Friday, 10 March 2017

None of the above: Killing democracy

Elections will always be quite the topic in India. When we speak of the topic ‘NOTA’, or ‘None of the above’, we refer to democracy and its fundamental principles and one generally leans towards it being a huge boon to democracy. Before we even go into that debate, let us ask ourselves, how many Indians have a clear concept of what democracy is? Well, very few to be precise. With that in mind, let us first aim to look at what democracy is, so the readers need not have a single speck of doubt as to why arguments are placed on NOTA being a regress or progress in the first place.
Now, we need not go into the details of democracy and how it came to place, for that would be out of scope and off topic for the post. Let us have a look into the fundamental principles that govern democracy and the concept. First up, a definition of democracy simply does not exist. If you may ask why, well, that is because it is just a concept of the form of government and there is no consensus among the various political thinkers to define democracy and its vital parts. However, we are saved as there actually is a unanimous opinion between them as to which are the vital parts. If that was not there, how could we even call countries ‘democratic republics’ in the first place? The basic fundamental necessity of democracy is public participation, or public opinion as people would like to look at it. That means, every citizen, as duty bound to the constitution should necessarily vote in order to bring out the true essence of democracy – and this is where NOTA hits the core of democracy like a dagger plunging into the heart, in the hands of a cold-blooded beast, ruthless and vengeful. Another important key point of democracy is equality – everyone is equal and no one is above law; from the president to the homeless, everyone is considered equal human beings and that brings us to another concept we need to understand – the vote of every single citizen carries equal weight – no more, no less. From the Nobel laureates of India, to those who don’t have time enough to think about democracy as they have nothing to eat for the day, everyone gets one vote – and no single vote is more powerful than the other. You are nobody when you vote and the ocean of anonymity engulfs you – no black no white; no Bihari, no Punjabi; no rich no poor – only human; only a citizen of India. So, democracy is thus the form of government where real power lies in the people, and in an ideal case, the phrase ‘We, The People’, not ‘We, The People Who are Rich and Resourceful’. This is a very strong concept as the government is liable to be overthrown, protested against and all forms of opposition can be put forth legally to the government to ensure a responsible and accountable government – it is the public opinion that counts – ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number’ that ultimately prevails.
            Now that we have a brief idea of the essence of a democracy, let us look into the problems of democracy, and intertwine them with the concept of NOTA to make things clear about it being a progress or regress. Let us begin with ‘We, The People’. It all sounded so good in the last paragraph when the concept of power to the people was put forward – seemed like ‘We, The People’ had the power to create governments, the power to create a nation, the power to build, and to destroy; the power to decide the future and the power to create happiness rest in the hands of the people. But, before we dive too much into utopia, there is one question that comes into the mind, is majority opinion the best opinion? Even if it is, how much is the majority opinion reflected in the Indian system of representative democracy? To answer the first question would probably take some of the greatest political minds of the world, and there is no single answer available. But both a yes and no to the question lead to the second question, is the Indian system really the majority opinion? India has a first-past-the-post voting system, which is highly in contrast of the simple majority voting system. First-past-the-post, herein referred to as FPTP, is a voting system which is a concept one has to fully understand in order to fully realize the impact of NOTA. FPTP system provides for the filling of vacant seats in a legislature by the decreasing order of votes secured by the candidate. Let us take an example for this to understand, suppose, there are five candidates for an election – A, B, C, D and E, and there are three seats. Now, let us have a fictional result of A receiving 20% of votes, B receiving 14% of votes, C receiving 10% of votes, while D receives 7% and E receives 15%, and the rest 34% decide not to vote. Here, A, E and B shall fill up the vacant seats of the legislature, in spite of having less than 50% of total votes. A with 20% votes, E with 15% votes and B with 14% votes now represent the people and make laws. Do A, B and E really reflect the views people wanted? Where is the majority opinion in this government? Democracy is not seen in its pure form in any FPTP system in the world. Now, let us come to something unnoticed - the votes received by C and D. These are called wasted votes – and the wasted votes also include the extra 4% of votes A had after winning – for he only required 16%. Concepts like gerrymandering come up with the FPTP system, but that again, unfortunately would lie out of scope. Focusing on NOTA here, we see that the 34% who chose not to vote, are already exercising their right not to vote that comes along the right to vote. Coming to think of it, the right to choose none of the candidates existed in Section 49(O) of the Representation of People Act already, just that it was available as a form which had to be submitted to the electoral officer. The advent of NOTA, has given a huge blow to democracy under the belt. For, what we see here is the encouragement of not choosing a candidate – the equivalent of not voting at all. Whether you vote or not, a candidate is going to be selected even if he gets 1% and the rest 99% goes for NOTA. There is no provision for re-election if NOTA exceeds the percentage of votes a winning candidate has got. In the present Indian scenario, very few people care about politics being busy with their own focus on themselves, and not the country. NOTA was just the thing they needed; and the politicians needed. The gap between the general people and the field of politics just got wider, and it is not closing anytime soon. From a thin line, now it has become a broad gap and the arena of politics is degrading at a rapid pace every day. Instead of encouraging people to engage in politics, to think about the nation and its policies, to influence the government, to build a better nation, the Indian nation is more keen on keeping most people out of thinking about the government and enabling them to not participate at all – one less headache for them, one less headache for the political parties. If you think NOTA is going to deter politicians to be responsible, think again. Then there’s another aspect to look into it, will anyone really stand in the sun waiting for hours just to tell the nation that they do not have an opinion. NOTA was the easy way out for most people, but simply sitting and not going to vote is an easier option. Even the Supreme Court has stated “Eventually, voters’ participation explains the strength of democracy. Lesser voter participation is rejection of commitment to democracy slowly but definitely, whereas larger participation is better for democracy[1]”. While it is true that some voters may actually be encouraged to participate in voting, how does their coming to vote change the result of voting? The ultimate result of the vote is not going to change. NOTA provides for discouraging of democracy and encouraging of ignorance to nation politics which is already taking its toll on India heavily.

[1] Venkatesan, J., NOTA will curb impersonation: court, available at


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