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‘Left liberal’ ecosystem pushes proportional system of voting to retain its legitimacy

In a diverse and in many ways, a fragmented society like India, the left-liberal ecosystem is planning to peddle the idea of a proportional voting system in India. Its main concern is that the Lok Sabha and some assemblies have less representation because of the first past the post system. The idea found recognition at the topmost level for the first time when a parliamentary panel headed by Congress leader Anand Sharma took it up.

Their main bone of contention is that 69% of the people have not voted Modi and hence the system of elections is by itself wrong in India. Their fear increased further when BJP secured 312 seats in 401 member assembly in Uttar Pradesh with a vote share of 39.7%. The matter has been raised again as CPI(M) lost in Tripura even after getting 42% vote.

This is not a good argument because most of these parties have enjoyed power with less than 50% vote share all these years and did not bother to bring up this logic. Now that they are out of power and are becoming more and more irrelevant they have now sought to get at least some number of seats in elected assemblies. At the outset, it may appear that it is fair for someone to gain a definite number of seats for a particular percentage of votes. But in reality, for a fractured society like India, it will do more harm than benefit when it is implemented.

In a recent interview to The Hindu, former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi answered a question on proportional representation as below (emphasis added) :

Q: You had mentioned in an essay that it is time to review the first-past-the-post system (FPTP)? Has the demand for replacing FPTP with proportional representation (PR) become louder after the 2014 general elections?

When I wrote An Undocumented Wonder: The Making of the Great Indian Election, which came out in the middle of the elections of 2014, I had written that FPTP was the best system for its simplicity. I had also discussed various PR systems but dismissed them as not being practical for India. After the 2014 elections, I felt compelled to change my position when we saw that even with the third largest vote share of 20%, one party (the Bahujan Samaj Party) got zero seats. This is not a democracy. I think it is time to have a national debate on this. We could look at the German model where they have a mixed system — half PR and half FPTP.

His comment ‘This is not democracy’ is irresponsible and unacceptable because there is no hard and fast rule that some party with 20% vote has to get a seat. Probably there have been such instances in the past. One can also argue that some party with 10% vote should also get some seats or else, it cannot be a democracy. At what threshold do you call first past the post system as undemocratic? Let us also remember that this rhetoric arises only when a party that the liberals hate comes to power.

In a first past the post system of elections, a party has to build a broad social alliance and come up with an inclusive agenda in its manifesto. The party may or may not be dominated by any single community, but it will have to seek votes of as many communities as possible to get elected. Once it gets elected it has to serve all sections of the society.

It has been pointed out many times in the past, this form of government will assure seats for some percentage of the population and thereby allow parties and politicians to take hardline communal positions based on a percentage of the population. Also, coalition governments formed in India are difficult to run as opposite ideologies will stall many decisions. Proportional voting would institutionalise coalition governments forever and harm public at large in the long run.

It is argued that the proportional voting system was rejected by the constituent assembly because it is complex and not understood by the large illiterate electorate at the time of independence. The fact that India is now better off in literacy is the reason for the proponents of proportional system to argue that the time has now arrived for its introduction. This is again an incorrect argument because we have still not reached 100% literacy and we would be ignoring a large number of voters who may not understand the complexity.

In my opinion, proportional voting suits a homogeneous society (or nearly homogeneous society) which has ideological diversity in its political system. In a political system like India which has both demographic and ideological diversity, it would lead to chaos and more bigotry in our political discourse.

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