We were happy to inherit many contradictory trajectories from the British as some powerful groups in India wanted to be in the same position as the British after they left. Such groups have ensured their political survival through the perpetuation of colonial democracy and its offshoot the FPTP. Indian democracy has tasted much success through the FPTP, which is designed for countries with two-party system.
Many take pride in the multiplicity of India. While the general populace is pushed into a glorification of the complexities of the country by artificially generated discourses of survival and development as a nation, dominant communities are denying genuine representation and share in power under the same garb of nation building and development.
Democracy in any nation state survives through representation. People in a nation can claim to share power only through their representatives. This is an inevitable compulsion in the fabric of nation state governance. Electoral systems are designed to ensure genuine representation. In the early stages of the formation of the nation state, two ideologically based parties used to compete for government formation.
FPTP was designed. As the contours of democracy and composition of population began to change, countries were rather forced both ideologically and politically to redesign their electoral system. Such redesigning was done precisely because representation and share in power became a must in order to ensure good governance.
Politics, as you all know is a fine art of compromises. But politics has also become a rustic art of contradictions. Through the many phases of transition in democracy, electoral systems and governance, countries also learned to preserve their dominance over citizens so that power could be concentrated in the hands of particular groups of people in a given nation.
This naturally implies that other groups were excluded from genuine representation in governance. Excluding people from governance became necessary, as the world was and is marching fast forward towards accumulation of resources and not towards their distribution.
The choice for India is not a mere question of electoral system. The choice is for good governance, distribution and share of power and resources, and the choice is for inclusion. If India stands for the choice of good governance then it will have to immediately change the complexion of its political system, of its electoral system.
FPTP simply does not fit into a complex country like India. If political parties are resisting a change, it may mean that they do not want to share power and resources with the citizens through inclusive governance. It will then become the bounden responsibility of the voters, the citizens at large and the people of India to bring necessary realisation on the existing systems that their survival depends on the power of the people, in other words on true democracy.
Electoral system is not a panacea for all problems of governance. But nation state politics and governance cannot survive without an appropriate electoral system. Let us be clear on this that if India has to survive as a democracy for some time to come, it is imperative that the present FPTP system is thrown out lock, stock and barrel.
This can effectively be done by ushering in a new and more appropriate electoral system, which is now being practised in 89 countries of the world. India will need an enormous resource of stupidity to believe that all these nations have made a wrong democratic choice in their governance. Only 60 countries, mostly former colonies of the British are still sticking on to FPTP as we are doing. We love the British in more than one way. Don’t we?
Some top class experts of electoral systems in many countries were brought together by CERI for a three-day hard work, and we have come out with a tailor-made policy document on PR system for India. We know for sure that we are not talking in the air. Another major effort is the book on "Electoral Systems".
CERI has also organised till now many state, national and international conferences to enhance and deepen the knowledge on PR system in India. It is a matter of hope that many political parties, civil society organisations, individual elected members have evinced keen interest in PR system, registered their support and solidarity to the CERI campaign and have come together to carry forward this mission collectively.
PR system at the moment in history seems to be the best available system for India. There are many reasons for this statement of mine. India is a multicultural country that has invariably arrived in an era of coalition politics. FPTP makes itself an inappropriate system to this context. PR, on the other hand, has been designed for countries with multiplicity and coalition politics.
With nearly 740 million voters and nearly 70% of the polled votes among them being wasted is a democratic anomaly. PR system does not allow wastage of votes. With more than a billion population, a representation by 543 members in the Parliament is a gross injustice to the democratic character of this country. PR system will increase the number as well as the quality of representation in the Parliament.
India, at the moment, is beset with enormous problems of electoral corruption, violence, communalism and casteism. PR countries, through their party list system and internal party democracy will drastically reduce all these, as it is in all the PR countries in the world today. India will still hold on to its corruption and violence despite PR but it will last for only two or at the most three elections. PR system throws up the huge necessity and possibility of the emergence of new national coalitions among the hitherto excluded people.
Power equations in the country will be changed in favour of the marginalised people and the working class. That may be the ultimate challenge to the ruling class of this country, whether it is prepared to usher in good governance through genuine representation or it is going to hold on blindly to its sectarian power and accumulation. At the end of it, all of us are faced with our own challenges and it is time that we took up the challenge instead of drowning ourselves in a heap of endless rhetoric.
All of us together, need to give that final push to the campaign to make PR system come true in India. As you are aware, it is not going to be as easy as some of us may wish. Dominant forces in this country are always on the prowl to accumulate, to amass and to devour as much wealth, money and power as they can.
They will only do what safeguards their best interests and not necessarily the interests of the nation, I mean the Dalits, Adivasis, Tribals, Minorities, women and working class. We need not only to be alert always but also pull all our strength together, both material and spiritual and put on the battle gears till we achieve our final goal, i.e. inclusive democracy and governance in India.
On the way to our success, it is imperative that we come together at many levels respecting each one's and each party's right to exist with their identity and vision. Such a coming together will have to be based on the ethics of coalition wherein each one is an equal stakeholder. A national coalition of Dalits, Adivasis/Tribals, Minorities, OBCs and women is necessary in order to achieve our objective of PR system, and when PR system comes there has to be such a Coalition in place in order to show to the people of this country a viable political alternative. I hope one of us, or some of us or all of us will put such a national coalition in place as early as possible and I wish all strength and support to any such effort.
(This was also the Keynote Address given by the author at a Solidarity Meeting of CERI in Delhi on 07 March 2013)