Lok Satta

Saturday, 08 February 2014 10:58 PDF Print E-mail
Not dharna, here’s 5 ways police reform can actually be done

(Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan was a member of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission that was set up in August 2005 and which submitted its report - 5th Report titled ‘Public Order’ - to GOI in June 2007)

Shining Path: Over the past 4 decades, there have been a multitude of Committees, Reports and Recommendations with clearly laid out roadmaps supported by detailed descriptions on the kind of design and overhaul that is needed. Also, we have the SC directives on Police reforms [Prakash Singh & Others vs Union of India & Others, 2006], that could have been a starting point towards change. Yet there has been very little action – what do you think are the chief hurdles in implementation?

Dr.JP: Police reforms are possibly the hardest of governance reforms to accomplish in the Indian situation. First, there is deep institutional reluctance to make rule of law real, because much of the power of the executive in a centralized, dysfunctional system is derived from the control of police.

Second, ours is a system of compensatory errors. The distortions of one segment or agency of government are set right or neutralized by perversions in another agency! Therefore, there is always fear of upsetting the applecart.

And finally, there is no single step which symbolizes police reform. Many inter-related reforms are needed, and an intricate web of linkages and checks and balances should be in place. Our politicians and bureaucracy have lost the capacity for patient, systematic institution building.

We want a quick fix – a law or a scheme, launched with big flourish. That simply will not work anywhere. Take the Right to Education Act, for instance. Our educational delivery is among the worst in the world. But we claim to have engineered a revolution!

Shining Path: Recent events in Delhi were pregnant with the possibilities of this issue being mainstreamed. Your views?

Dr.JP: Not necessarily. The Delhi events are more about political drama and blame throwing. To the extent that they deal with the police administration, it is more a fight for wresting control from the Union to the UT. There is no real effort to restructure the police and make them effective instrument of rule of law.

Shining Path: Coming to the specifics now, from amongst the multitude of recommendations highlighted in various reports on Police reforms, could you enumerate the five that are the most important by way of impact/effectiveness?

Dr.JP: First on my list would be separating crime investigation from the other wings of police dealing with law and order. While institutional linkages between them are necessary, crime investigation is about gathering and sifting evidence, and it has to be treated as a quasi-judicial function, and should be led by an autonomous, but accountable body.

Second, there should be checks and balances. An autonomous, rogue police force will be a disaster. Therefore, accountability and monitoring should be ensured by suitable institutional mechanisms.

Third, there should be radical change in personnel policies. In the investigation wing, the recruitment should be only at officer level, starting with ASI; and constabulary should be recruited only for riot police, and for repetitive, monotonous tasks. The overall police-population ratio is about 130 per one lakh population, and we need to enhance it at least by 50% to meet the challenges of growing urbanization. Every district should have a forensic laboratory, and we should rely on teams and tasks, with effective mobility and communication. Women police officers need to be recruited and should at least constitute 33% new recruitment. Neighbourhood watch groups and volunteer corps should be institutionally involved to deal with patrolling, petty crime and citizen safety.

Fourth, prosecution wing should be made independent. Each district should have a District Attorney drawn from judiciary, with a tenure of five years. All investigation and prosecution should be under the guidance and supervision of the DA. This will ensure autonomy, efficiency, protection of human rights and better coordination with the criminal courts.

Fifth, all small crime should be handled at the local police and neighbourhood level. The crime investigation wing, equivalent of CB, CID in most states now, should not be burdened with petty crime. All such petty offences should be tried in local courts – created for at least one per 50,000 population – by summary procedure. There local courts should function as an integral part of independent justice system, but must be able to render speedy justice inexpensively.

These five steps will radically and seamlessly restructure the police, and will yield dramatic outcomes. The challenge of India is to restore the culture of rule of law, and make police and justice accessible, effective and credible. The Administrative Reforms Commission gave a very practical road map.

Shining Path: Police being a state subject [with exceptions], are there any states that have taken the lead – relatively speaking - on implementing the specific reform measures, which the other state governments can benchmark themselves against?

Dr.JP: Not really. A few states like Maharashtra, Kerala etc have made some efforts for some time. But much of the discussion is centred around the appointment of DGP. Most states pay lip sympathy to the Supreme Court directive (click here), but have learned to kill the spirit of it. There is no single silver bullet to change the culture of policing in India. A series of well-coordinated steps are required as outlined above.

Shining Path: Are there any global best practices pertaining to any aspect of Police administration that you would like to highlight?

Dr.JP: There are a few important lessons to be learnt from experience elsewhere. In most advanced democracies, interference in crime investigation, and an effort to direct or influence investigation are treated as obstruction of justice, and punished severely. Nixon had to resign as the US President because his aides obstructed justice.

In the UK, in the Campbell affair, the government took a partisan decision to withdraw prosecution, and it had to resign in 1924. Since then, no government or minister dared to interfere in crime investigation. We need strong legal provisions to deter politicians or bureaucrats from obstructing justice.

Many countries, while giving police autonomy, made sure that there are layers of accountability. New South Wales in Australia has at least two layers of independent, effective monitoring to prevent abuse of authority. Police is the only coercive arm of the State internally, and a rogue police force would be an unmitigated disaster. Autonomy, effective accountability and prevention of abuse of the powers of life and death that police often exercise should go together.

Shining Path: A transformative movement usually needs a widely respected and visible evangelist who changes the discourse on a certain issue and takes it in the direction that serves the cause the best. Do we have any such potential evangelists who can and should make it their single-point agenda to raise public consciousness on this issue across geographies and cross-sections of the population?

Dr.JP: Law and order, crime investigation and police are state subjects in our constitutional scheme. Therefore one massive national movement will not help. Not can these reforms happen in one fell swoop. Detailed, intricate arrangements are needed. And we cannot suddenly erase existing structures.

The good news is, urban India is demanding better policing, protection of human rights and speedy justice. Rapid urbanization is sensitizing us to the need for fair, humane and effective policing.

We need a grand bargain. Judiciary, in some form should have greater legitimate say in crime investigation. Legislator should cease to function as disguised executive, and have greater say in legislation and oversight of government. The executive should regain control of policy and delivery, free from needless judicial shackles.

Shining Path: Do you think the Indian mainstream media, vibrant as it is, can play a slightly more constructive role by separating signal from the cackle of white noise on important issues pertaining to systemic reforms?

Dr.JP: Mark Twain said: Often a hen that only laid an egg cackles as if she has laid an asteroid. This is particularly true of this day and age, when instant gratification and hyper stimulation of the senses seem to be the norm. But I am certain that viewers and readers are increasingly going to demand from government delivery, and from media a better public discourse.

As incomes rise and the young are exposed to the rest of the world, media will play a far more creative, mature role in reshaping our institutions of governance.

Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan (founding President, Lok Satta Party) is the MLA from Kukatpally, Hyderabad. He earlier served as a Member, National Advisory Council to Govt. of India and a Member, 2nd Administration Reforms Commission (rank of a Union Minister of State). He also served in the IAS for 17 distinguished years in various capacities including as the Secretary to both the Chief Minister and Governor. He is a physician by training. He can be contacted at: @JP_LOKSATTA [Twitter] or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it [e-mail].

Courtesy: First Post

Monday, 06 January 2014 11:20 PDF Print E-mail
Nandan Nilekani is a good friend... but he probably has chosen a wrong party: Jayaprakash Narayan

The Lok Satta Party, the less illustrious forerunner of the Aam Aadmi Party, will coordinate its activities with the latter for the Lok Sabha election due this year, founder Jayaprakash Narayan said in an interview.

Narayan, 57, who resigned from IAS 17 years ago to start a movement for good governance, warned AAP's Arvind Kerjiwal against populistic measures for short-term gains. Narayan, an MLA in Andhra Pradesh and party's sole elected representative, spoke to ET in Hyderabad. Excerpt

AAP, a recent entrant into politics, has been wildly successful but Lok Satta Party, launched in 2006, has not enjoyed that level of popularity...

We must not view this as AAP versus Lok Satta . We are all working for the same cause. Certain perspectives may vary in terms of policy. When Lok Satta (the movement) was founded in 1996, the middle class and the urban people generally either ignored or hated politics. People took pride in saying they never voted. Lok Satta worked very hard to change this. I think it is a great success. Our greatest accomplishment is not political. Our greatest accomplishment is being the engine of change in governance in India. And the number of changes that we have brought about are quite spectacular. Voter registration , disclosure of candidates' details, political funding reforms, anti-defection provisions , rural health mission and right to information law are some of them. I think it has been a rewarding journey.

When it comes to the electoral results, you do not seem to be doing well.

That is a fact. But we were the first ones to be elected. Nobody even dared to do that at that time. AAP learned from our experience and they chose Delhi. And Delhi for a variety of reasons is close to 21st century and the whole media owned it. And two movements with epicentre at Delhi propelled it. So everything worked wonderful (for AAP).

Is there anything you learned from the success of AAP?

Unquestionably. We always deliberately had a low profile. AAP has chosen a very aggressive , strident, very adversarial tone of battle every moment. Without saying something untrue, without being an archaic or antiinstitutional we still have to be aggressive. That is something that we have to learn.

Are you in touch with Kejriwal?

Of course, we are in regular touch. The whole movement against corruption was built in many ways in Bangalore with our people. We see it as a larger family. Now they have branched out as a political party. There are large numbers of Lok Satta volunteers who worked for AAP, funded it and worked overseas to promote it.

What kind of relationship you see with AAP?

We would like to see what best we can do to strengthen them. We supported them openly in Delhi. We hope they will do whatever they can to strengthen us. It is too early to comment on political ties. First let us support and strengthen each other. We want to avoid candidates against each other.

Do you see all of you joining hands to form a single political outfit in future?

Yes, we should if you are wise and if you really care for the country. Lok Satta has always said whoever does something good, we are with them. We must learn to work with each other across the country. We must learn to work with Congress, BJP and TDP and with any other party. If you treat them all as adversaries, in the short term it is nice, in the long term it will not work. The second is institutional. We cannot debunk all the institutions in the country. And the third is, on economic issues, the temptation to indulge in short-term populism . Populism always buys votes but electoral success is not everything.

How do you look at the populist schemes of Kejriwal?

At this time, I would not like to use any adjectives . All I can say is there is tax money and all the political parties must have a philosophy . Tax money cannot merely be spent on consumption subsidies. We require both subsidies and real emphasis on quality infrastructure to promote investments. We must be wise in utilising public money to end poverty, not merely to perpetuate poverty.

Will you put up a candidate against Nandan Nilekani if he contests as a Congress candidate from Bangalore?

Nandan is a good friend. I like him and I agree substantially with what he stands for. I acknowledge his contribution to India in terms of Aadhar cards, one of the important pillars of governance infrastructure required for the country. I particularly admire that he chose a tough decision for somebody who is hugely successful to risk failure in terms of elections. He probably has chosen a wrong party. I do not even know if we are going to put up a candidate there. Certainly, it would have been nicer and better if Nandan had a better platform.

Courtesy: Economic Times

Monday, 28 October 2013 08:06 PDF Print E-mail
A challenge to Indian federalism

The efforts of the Union government to divide Andhra Pradesh irrespective of the State legislature’s views, pose a grave danger to federalism and unity.

The decision to divide Andhra Pradesh raises important questions about federalism and the nation’s future. This is the first time in India that a state is sought to be divided without the consent of the State legislature, and without a negotiated settlement among stakeholders and regions, and in the face of public opposition.

All major federal democracies have in their Constitutions the provision that a state cannot be divided or merged with another state without its prior consent. This is the essence of federalism.

Article 3

India’s Constitution-makers gave much thought to the issue of formation of new states and reorganisation of states. The Drafting Committee and the Constituent Assembly were aware of the circumstances prevailing at that time. India witnessed Partition, accompanied by violence, bloodshed, and forced mass migration. In addition, there were several kinds of States — Parts A, B and C — and there was need to reorganise all states and integrate the 552 princely states. If the consent of every State or Unit was a precondition to altering the boundary, reorganisation would have become an excruciatingly difficult exercise. Consequently, the final text of Article 3 as promulgated provided for the President’s recommendation and ascertaining the views of the state concerned both with respect to the proposal to introduce the Bill and with respect to the provisions thereof.

Our nation-builders were wise in drafting the Constitution to suit our requirements. More important, successive governments have wisely applied Article 3 in dealing with states. While prior consent of the state was not necessary under the Constitution, in practice every state has been formed with prior consent, in most cases after a detailed, impartial examination by an independent commission. Only in the case of Punjab, there was no legislature at the time of dividing the State in 1966. But there was a broad consensus among stakeholders and no opposition.

So far, Parliament and governments have acted with restraint and wisdom in dealing with boundary issues and formation of states. They rejected the notion that anything could be done to alter boundaries, provided it is not expressly prohibited by the Constitution. While prior consent of the state legislature is not mandatory, in practice care has been taken to obtain consent, or to act only on the express request of the state. The 1956 reorganisation was based on the fundamental principle of language; there was broad national consensus on the issue.

Articles 3 & 4 in their present form are enabling provisions empowering Parliament to act in an exceptional situation when national interest warrants it, or to settle marginal boundary disputes between states when they are recalcitrant and efforts to reconcile differences and arrive at a settlement fail. The framers of the Constitution did not intend to give Parliament arbitrary powers to redraw boundaries; nor did successive Parliaments and governments act unilaterally or arbitrarily without consent, broad consensus or negotiated settlement.

Even after 1987, in every case of state formation, the consent of the state legislature was obtained. The broader principle of federalism and the willing consent of constituent units and their people has been deemed to be necessary before a state is formed or a territory merged, unless overwhelming national interest demands action by Parliament. The procedure was observed in creating Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh in 2000.

Dr. Ambedkar said in his reply to the debate in the Constituent Assembly on states’ rights: “The… charge is that the Centre has been given the power to override the States. This charge must be admitted. But before condemning the Constitution for containing such overriding powers, certain considerations must be borne in mind. The first is that these overriding powers do not form the normal feature of the Constitution. Their use and operation are expressly confined to emergencies only”.

It is this spirit that informed the actions of the Union government and Parliament over the past six decades. There were blemishes in the application of Article 356 earlier. But over the past two decades Indian federalism has matured a great deal. The Supreme Court, in Bommai (1994), made Article 356 more or less a “dead letter” — as Dr. Ambedkar had hoped. Though the Finance Commission’s recommendations are not binding on Parliament and government, those of every Finance Commission in respect of devolution of resources have been accepted and implemented. Since the report of the Tenth Finance Commission, there has been greater transparency in devolution: most of the tax revenues of the Union are being treated as the divisible pool, and a fixed proportion of it is shared with states as decided by the Finance Commission. States are now more in control of their economic future.

Limited sovereignty

This does not mean states can act as they please, or that their territorial integrity is inviolable. There is one nation and one citizenship, and the nation’s territorial integrity is paramount. However, within that overarching framework, states exercise limited sovereignty, and the federal spirit informs the operation of the Constitution. The Constitution did not intend to make India a unitary country with states functioning as municipalities, their survival dependent on the will and whim of the Union government. Nor did the operation of our Constitution over the past 63 years suggest a de facto unitary state. In fact, federalism has been deepening in India, in keeping with global trends.

The determined efforts of the Union government and its oft-repeated declarations that Andhra Pradesh will be divided irrespective of the legislature’s views, pose a grave danger to federalism and unity. Andhra Pradesh was formed with the prior consent of the Andhra State Legislature, and the Hyderabad State Legislature. When two popular movements for the state’s division were launched in the three regions — in Telangana in 1969-70, and in Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema in 1972-73 — the Union government encouraged all regions to arrive at a negotiated settlement. Corresponding constitutional provisions were put in place to safeguard the interests of all regions. An explicit and implicit compact was made by the Union with the people of Andhra Pradesh to the effect that the State would remain united. It is on this basis that people migrated on a large scale to the other regions and to the capital, Hyderabad, and built their lives, livelihoods and the State’s economy. In this backdrop, any redrawing of boundaries would need another agreement arrived at by the affected parties through patient negotiation. The Union has a seminal role in helping reconcile conflicting interests harmoniously. Parliament can act only on the basis of such an agreement, consensus and consent. Any other approach would be ham-handed, arbitrary and uneven, and run counter to the principles and practice of federalism as they have evolved under Indian conditions.

The way the President and Parliament handle the Andhra Pradesh issue will, in a fundamental sense, shape the future of the Union itself. This is a defining moment not for Andhra Pradesh alone, but for our federal Constitution and India itself.

If such an arbitrary decision becomes a precedent, any and every state could be divided or boundaries altered without consent, and without a negotiated settlement, that will effectively convert states into municipalities, and India into a unitary state. Neither the Constitution-makers nor nation-builders intended such an outcome. And India’s future will be in peril if such an effort is made to make the nation effectively unitary at this stage.

In critical moments like this the President and Parliament have to act with restraint, foresight and wisdom. The President is not only the head of the Republic, he is also a part of Parliament. The President is elected by members of both Houses as well as members of State Assemblies. In a fundamental sense the President represents the nation — both Union and states — and is the final defender of the Constitution and federalism along with the Supreme Court. This is therefore a fit case where the President should exercise his constitutional duty independently before recommending introduction of any Bill to divide the State of Andhra Pradesh.

Leaders of parliamentary parties too should act with clarity and wisdom, and with the knowledge that division of a state without its consent and a negotiated settlement among all stake-holders converts the nation effectively into a unitary one. Every state will, in future, be vulnerable to unilateral action for short-term electoral expediency.

The Constitution, the President, Parliament and the political parties will be put to a severe test in this case, and the way they respond to this challenge will shape the future of our Republic, and the future of federalism in India.

by Jayaprakash Narayan

Courtesy: The Hindu

Thursday, 26 September 2013 08:58 PDF Print E-mail
A travesty of the constitution and democracy

The UPA government’s decision to promulgate an ordinance exempting convicted legislators from disqualification is a grotesque and unacceptable decision.

That we have to advance arguments against such an obviously absurd stand is an indication of the precipitous decline in standards of political behavior in the country. Here, we are not talking of people against whom FIRs are registered, or charges are pending. We are talking of protecting those who are convicted of a crime in a court of law! Given the influence and power prominent politicians and elected legislators wield, it is rare that FIRs are registered against them. As the police force is largely under the thumb of the legislators, such cases are usually buried without any investigation. Only a small number of FIRs registered against influential persons even result in the completion of investigation and framing of charges by the court. It takes years for the courts to try a criminal case. After all this, only six percent of criminal cases end in conviction, unless the accused confesses to the crime.

Now major political parties want even such a rare conviction to be disregarded, and are fighting against the disqualification of convicted legislators. The UPA government, which has acquired notoriety for its ineffectiveness and policy paralysis, is now flexing its muscles when it comes to protecting a convicted criminal’s right to continue in elective office. This is nothing but a declaration of war against the people. The government and political parties have lost the capacity to articulate the aspirations of the people who they represent; they are oblivious to their constitutional role and the rationale for their existence. The dictum appears to be: we are in power, we will do whatever benefits and pleases us, as long as we can get away with it.

The argument that a convicted person should have the right to represent people is ludicrous, if not so tragic. People have a right to credible representation. A legislator is elected to make laws. If such a legislator himself, is not merely a law breaker, but has also been convicted in a court after proving guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a notoriously permissive, slow and tortuous criminal justice system, then it is the height of absurdity to have him continue as a law maker.

See the irony of it. If the government’s efforts succeed, a sitting MLA or MP convicted of murder or rape in a future “Nirbhaya case” will continue to be in public office after conviction. All that he needs to do is file appeal after appeal. In a system where it takes years to dispose of appeals, the legislator can never be unseated during his term. That parties and politicians have the temerity to claim such a right for convicted legislators is something only a fertile Kafkaesque imagination can concoct.

One seemingly reasonable but bogus argument advanced is that politicians convicted of crimes related to political agitations may be ‘unfairly’ disqualified. This silly argument is a throwback to the colonial era when violation of law, and obstructive, sometimes violent methods of agitation were condoned and glorified as part of the struggle against an oppressive, foreign ruler. But once we have constitutional rights and the power to anoint or dethrone a government through vote, we cannot resort to forcible bandhs, rasta rokos, rail rokos, arson, stone-pelting and violence. The constitution guarantees us liberty to express peaceful, non-obstructive dissent. To claim the divine right to resort to violence as part of a political agitation is a recipe for anarchy and economic chaos. How can parties then argue that conviction in a crime related to a political agitation should elevate a person to the status of a hero? In any case, there is no known case of conviction of an incumbent legislator for offences related to a bandh or rasta roko in a political agitation.

This ill-advised ordinance has further undermined the credibility of our political system. Already large segments of urban youth, middle classes and women are seething with anger and contempt for politics. They have developed deep distaste bordering on hatred for parties, politicians and government leaders. The government and parties have acted not only immorally, but have chosen a singularly inappropriate issue to defy public opinion. This further erodes the legitimacy of politics and legislatures.

The whole episode stinks of the failure of leadership and a complete collapse of sane elements in the government. After all this, in any case the Supreme Court will quash the ordinance. The court’s 10 July verdict holding Section 8 (4) of the RP Act, 1951 is unassailable. The court gave its verdict largely on technical grounds, relying on the constitutional provisions relating to the Parliament’s power to make a law on disqualification. The court held that Articles 101 & 102, and 190 & 191 do not give power to Parliament to provide different criteria for disqualification of those who are elected legislators, compared to the rest of the citizens. Now this ordinance is bound to be challenged before the court. The court will also have to rely on Article 14 which guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the laws to all citizens.

The criticism that courts are sometimes usurping executive and legislative powers, and are overreaching is a legitimate one. But in this case, the court is perfectly right in quashing Section 8 (4) of the RP Act. In the days to come, the court will have to hold this ordinance as unconstitutional. This will be a well-deserved rebuke for the UPA government and the political class, whose failure of judgment and leadership is as pronounced as their perfidy and arrogance. The net result will be a further decline in the authority and legitimacy of the Parliament, government and political parties. Whoever advised them to promulgate the ordinance has done a great disservice to them. With friends like that, the government and parties do not need enemies.

Courtesy: Tehelka

Saturday, 21 September 2013 07:10 PDF Print E-mail
Compulsory voting will draw young voters and is welcome: Lok Satta Chief

Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, the founding President of Lok Satta Party in an exclusive interview shares his views with Firstpost on the various structural drawbacks prevalent in the current Indian electoral systems.

Shining Path: At the outset, what are your views on the First-past-the-post [FPTP] System? Could you highlight some of its main drawbacks?

Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan: An electoral system should be judged in context. FPTP is working quite well in the US and UK. The purposes of an electoral system are: attract the most competent, committed, public spirited citizens into politics; allow the best of them to acquire power through ethical and rational means; offer the voters a clear choice in terms of agenda and leadership; obtain the people’s mandate, and once in power, set out to deliver what has been promised. These purposes are by and large well served in the UK, though the system is FPTP, and is disproportional and skewed.

In the context of India, FPTP led to dependence on marginal vote for power in a largely poor and illiterate country with woefully bad service delivery and highly centralized government. As a result, vote buying and corruption have become rampant; the kind of people who are best suited are no longer electable through ethical means, and the people who are elected are increasingly unfit to govern, or have been so compromised in their quest for power that they are incapable of delivering on their promises; easy resort to short-term freebies at the cost of real and long-term public good has become ubiquitous; polarizing society by provoking primordial loyalties of caste, religion, and region have become the staple of elections; and despite many incumbents being punished by voters for failing to deliver, there is only a periodic change of players without any significant improvement in outcomes.

FPTP also makes it excruciatingly difficult to bring in correctives like local government empowerment and strengthening rule of law, because the legislators elected in FPTP have great stakes in perpetuating status quo by controlling the police and emasculating local governments.

SP: Can the FPTP System be tweaked to overcome some of the drawbacks? Are there any examples of such tweaking from across the globe?

Dr. JPN: Some ideas like a run-off poll to ensure a majority vote for winning, partial list system combined with constituency-based FPTP election, direct election of the executive, compulsory voting and recall of elected representatives have been floated by many people.

Compulsory voting will certainly draw the urban young and middle class voters to the polls, and is welcome. Recall at local government level will improve things, but can complicate matters at state and national level by converting the legislator into the executive even more than now, and by allowing a free reign to primordial loyalties.

Direct election of the executive may help, but it can lead to legislative paralysis, and in any case is fiercely resisted by large sections in a nation of unmatched diversity and entrenched caste system. Partial list system will only marginally help, because the distortions of vote buying, freebies and polarization based on caste, religion and region will not be checked. At best, it will give parties greater flexibility to get a few leaders of their choice elected, without altering the nature of the power game. Run-off polls will only create an arithmetic majority as the two top vote getters will have to compete for a run-off poll. It does not fundamentally alter the dynamics of power.

SP: At the recently held lecture-discussion at The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, you made a case for the Proportional Representation [PR] System. Could you spell out how it addresses some of the drawbacks of the FPTP System? Also, could the “50% + 1” Preferential Voting System be a viable alternative – or does the PR System serve a completely different objective from a PV System?

Dr. JPN: In PR system, a party will get its legislators elected in proportion to the vote it gets in a whole state. There will be multi member constituencies. In each such constituency, there will be 7-10 seats, and the candidates of each party will be declared in advance in order of seniority. There will be a reasonable threshold requirement of, say 5-10% of the vote in the state, for a party to be eligible to get seats, so that small, fringe groups and caste-based parties will have no advantage.

Once electoral success is based on the share of the vote, it is no longer a winner-take-all system in each constituency. Marginal vote will not be a matter of life or death for parties / candidates. Therefore, the incentive to buy the votes and spend vast sums illegitimately disappears. A party that panders to only a caste or group to win in a constituency will find that many more voters are alienated across the state by such polarization. Parties / leaders who advocate long-term poverty reduction and economic growth, and reject short term freebies will be able to make their case and achieve electoral success without fear of being marginalized as in case of FPTP.

50% +1 voting system will artificially ensure majority mandate. When only two top vote getters are in the fray in the runoff poll, one of them will get 50% +1 vote. This is no real consensus. Nor are vote buying, and freebies culture curbed. If anything, both will be aggravated. Perhaps polarization on the basis of caste, religion and region will reduce. That is necessary. But the fatal flaws of FPTP in our conditions will not be curbed.

Preferential Voting as in Australia has many merits. In such a system, the voter is asked to give his/her preferences to all the contesting candidates. If the first preference candidate is not elected, the vote will be transferred to the second preference candidate; and if he too is not elected, then to the third candidate, and so on. This is a highly refined, but cumbersome and complicated system in a largely illiterate country where most voters cannot even read the name of the candidate, let alone make an informed choice. Therefore while AV / PV system has merits, it is not suitable for us.

SP: While arguing that the present electoral system itself needed change, you made two specific observations that appear controversial. And I quote:

1) Parties desperate to capture marginal votes have led to the conversion of fringe issues into mainstream issues. He [Dr. JPN] cited the Telangana issue in Andhra Pradesh and the faceoff between the OBC Gujjars and Meenas in Rajasthan as recent examples of that disturbing new trend in Indian politics. Is Telangana a fringe issue?

2) Since the 1980s parties have started indulging in selective populist measures and freebies. Hence the spate of freebies such as mid-day meal scheme, subsidized or free grain, and televisions and mixer-grinders, he [Dr. JPN] pointed out.

Is there no distinction between welfare measures such as mid-day meal scheme and populist measures such as distribution of TV sets etc? Also, does the timing of a measure not define if it is a freebie or not?

Dr. JPN: Telangana was a fringe issue in 2000. It became a mainstream issue by the end of the decade, since major parties embraced it in pursuit of the marginal vote. The evidence in the form of votes for TRS before 2004, and its performance in alliance in 2004 and 2009 compared to its alliance partners is compelling and conclusive.

Similarly, BJP embraced ST status for Gujjars for electoral purposes, and the damage done on account of it is well-documented. There are many such local instances of provoking regional, religious or caste sentiments for gaining marginal in pursuit of power.

In a poor country, there must be social security net for the poor to give them the basic amenities for survival. But TVs, grinders, gold chains etc cannot qualify as welfare measures – they are bribes to voters. Free and quality education, skill promotion and healthcare must be government’s priorities. But if short-term consumption subsidies dominate public expenditure at the cost of education and skills, and without building infrastructure and creating jobs, then the poor are hurt more, and society stagnates. In FPTP, in a poor country, it is very difficult for a party to oppose reckless, competitive populism, even when it ensures perpetuation of poverty. All parties know that education, infrastructure and jobs creation are the keys to ending poverty. But FPTP makes it very difficult to pursue these goals. The instant unproductive freebies have great electoral appeal in a poor society in FPTP.

SP: Are there any examples from across the globe to support the hypothesis that PR could be a viable alternative to FPTP for a country like India – I would especially like to understand this in context of the electoral landscape in India wherein we already have a multitude of political parties. Moreover, how does one factor in the reality that PR may come across as too complicated a system for many voters?

Dr. JPN: Most nations of the world, except former British colonies, have PR system. Even among English speaking nations, Australia has Alternative Voting system; New Zealand has PR system; US has presidential system with FPTP model; and even in UK, regional parliaments and European Parliament are elected on PR model. London Mayor is directly elected. FPTP is a relic of colonial past in English-speaking countries.

Regarding multiple parties, FPTP did not lead to consolidation of parties in India. Since caste is deep-rooted, and one caste or the other tends to dominate in a constituency or sub-region, many parties have emerged and succeeded in elections. Therefore there is no ground to fear that PR will lead to fragmentation. In fact, with reasonable state-level threshold requirements of 5-10% vote for representation, there will be consolidation, not fragmentation. In PR with thresholds, no more than 3 or 4 parties will be viable in a major state. More important, national parties will be viable all over the country, and their foot print will increase, leading to greater cohesion and consolidation in a well-designed PR system.

PR can be very simple. All that voters need to do is vote for a party of their choice – no more, no less. Even now, most voters vote for a party. In PR, they can make informed choices based on the agenda, and list of candidates on offer by the party in a multi-member constituency. The only difference is, in PR, they can vote for the party they trust most, because they know that every vote counts in PR, and their vote is not wasted.

Now, most voters do not vote for the best candidate or party; they vote for the “second worst” party to defeat what they regard as “the worst” party. This is because “good” candidates and parties are often unelectable in FPTP.

SP: Can PR increase voter turnout and reduce “tactical voting” [whereby voters are forced to overlook their preferred candidate/party and instead cast their vote in favor of a winnable candidate/party]? How so?

Dr. JPN: PR will enable voters to vote for the best choice, not the second worst choice to prevent the “worst” in their estimate from being elected. PR will eliminate fear of “wasted” vote, and tactical voting will be unnecessary. All that the voter will look for is whether the party of her choice will reach the threshold (5 or 10% as the law may prescribe) of voting in the state. This is much lower than the constituency threshold for a party (often 40% or more) to be elected.

Evidence also shows that in PR system, voting is increased by 10-15%.This is because there is a better choice, and there is no despair as in FPTP (choice limited between tweedledum and tweedledee). This will bring more and more people into electoral process. Also the best and brightest who mostly disappeared from the electoral scene can now contest and be elected through honest means in PR.

SP: There appears to be widespread and increasing disenchantment with politics and politicians – can a move to PR also help in cleaning up the electoral landscape somewhat? Or should this malaise be addressed only through legislative and judicial action – even though recent events around the proposed RTI amendments as well as the controversy around RPA 8[4] do not inspire much confidence?

Dr. JPN: Certainly PR will make clean and competent candidates electable. In FPTP, such public-spirited candidates are a liability, as they are seen to be sure losers. Also dependence on criminals will be unnecessary. Now criminals bring money power, local network loyal to them, and caste power to elections – all of which give them a decisive edge. In PR, criminals will bring odium and will be seen as liabilities.

Also, in FPTP, control over police is critical to perpetuate local hegemony, so that chances of winning in the constituency are maximized. In PR, such compulsion will no longer be there, and rule of law will gain ground. Other reforms including rule of law, accountability and decentralization are necessary. But PR will be a huge step forward.

SP: What are the drawbacks of the PR System?

Dr. JPN: There are two potential risks. First is in a pure PR system without any safeguards, there can be political fragmentation. But Lok Satta is firmly supporting reasonable a threshold in each state – say 5-10% vote. This threshold will prevent fragmentation.

Second, party bosses may be reckless in nominating their cronies and may sell the seats. Even now in FPTP this is happening. In PR, ideally, there should be internal democracy and primary elections for nominating candidate. Even if that does not materialize, party bosses in PR will have to be far more democratic. Or else, credible and influential leaders can leave the party and form a viable party with like-minded persons, since they can aspire for 5-10% vote.

In FPTP, such a challenge to leaders is not possible, as a party of credible and honest leaders is not likely to win any seats even if it gets 10-15% vote.

SP: Do you think the media can play a more constructive role in terms of improving voter awareness? For instance, can some of drawbacks of FPTP be addressed by creating a more aware and responsible citizenry?

Dr. JPN: Absolutely. The only antidote to bad politics is more politics and better politics. Media has a crucial role in promoting citizenship, and encouraging constructive political engagement to make the system better. There is needless cynicism and despair today, coupled with reckless anti-political rhetoric. Media can promote reasoned public debate, and help create conditions for systemic reform

SP: Thank you for your time, Dr. JPN. On behalf of Firstpost and its readers, I wish you good luck. Any final thoughts you may want to share on this topic?

Dr. JPN: We have done well as a democracy. But in designing a system of representation, we preferred familiarity and continuity, and failed to create the conditions required to make our democracy function better. The world over, democracies had matured and improved as enlightened citizens worked hard for reform. We can easily achieve the changes we need for a better democracy.

The major parties, citizens, media – all of us have stakes in a better system of representation. We need to minimize risks and maximize gains. I am confident we will achieve the reforms needed over the next decade.

Courtesy: First Post

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