the elected representative would still have sufficient margin to demonstrate their judgement and administrative abilities, which would be simply reflected by the kind of proposals they make! Junta simply gets to choose one of the proposals, not actually draft them. 🙂

    I do not know WDM, what do you mean by people’s involvement at the council level? Which council are you talking of? Village council, or some other administrative body that I’m unaware of? I’ve already mentioned Panchayati system in the post, and its limitations.

    But despite this much effort that I’m putting, I’m sure the system I propose would never be implemented simply because it would antagonize the profitable positions of those currently in power!

    Please also read all the comments on this post. They’re like in continuation with the post.

    Thanks for reading, your ideas and take care. 🙂

  20. Ketan – Burke’s comment, regardless of who Burke is, is very valid. You too are not a huge advocate of Majority btw.

    First of all, the challenges in getting this system to work are huge. Just a few of the problems are:

    Huge population
    No permanent identity
    Sale of ID cards
    Low voter turnout in normal course
    Diverse population (thus a lot of minority groups)
    and many more.

    This system would definitely work very well if it was in a small town or even a state of a few hundred thousand or even a few million people – as it works in a few states in the US. But in India where a lot of people do not have an Identity, and are uneducated, making the right decision through this process would be like a throw of dice.

    I don’t see it working in India at least for another 10 to 20 years. India first has to raise the quality of their population in order to be able to implement such a system which trusts the wisdom of common people.

    Even if it has to happen, it would be best to introduce it is a pilot project in a city like Bangalore or Pune in the next few years where public opinion could be obtained for city specific issues and the system could be tested.

    Subsequently, it could be implemented on a state wide basis like in the US.

    Direct democracy definitely is a good concept but the representatives still need to have the integrity in order to protect the minorities.

    Imagine – what if a proposal like “Should gays be given all civil rights?” goes to veto – like what happened in the US during the gay movement. The concept of human rights had evolved a lot and yet there was considerable opposition to this act but somehow it did get passed positively.

    But I don’t think people in India would vote for gay rights, at least the majority wouldn’t. How do you protect the rights of minorities in that case?

    We have to mature a lot as a country to be able to have something as advanced as this.

  21. its not great to choose parents, (but democracy is better than dictatorship)
    but its better if the parents are choosen than parents bein under children’s whim (pink chaddis:D)

    i dont know if we have democracy or aristocracy at the moment in India:D

    btw from my personal experience babus and netas do work..(so atleast some work though not most)..

    Our Freedom was not gained due to some leaders, but due to a social movement. unless we change ourselves, we are going to be struck with rotten leaders..

    personally i believe in the Scandinavian type society..where its socialist and free..

    PS : if you read the state of economic affairs of mismanaged state, you would perhaps think differently of the “free goodies gimmick”..

  22. Ketan, its pretty much like the voting we have here according to what my uncle who lives in San go in, there’s a red button for No, and green button for Yes, for every proposition..and these are numbered..

    But a lot of public interest advertisements exist to tell you which number indicates what policy decision,

    so here I agree with Srishti, we’ll have to create a lot of awareness about what every proposition is actually proposing..and this is way way easier in California..

    Perhaps we can start off in the metropolises and then work inwards from there..

    and as even the heartland of the country gets more connected, it’ll become easier to make people aware of state or central policies..

    if we cant start with kiosks, why not just have regular ballot one sunday of the month in the local government school, or health centre, or post our regular elections..

    start smaller, and when the culture is ingrained into our country, use kiosks along with UID cards..

    and I must say,

    serendipity was at work there..its weird how Nitwit Nastik used the exact same!

  23. Ketan, you’ve obviously given this a great deal of thought.

    As many others have pointed out, the method of referendum exists in other democracies, but typically is used sparingly.

    While I realise your point is that such a system cannot have more faults than the current one, I would tend to agree with Rakesh here. How well any democratic system works ultimately depends on the voter. In India, as we have seen, the voter is just not interested in issues. Even assuming the logistics are taken care of, I don’t see this making a difference to the average voter. She doesn’t care enough to do her duty once in 5 years; it would be too much to expect her to do so almost everyday, because it would mean taking the time to understand the issue (probably sacrificing some precious saas-bahu or Big Boss time on TV) and then making an informed decision on the issue and then heading to the nearest kiosk to do something about it. If these people cared so much, they would have voted once in 5 years anyway.

    IMHO, you only partially addressed a critical part of this proposal, one that may actually get some people very excited: that if you actually get this referendum business up and running, then we don’t actually need politicians. Then you just need bureaucrats to implement the decision of the citizens. In my book, just for that, your plan has a lot of merit. 😉


    Quirky Indian

  24. @Rakesh:

    Hello, and sorry for such a delayed response!

    Had been busy, and not finding time for lengthy comments. In fact, would stay busy for some time to come.

    Firstly, as I pointed out in the last paragraph, this system will never be incorporated.

    Secondly, I’d been excited about this idea long back, I no longer am. 🙂

    Just thought if some other reader goes through it and can carry the idea forward.

    I’ll try to address the issues you’ve raised.

    1. Huge population: Where you’ve misinterpreted my ideas is in thinking that the issues raised would be of national significance. No! Issues would be simple, and very much local relevance. They would not pertain to sweeping, radical policy-changes, but to daily administration. Issues like whether to widen a road to decongest traffic or to construct a flyover. Something like that! Not something like if people of certain lineage should be treated unfairly (that would anyway go against the fundamental concept of Constitution, so would be disallowed).

    2. No permanent ID cards and sale of ID cards: I’ve clarified in the beginning of the post itself that this idea can be further developed only AFTER permanent digitized ID cards are issued. If sale of permanent ID cards is possible, then sale to voters’ cards, ration cards, passports–everything must be possible, and must be occurring even as of now. 🙂 So though some illegal cards would be issued, as I said still, that will not amount to an ADDITIONAL defect that our current system is anyway not suffering from!…

  25. 3. Low votes turnout: There are two things that would tend to avoid this. First, the much easier availability of points to vote from. Second would be the REAL PROSPECTS of voting making a difference.

    I feel votes turnout is overrated as an indicator of quality of democracy. I personally feel, governance of Delhi is much better than of Mumbai, but votes turnouts are comparable!

    The reason for cynicism among voters is that one’s voting is not going to make much difference to policy-making! Our representative democracy is just like a TV remote, which can power the TV on or off, but we cannot make it show the channel of our choice! Meaning, we can only decide whether a party should stay in power or not, but cannot decide what policies should they frame!

    But in the proposed system, when people will see that their voting for issues rather than persons would actually lead to IMPLEMENTATION of policies, as against royal inaction, people would find encouragement it voting.

    4. Illiteracy: You are right, but the same illiterate people are deciding who to hand over their lives for next 5 years! Anyway, this is a point that has got extensively discussed between Wise donkey and me.

    5. Lot of minority groups: Again, if you look at India’s demographics, a paradox will emerge!

    You can divide 100 people into 3 groups of 70, 20 and 10, in which case, the last two would be minority, and the group of 70 would be a majority, which could get all the policies made such they would be of benefit to them, and would harm the minority groups.

    But India’s condition is such that 100 people are divided into 20 groups of 3 to 7! So there is no ‘majority’ group! Also as I pointed out above, the issues raised would be of daily governance and would not polarize people on communal grounds. Also, do tell me what mechanism in our democratic process is preventing ‘majority’ from harming the interests of the ‘minority’? If you believe, genuine minority’s genuine interests are being served, then the same mechanism would operate even under the proposed system!

    What is preventing a politicians from fighting elections on the ground–“I will drive away all left-handed people from India”?…

  26. …If politicians are not fighting/winning elections by promising to harm/overlook the interests of a particular minority under the CURRENT system, why would they start doing so under the proposed system?

    Lastly, I would like to clarify that I’m not attempting to propose a perfect system, but something that believe would be better than the current one. Most importantly, it will leave little margin for inaction or mere token action in name of governance.

    Thans for your reading of the post and the comments. Also, I truly would want you to suggest practical changes in what I’ve proposed. Or maybe, an entirely new idea too! 🙂


  27. Wise Donkey,

    There’s nothing in your comment that I disagree with!

    But please understand one thing: we complain a lot about the state of affairs in our country in many areas. Some complain about culture, some about lack of it, some about education, some about gender inequality, some about communalism. But you know what is the greatest problem? Very few of us are trying to come up with real solutions that could work at the ground level!

    It’s like saying “Common cold is an irritating disease, and we should have vaccines and medicines against it”. Fine, nobody disagrees to this! But real challenge is in trying to make drugs against the virus that would be effective, or such a vaccine! I’m not saying I’ve found a cure for common cold, but this is my attempt. When we say, governance will improve only when society improves, we’re right, but then it is a redundant statement! It does not form part of a practicable solution. What do we do till such time comes when every person is moral, sensible and motivated for larger social good? We’ve to think of reforms!

    And that is why this post! In this post, unlike my other posts, I’ve not talked of anything abstract. I’ve only proposed those things that could be practically done, with resources we have.

    I’m not claiming that my ideas are perfect or they do not have flaws. But I want them to serve as triggers for others to also start thinking of things that could be done practically and today, right now! Hope, you understand what I mean. 🙂

    And anyway, you’ve made one big assumption that those vying to ‘become’ parents are more intelligent, honest and more conscientious than the ‘children’. Is that truly the case? 😉 Thanks! TC.

  28. Quirky Indian,

    Thanks for dropping by!

    Yes you got me right! I know the proposed system is not perfect. I’m very much aware of the deficiencies of decisions based on majority’s will. In fact, my previous post called ‘Majority’ deals with the same idea.

    But then again, the proposed system would at least be better.

    My analysis of voter apathy part is more optimistic than yours! I think current apathy is largely a result of our democratic process being too indirect, which does not at all ensure that there be any incentives for delivering good governance or penalties for bad governance, except that if you do bad, you MIGHT not win the next election AFTER FIVE LONG YEARS! The proposed system has provisions for recall of the candidates! Please read my response above to Rakesh which has the analogy of a partially functioning TV remote! 😉

    Also, the imperative to keep on coming up with newer issues would somewhat increase accountability.

    I do not agree that this will eliminate the need for elected decision-makers. It’s after all legislators only who will decide what issues to come up with. Also, it would not be possible to put up all policy-decisions for voting. 🙂

    Thanks a lot! TC.

  29. Hi TUIB!

    Thanks for the info on how it works in California!

    Yes, you’re right, some (not really huge) resources would have to be spent on raising awareness. This expenditure would not be huge precisely because government does not or need not pay for advertisement/notifications! Expenditure would pertain only to making of notifications and their display (using any of the mass media), and not to buying of advertising space/time.

    Of course, we’ll require multiple pilot studies before implementing such techniques.

    Problem with regular ballot is requirement for huge MANUAL organization. Plus, add to it regular voter apathy owing to having to stand in long queues, that too every week! The big advantage with the proposed system is the CONVENIENCE of having multiple points to vote from, which work fork 24×7, for one whole month (for a particular issue). If you would read my response to Srishti above, you’ll realize, every single person would end up voting, even if only 33 people vote on an average day! So, there would be no crowding or waiting in a queue. 🙂

    Well, I’m not sure what you meant by the ‘culture’-part. The proposed system would be easier than operating an average atm account! 🙂

    Yes, it was a huge coincidence that NN also chose the same examples, and that too ironically as examples for how majority could be wrong! 😉 Thanks and TC!

  30. You have indeed given some substantial food for thought.

    It is an extension of the Referendum system (practiced in countries like Switzerland) where major issues are put to vote by the people.

    You are right that what was unthinkable in the past is worth at least a serious thought, helped as we are by the tremendous strides in technology.

    But the resistance to any such idea – as resistance to most change – is likely to be very strong and it would require a strong and visionary leader at the helm who could influence public opinion, or a parliament comprising of at least two thirds of selfless individuals to push through such a reform.

    Unfortunately, there is a great deal of difference between the Constituent Assembly which evolved our Constitution and the present Parliament which we have and the next ones which we might have in the near future.

    The idea and the principle are, of course right if we want to have true participative democracy- by whichever name called.

    You must keep trying to spread the idea as much as possible. Public opinion has to be built assiduously.

  31. india-awake,

    Welcome to the blog. Sorry for the delayed response.

    Yes, you are right. In fact, this idea had struck me thinking of direct democracy of Sweden.

    I know the problem with the Constitution the way it has been drafted, is that to bring in any changes that would be detrimental to the politicians’ earning will never get passed with two-third majority. Because unfortunately the equation has become like politicians’ gain = nation’s harm.

    Thanks for the encouragement! I will try that this idea gathers greater momentum. If you find the idea appealing, you could please try to promote the idea through your blog. In fact, I am no expert in any of the fields in which this reform would form, viz, political science, administration or technology. If someone with requisite expertise comes across this idea, it might gain further momentum.

    Thanks for reading and the elaborate comment!

    Take care.

  32. The idea is great and should be developed. I personally support initiative to involve people into decision-making, oversight and accountability.

    Now as with everything Devil lies in the detail. There are actually quite a ton load of problems. But the idea lays down the foundation for resolution of the problems.

    I will leave aside the technical issues, expecting those much celebrated IITians come up with something, otherwise we have to MIT or some UK guys to do the job.

    So first issue is that of Competence.
    Competencce is a very basic concept. It deals with allocation of decision making power, that is, answer to the question who has the power to decide.
    So, presently, nuclear power is under the competency of Central govt whereas Police system is under the competency of State and constructing small sewage line under the competency of the local, State and Central Govt. So how can these decisions be taken.
    How will the subject-matter competence along with territorial jurisdiction be determined?

    This brings us to the other major problem. How will the jurisdiction be determined? Jurisdiction is the extent to which a law is applicable and enforceable by the pain of penalty. So how will the jurisdiction be determined? if it is too fluid then there is a chance that laws will be so uneven that it would difficult to apply them. If the jurisdictions are too large, then it would be very tough to accomodate multiple views on a single issue.

    Question of Liberties
    Liberties or Freedoms are the basic actions of a man which cannot be taken away from him by anyone. Now, comes the tough question, how will the decision be made pertaining to liberties. Can liberties be curtailed? can they be increased? Can a group expropriate to itself some liberties while denying it to others just because it has 50% support.

    So these are the basic issues which have to be dealt with when direct democracy is thought.
    Now I very strongly view that issue of decision making must be more participatory at all levels, so i would suggest a preliminary reading of working of Switzerland’s system. Yeah people might level the accusation of being idealist, but hey we are trying to find a solution for benefit of all and not for our gain, good to be bit idealist.

    Plus, all this technology and google, android whatever is going to directly help India. Best we make use of it.

    Also, if you work on Electoral System, Administrative System, Judicial Administration and local governance system. You just need to research and work on it intellectually. We will take care of it.

    In case you need some material on any of the above issue, please feel free to contact me on twitter @HershSewak.

    Take care

    • Hersh,

      Welcome to the blog!

      Initially when I’d written the above blog post, it was published from a cell phone and was divided into 4 parts, hence I had not included too many details.

      I think one of the things most readers have questioned, and rightly so, is the risk of electorate taking unfair decisions. But frankly, what I had in mind was not issues related to penal law, or civil liberties, but one simple thing – resource allocation.

      Issue of ‘Competency’:

      You have raised a very valid concern about clash or overlap of ‘dominions’ if I may put it that way, among the ‘Center’, State and Local governing bodies. There are indeed the ‘Union’, ‘State’ and ‘Concurrent’ lists. I think your doubt pertains to things on the concurrent list and the confusion that they might give rise to, right? I know, your question is a bit more complex than that, but I hope at least I have grasped the core of it.

      I think that should not be much of a problem. If we want to implement the kind of system that I have discussed here, we can change the ‘competency’ areas of various levels of governments such that there would be fewer clashes. Let us say, the State government wants to construct a road from town ‘A’ to ‘C’, with town ‘B’ in between. Citizens of all the three towns who would be affected (including its benefits) would get to vote. It is possible that people of town B on the whole do not want the road, but A+C (number-wise) will gang up and have the road built. It might seem unfair on C, but compared to the current situation, where either no such consultation would take place, or in fact no such road would even be built (!), what is suggested would be better. Now let us say, people of town ‘D’ also want a road, but the State government would never make such offer! In that case as well, town ‘D’ people would feel cheated. I think the answer to this dilemma lies in the fact that whatever a town gets, major portion of funding has to come from the town people itself. Which means, effectively lesser funds will go to the ‘Center’, and more would go to the local governing bodies. So, even if town ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ all get a road, segment that passes through ‘A’ would be paid for by town ‘A’ administration, that passing through ‘B’ would be paid for by ‘B’ administration and henceforth. And whoever who does not belong to any of these towns and would effectively not have paid for the road’s construction would have to pay a ‘toll’. Thus, the administrations of these towns would have an incentive to construct roads.

      Next issue would be of underdeveloped areas, like say, those falling in the Naxal belt. If they don’t have any funds to begin with, how will they generate capital? Frankly, I don’t have an answer to that. But idea that far-off town ‘A’ people who will never visit a Naxal area be made to pay (through threat of imprisonment – tax evasion) is a monstrous one. However, it is not that the Union government will not get to collect any taxes. They will! If they are sincere (which they have not been up till now), they will try to allot greater resources to the underdeveloped ares. And hopefully over the time, even relatively underdeveloped areas will get self-sufficient economically (or maybe they already are; because fundamentally any large enough area of human habitation is ‘self-sufficient’; it is only the standards of living that differ).

      Also, again not mentioned in the article, but sort of implicit in this idea is provision of greater monetary and decision-making powers to the local bodies of governance. That itself would ensure that there would be fewer conflicts between local bodies and the ‘Center’.

      Issue of Jurisdiction:

      I actually never intended to have issues related to penalty and definitions of crimes put up for voting. Assuming that whatever falls under the purview of ‘Law’ has to be universally applied to the entire territory of India (and across all ‘communities’), and should the need arise, the entire nation would get to vote. Yes, the ensuing laws would then become binding on the entire population, but it’s been the same anyway, in the sense, most of our IPC sections are from the British era (which is not to mean, that is what makes them imperfect) and nobody was asked if they are the ‘right’ laws. In essence, whatever law exists in any society is ‘imposed’ upon the individuals. I hope, I have got your concern correctly, and was not addressing something that you did not mean to raise.

      Issue of liberties:

      I think I just again need to state that those were not the kind of issues I had in mind that I would want put up for voting. Only resource allocation. 🙂

      Anyway, I must say that compared to the kind of issues you have raised, my post seems juvenile, which it actually is.

      My profession is actually *very* different from these kind of areas, so I don’t find much time for reading on economics, history, administration, etc., yet will try to read more on administration on Switzerland. 🙂

      I also have ideas on changing the taxation pattern (e.g., income tax must not be proportional to one’s income [however silly that might sound], but on number members in one household). Besides, as far as possible, people must be taxed based on services they actually use – more like ‘tolls’.

      I would like to know if you have a blog.

      Thanks a lot for reading and your ideas!

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