THE ILLUSION OF ‘ONE VOTE ONE VALUE’

Dr.B.R Ambedkar described the paradigm shift that Indian Polity was going through during his speech in the Constituent Assembly delivered on 25th November 1949 in the following words:

“On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value” [1]

The limited issue that is sought to be enquired here is whether this principle of ‘one man one vote and one vote one value’ exists in reality. To delve into this question, it is first important to understand the electoral system existing in India. India follows a ‘First Past the Post System’ (in short ‘FPTP’) where a candidate in any election winning the most number of votes is elected. Now this benchmark of winning the most votes is generally seen as a ruling on the acceptability of the candidate elected, but a cursory look at the most recent national elections in 2014 would show otherwise. The following table[2] enumerates the performance of the 3 largest National Parties in the 2014 General Election:

 

Name of Party % Of Votes Secured No. Of Seats Won % Of Seats Won
Bhartiya Janata Party 31.34 282 51.08
Indian National Congress 19.52 44 7.97
Bahujan Samaj Party 4.19 0 0

 

A glimpse at this table would show that the Party which has absolute majority in the Lower House of Parliament does not even enjoy the confidence of even half of the electorate. Similarly, no candidate of the Bahujan Samaj Party got elected to the Lower House even though it polled in 4.19% of the total votes which would translate into 23 votes in the 552 member Lower House thereby leaving this 4.19% of the electorate without representation and rendering their ‘one vote’ not being equivalent to ‘one value’. This anomaly is not limited to just one election, it is a systemic anomaly reflected in each and every single election result in India. The following table[3] shows the performance of the 3 largest in the recently concluded Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections in 2017 where again this inherent defect is reflected:

Name Of Party % Of Votes Secured No. Of Seats Won % Of Seats Won
Bhartiya Janata Party 39.67 312 77
Bahujan Samaj Party 22.23 19 4
Samajwadi Party 21.92 47 11

 

As redundant as the FPTP system might be, it is still retained in this country because of the complexity that the alternative known as the ‘Proportional Representation’ system possesses. One of the primary reasons given for the adoption of the FPTF system in the constitutional assembly was the inherent simplicity that it possesses thereby allowing a largely illiterate population to simply choose a candidate of his/her choice and the candidate winning the most number of votes being elected. This was the situation in 1949 when a mere 12% of the population was literate in India while after the 2011 census, 74% of the population was literate.[4]

What is the alternative then? The Proportional Representation (in short ‘PR’ system system works for realistically giving representation to all citizens and is the most widely followed electoral system in the world currently with more than half of all the nations following some form of the PR system.[5] Does this drastic rise in the literacy rate give us any impetus to shift to the PR system? History of independent India has shown otherwise with most electoral reforms coming through a pro-active role played by the judiciary rather than through legislative means. Any talk of a shift to the PR system would be a futile exercise without drastic reforms being carried out first in the current system to make it more transparent. For example, making electoral funding more transparent to weed out black money, disqualifying candidates with criminal antecedents from contesting elections, giving the Election Commission the power to cancel the registration of Political Parties who fail to disclose their accounts pertaining to election expenses and putting a ceiling on the expenditure of a political party for election purposes.

What is required is a gradual shift to a more representative electoral system with other reforms as mentioned above being carried out first before a shift to the PR system. This shift can only be made once the electorate is made aware of the PR system and a consensus is built amongst the masses to carry out this cumbersome exercise.

Drafted by-

Rohit Gaur & Vivek Punia, Advocates, Prosoll law Inc.

[1] http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/vol11p11.htm

[2] http://eci.nic.in/eci_main/archiveofge2014/20%20-%20Performance%20of%20National%20Parties.pdf

[3] http://eci.nic.in/eci_main/archiveofge2017/UP/05.Performance%20of%20Political%20Parties.pdf

[4] https://www.census2011.co.in/literacy.php

[5] http://www.fairvote.org/research_electoralsystems_world

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