The Westminster model of democracy In essence, under this system of parliamentary democracy that we inherited from the British, multiple parties contest in a nationwide election for seats in the lower house of Parliament. Polls held in each constituency are first-past-the-post, where the candidate with the most number of votes wins the seat and becomes a member of Parliament. The party with a majority of the seats forms the executive branch of government. If the majority of seats in the lower house are won by a single party, another party with even one per cent less number of seats will have no executive power. In short, even huge colossal electoral support for all but the majority party results in zero executive power. In a sense, this system disenfranchises a large percentage of the electorate, since their choices aren't necessarily reflected in the executive.
This model frequently results in a case where a party with a minor share of overall votes forms the government. Say there are four parties—in each of the constituencies, Party A gets 25 per cent, Party B gets 24 per cent, Party C gets 23 per cent, and Party D gets 20 per cent of votes, and the remaining votes get invalidated, so that Party A wins every constituency. Though Party A has only 25 per cent of the votes and only one per cent more than Party B, Party A will win all lower house seats, and therefore gain absolute executive power! This is a curious anomaly where the government could be run by a party with a one quarter mandate!
The Swiss model: multi-party executive, proportional representation & referendums Unlike the Westminster model, this model has a stable multi-party executive that operates by consensus, where power is shared between political parties in proportion to the percentage of total votes each party receives from the entire electorate. Under proportional representation, the proportion of votes received by a party (across all constituencies) decides the proportion of seats it will receive in the lower house, and also the proportion of ministers from that party in the cabinet.
In the Swiss model, any change in the constitution requires a referendum, thus giving citizens the last word on most important issues. Citizens can also request a referendum to challenge a law passed by parliament if one per cent of the electorate signals support for it through signatures. Actually, no referendums are triggered because the parliamentary process enjoys a very high level of legitimacy. This is largely because elected lawmakers know their work can be reviewed by the public. Further, citizens can also introduce amendments to the constitution by forcing a referendum if two per cent of the electorate signals support for the proposed amendment. As a result, important matters are decided by parliament, and the least important but most numerous issues are decided by the executive.
Both the Westminster and Swiss models are models of representative democracies. Which is most democratic and better represents the people? India’s model of democracy has become a plutocracy. Fundamentally, in democracy, the voice of the people must ultimately determine decision-making. But in India this is obscured by the rich purchasing the votes of the poor, with the result that democracy is only a myth, and is in reality more of a plutocracy. If Republicans come to power in the US, or Conservatives in the UK, democracy ceases to represent the ragtag and bobtail—the aam aadmi. In the final analysis, while the common man makes his little mark, the hand that moves the mark are the haves, who are in command. The proletariat votes the way the commanding ‘proprietariat’ wants. Frankly, we are governed democratically by Kuberas and barbarians.
Determining the right model of democracy for India There is no fixed structure of a democracy. The Swiss model has evolved to take into account the linguistic and cultural diversity as well as the geographical terrain of the region. Other variations may be designed to suit India's unique linguistic, religious, cultural and geographic diversity. Like the Swiss model, we must have a system where every party which secures even five per cent of votes must have a voice in the legislature and executive, so that no party or vote validly cast shall be futile. Perhaps a world research body should invent a method by which every adult has a voice in decision-making, while maintaining a party system for the sake of stability in governance.
(Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer is a former Supreme Court judge.)
Apropos V.R. Krishna Iyer's column Battles of Hustings (Mar 11), most political parties in India are based on personality, not ideology, and would therefore subvert the proportional representation model easily. That said, a stronger EC, with more men and powers, delimitation of constituencies and a provision for recall of elected representatives would greatly benefit us.
A proportional representation system would allow the voice of even the smallest minority to be heard.
N.K. Mudgal, Delhi
V.R. Krishna Iyer’s models of democracy are countries that are small and so more manageable. The larger nations, including the US, are struggling. Earlier, being a predominantly white and affluent country, it could keep itself together. Now, with a booming multi-ethnic population and declining economy, it’s become a struggle.
Nasar Ahmed, Karaikkudi
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
US type Federal system will work better for India. We should start at State level by electing CM directly by the entire state and give full powers to select his/her own Cabinet Ministers. Legislators should be limited to pass the bills and make sure the funds reach their constituencies. No legislator should be allowed to become a cabinet minister unless he or she resigns as MLA. There must be term limits and also declare their assets before and after their term. It is possible too many candidates may contest and no one may get the majority(51%) vote. To solve that problem we should have the run-off elections similar to France between the top two contenders if no one gets 45% majority in first election. This will promote two party system because major parties incorporate other party agenda. The democracy will work better only when Legislators and CM are in contention. I might also add Primary elections within the party to select the party candidate 2 months before general elections to eliminate the Political bosses.
Mr. Apte, I don't vote, because I am not poor. I mean, after now, even if I become poor, I will not feel strongly about voting. I mean, the govt. cannot prevent crime because people who commit crime, don't know that they will. I do vote, but not for myself, if I do, and not for the nation. I perhaps just vote with optimism, for no idea or ideal. Also, if I can become poor, and loose a job, it is not because of the govt. Why bring the govt. into the situation? And, why should it matter whom I should vote for? Why should a person be voted, when I don't know whether he is corrupt, if I know his opposing candidate is? If Mr. Advani stands for election, or Ms. Sonia Gandhi, I might really appreciate that the opposing candidate can consider standing for election. It says something about the candidate.
(1) There is no doubt about necessity of electoral reforms and also about the fact that the reforms can no longer be delayed. But unfortunately there are too many voters who are poor and who are more concerned about their sheer survival rather than survival of democracy. This is a bitter fact which we must recognize. (2) In order to avoid situation wherein a political party with just 25-28 % popular votes wins a majority in the Legislative Assembly or a party with just about 46 % popular votes wins over seventy per cent of total seats in the Legislative Assembly, we need system of proportional representation. But my guess is that all parties would still come together to and arrive at an unwritten formula to make money at the cost of public, as it happens these days in many Municipal Corporations in Maharashtra. Hence, solutions are not easy.
Because Obama is in power, I seem to be in a situation where there is no slavery of man to man, but I seem to be in a situation, where the govt. is not accountable that I am a slave to society. I mean, people are obliged, where Obama is willing, to meet and interact, where other people might be charmed, as they are with Obama, but I am always in a mutually uncertain interaction with people. Why do govt.'s like this? He isn't dead in Afghanistan, soldiers are. Why not make the mainland secure, and interact with nations and their people in a manner not important, so that incidents happen, like 9/11 and 26/11? Why was 26/11 an event? Because of the month? The month that 9/11 happened?
In democracy, when the govt. is seen to be telling other citizens, through citizens who serve in govt., that I am making laws for your good, when it doesn't apply to them, or the govt., then people must ask, how is any prison or death sentence relevant? I mean, Obama is still serving. Gen. Allen might resign, and he has. Because he interacted supposedly in a manner which if Obama had with his wife before marriage, he would be disappointed. This is what it seems. How do people like Obama get to be President, after wanting to? He is an extremely nice person, and apparently Allen is supposed to be kosher, because it is very difficult to control arms and ammunition in Afghanistan, where old men and women and children can be dead, as a result. I mean, why have this situation?
The only reason we have laws in a democracy, is that we unnecessarily want to interact with people. The way Obama interacts, and if I were him, and I had a small fortune, people would be interested in the fortune, not in me. I wouldn't want to talk, interact or have any unnecessary communication with any person. It seems, Obama makes people give up time, to come and listen to him at conventions. I am pretty disappointed, because the American will agree, the right and pursuit of happiness, does not mean that Obama can tell people at conventions, what makes him happy, and that it should also do for me. I don't meet politicians, and never will. The U. S. Govt. in plain terms is an institution not accountable, or credible. The institution is because of people who are ordained to loose their job's as a rule, even if elected later to the same job. How is he responsible for the job of the CEO of General Electric? The CEO of General Electric might not have a job that lasts eight years, but his job seems credible, in more ways than the Presidency isn't. Obama is telling Gen. Allen, and the CEO of GE, what to do.
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