Book Title: India’s Experiment with Democracy: The Life of a Nation Through Its Elections
Author: SY Quraishi
Raja Sekhar Vundru
INDIA, the world’s largest democracy, has come to a stage where people have an uncanny belief that democracy means elections and that electoral expression is the only way of democratic expression. SY Quraishi’s book tries to understand, unravel and identify the democratic evolution through one of the crucial democratic processes called elections.
Elections in India are mostly once-in-a-five-year affair for an average voter. The right to vote as universal adult franchise was opposed by Sardar Patel in the Constitution-making process, but was finally achieved by Dr BR Ambedkar, albeit as a legal right. Ambedkar said, “In politics, we will be recognising the principle of one man-one vote and one vote-one value. In our social and economic life, we continue to deny the principle of one man-one value…”
Ambedkar eventually found his definition of democracy as “a form and
a method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed”. Elections and electoral process regulation
guarantee ‘free and fair elections’
and therefore are paramount in a democracy since elections are the only means to create governments. Quraishi’s book rightfully positions itself in understanding India through these electoral processes.
The author’s deep understanding of India’s electoral politics and democracy doesn’t emanate purely from his tenure as an Election Commissioner and later as Chief Election Commissioner, but is rooted in his three decades of grounding in the Indian Administrative Service. He doesn’t select a chronological route of the electoral journey of India. He takes us on an expedition through the rocky roads of the vast expanse of subjects that Indian democracy grapples with and evolves, within the framework of elections.
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) defines elections at the basic level, that the electoral system translates the votes cast in a general election into seats won by parties and candidates. Elections in India were made too simplistic, through the electoral system called ‘First past the post’. This system, when adopted in 1950, was simple that whosoever gets the highest votes is the winner. It doesn’t impose a rule that a winner should get majority of votes — 50 per cent and above — to win.
Majority of the elected legislators on average do not get more than 30 per cent votes in a constituency. The very representative character of an elected representative comes into question with a majority of voters not having voted for the elected candidate. So far, none of the Central governments in India have ever received a majority 50-plus vote. Indian democracy has matured to a stage where the very day a legislator is elected, the opposing camp gets active because 60-65 per cent voters have not voted for that candidate. Similarly, governments formed have a majority of voters already opposing them. This tendency has accentuated in post-globalised India, that Quraishi tries to delve upon.
He traverses through wide-ranging topics that have impacted India’s electoral process such as splits in political parties, followed by claims to recognise the new splits and the fight for symbols, apart from issues like electoral bonds, financing elections and criminals in the electoral arena. Quraishi stands firm against the opponents of Electronic Voting Machines, as he comes out as a quintessential institutional loyalist of the Election Commission of India, although he feels ECI should be more tough in its decisions.
He finds the model code of conduct sacrosanct, and ponders over the moral issues of conducting elections during the pandemic and migrant voters’ rights. Quraishi picks Rajya Sabha elections for the challenges of cross-voting and how the Upper House polls have changed the very notion of electoral affiliation in the last 10 years.
Quraishi has balanced views on simultaneous elections, how we grapple with the social media and digital hijacking of elections and demonetisation. Fast-paced disqualifications and all the new challenges electoral democracy is facing are responded to with a sane voice. He avoids taking a radical stand. Continuous stress on electoral reforms is Indian democracy’s necessity and reforms need to be campaigned vigorously for it to be achieved.
Quraishi’s book is a collection of his sustained and prolific voyage to understand the electoral universe of India and that clearly makes it important for every concerned citizen seeking a democratic India.