Blindsided by Big Numbers: Looking Beyond Electoral Wins

tr.v. blind·sid·ed, blind·sid·ing, blind·sides. 1. To hit or attack on or from the blind side. 2. To catch or take unawares, especially with harmful or detrimental results

Too much of a good thing, as the idiom goes, is bad. Excessively bright light can be more blinding than pitch darkness. The glare of the limelight, another popular adage, often hides smaller events in its daylight. Which is all to say by way of saying that democratic India has just (re)discovered the blinding effect of big numbers, even if in a relative sense. Take, for one example, 282 out of 545. Take, for another, 67 out of 70. Within the range of statistics thrown up by Indian politics, these are staggering numbers, even historic ones.

So what’s wrong with that? In one word: everything. Among the oft-touted clichés in India is that of the country being a plural democracy, of there being unity in diversity. But suddenly two elections have thrown up scarcely believable numbers. Admittedly, in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections there was hardly any credible opposition to the heavily PR-reliant campaign of Narendra Modi, but even the most clued in observer did not see such a massive mandate coming.

A virtual retake has just played out at the Delhi Assembly Elections, with the Aam Aadmi Party railroading all political opposition into virtual oblivion and winning a mandate that has left even their supporters bemused. Speculations of political hara-kiri by opponents abound now as well as they did during the Lok Sabha elections. Indeed there are some indicators of grave miscalculation, such as the drafting in of Kiran Bedi as the BJP’s potential CM candidate. Even so, the numbers are frightening.

The first question is, rather obviously, that of the health of our democracy. Does an absolute mandate truly imply that all voices speak as one? Or does it mean there are political manipulations beyond the comprehension of the average voter? The former cannot be seen as a good thing, even if it sounds cynical to see it as herd mentality than true consensus. The plurality and diversity of India have always ensured that one man’s Peter is another’s Paul, to mix metaphors. For everyone to see a messiah in one political choice is, at least for me, a hard fact to digest.

There are other voices that have addressed the latter question of political conspiracy, see, for instance, this piece by @Vidyut. I have already ranted on the existence of a “Bhangress” a seamless political unit manifesting partly as the Bharatiya Janata Party and partly as the Indian National Congress, which are in turn controlled by such capitalists as the Ambanis. A cartoon in The Hindu prior to last year’s Lok Sabha elections had shown Mukesh Ambani holding the strings of two puppets representing Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. The only question is whether the Aam Aadmi Party is/can become an extension to this amorphous political monster, allegations against the Ambanis by Arvind Kejriwal notwithstanding. This premise has gained fodder with the recent dismissal of Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan from the AAP’s Political Affairs Committee in a move that seemed to have the tacit approval of Kejriwal himself. The Party’s upcoming National Council meeting might be the last word on its future, and it remains to be seen whether the coterie around Kejriwal, which is being accused of conspiring to commandeer power within the AAP, will result in the de-democratization of the Party, the efforts of volunteers notwithstanding.

Even assuming this does not come to pass – that Kejriwal’s AAP does represent, and continues to be, a reasonably honest political alternative, the teetering of electoral figures from one extreme to another suggests a deeper and more devastating malaise: a total political vacuum. This swing from voting en masse for the BJP to literally handing the town keys to the AAP is only a real life running from pillar to post by a frustrated and impatient electorate that wants to see change happen and preferably happen yesterday.

When the AAP first seemed poised to become a political entity of some reckoning, I had mused whether its failure to do so would see a return to type by those that had supported and elected it, i.e. would they go back to their candle-light dharnas at India Gate? That question still stands, if more nakedly now – if the AAP fails to deliver on even a fraction of their promises, will “India’s teeming millions” finally confront the problem they’ve been hiding under the limelight for so long? Will they finally fess up to their lack of imagination in choosing to pass the buck rather than find solutions until there is no one to whom the buck may be passed?

It is interesting to note the insistence by Kejriwal, at least at one point, upon understanding the notion of Swaraj, which may be translated without loss of meaning as self-governance. There is, of course, a delicious irony in choosing a government to help you self-govern, especially if one comprehends self-governance in the literal, individual sense rather than the collective sense of a citizenry. Swaraj, for me, does not equate with the political right to self-determination as a citizenry. In the Gandhian sense (which I hope I have understood correctly), the term refers to adopting a lifestyle that imposes on another life in the least manner possible while working to create a greater whole cohesively.

Perhaps Kejriwal hopes that the citizens of India will eventually become harmoniously functioning individual cogs within the interlinked machinery of society. But is he prepared to acknowledge that living breathing cogs are more likely to be anarchic rather than continuously operate under the guidance of a greater will, for the supposed greater good? Without even debating the patent absurdity of society as a machine, it remains to be seen whether the victory in 67 out of 70 assembly seats is indicative of Delhi’s citizens choosing to be such cogs, in the hope of, so to speak, a better life in a better city.

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About the Author

godavar
I'm usually a poet, but my responses to current events and politics often take a more prosaic form. I am also curious about everything. Tell me something new.

2 Comments on "Blindsided by Big Numbers: Looking Beyond Electoral Wins"

  1. Swaraj means (or better mean) more like ‘Saamuhik Raj’ like this one http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/our-democracy-must-empower-voters/article3662808.ece
    “Once elected, it is these special interests to whom our representatives often cater, rather than the interests of the people. So, what institutional mechanism do the people have to make their voice heard, if their representatives do not represent their interests?

    REFERENDUM & INITIATIVE

    This problem is not unique to India. Representative democracies around the world have searched for solutions to this structural flaw. One innovative solution tried in numerous countries is the Referendum (R) and the Initiative (I). These are instruments whereby some decisions of policy and law-making are ‘referred’ to a direct vote by the electorate, rather than solely being decided by their representatives. They provide a formal, institutional channel for the voice of the citizens, if they feel that their representatives are not adequately representing them.

    Switzerland was the first country to introduce these instruments, as far back as 1848. Now 36 other countries, mainly in Europe and Latin America, have these instruments at a national level, and various other countries like Germany, Brazil and the United States, at the state and regional levels. Interestingly, India is one of only five democracies never to have used these instruments.

    The Referendum (R): The citizen-initiated Referendum is an instrument whereby citizens, by a direct vote, can decide whether a legislation passed by Parliament should be rejected. Citizens sceptical of a certain law or policy can gather signatures of a small percentage of the electorate which can force a direct vote, by the entire electorate, on the legislation in question. If a majority vote opposes the legislation, then their rejection is binding upon Parliament. In the case of Switzerland, one per cent of its electorate needs to signal support through signatures, before a nationwide vote is conducted.

    For example in 2000, the Swiss Parliament introduced the ‘Electricity Market Law’ for liberalisation and deregulation of the electricity market. There was, however, resentment against deregulation and what was perceived as the dismantling of a well-functioning public service. So the people asked for a referendum on this law. After the required signatures were collected, the law was put to a nationwide vote. A majority of the people opposed the law, so the law was rejected.

    The Initiative (I): While the Referendum is an instrument that allows citizens to accept or reject legislation passed by the Parliament, an ‘Initiative’ lets citizens initiate a new legislation or constitutional amendment, by putting their own proposal on the political agenda that Parliament is ignoring. A bill drafted by a group of citizens and supported by a small percentage of the electorate (again established by signatures) is put to a nationwide direct vote. In Switzerland, two per cent of its electorate needs to sign and support an Initiative, to make it eligible for a nationwide direct vote. If the citizen-initiated legislation gets a majority it becomes a law.

    For example, in Uruguay, in 2002, the government committed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), that it would privatise the supply of drinking water and sanitation services to the entire country. This move met with opposition from the people, who responded with a citizens’ Initiative. The Initiative demanded that access to drinking water and sanitation should be enshrined in the constitution as a human right. This Initiative was voted on in 2004 and won with a resounding majority.”

  2. Swaraj means (or better mean) more like http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/our-democracy-must-empower-voters/article3662808.ece
    “Once elected, it is these special interests to whom our representatives often cater, rather than the interests of the people. So, what institutional mechanism do the people have to make their voice heard, if their representatives do not represent their interests?

    REFERENDUM & INITIATIVE

    This problem is not unique to India. Representative democracies around the world have searched for solutions to this structural flaw. One innovative solution tried in numerous countries is the Referendum (R) and the Initiative (I). These are instruments whereby some decisions of policy and law-making are ‘referred’ to a direct vote by the electorate, rather than solely being decided by their representatives. They provide a formal, institutional channel for the voice of the citizens, if they feel that their representatives are not adequately representing them.

    Switzerland was the first country to introduce these instruments, as far back as 1848. Now 36 other countries, mainly in Europe and Latin America, have these instruments at a national level, and various other countries like Germany, Brazil and the United States, at the state and regional levels. Interestingly, India is one of only five democracies never to have used these instruments.

    The Referendum (R): The citizen-initiated Referendum is an instrument whereby citizens, by a direct vote, can decide whether a legislation passed by Parliament should be rejected. Citizens sceptical of a certain law or policy can gather signatures of a small percentage of the electorate which can force a direct vote, by the entire electorate, on the legislation in question. If a majority vote opposes the legislation, then their rejection is binding upon Parliament. In the case of Switzerland, one per cent of its electorate needs to signal support through signatures, before a nationwide vote is conducted.

    For example in 2000, the Swiss Parliament introduced the ‘Electricity Market Law’ for liberalisation and deregulation of the electricity market. There was, however, resentment against deregulation and what was perceived as the dismantling of a well-functioning public service. So the people asked for a referendum on this law. After the required signatures were collected, the law was put to a nationwide vote. A majority of the people opposed the law, so the law was rejected.

    The Initiative (I): While the Referendum is an instrument that allows citizens to accept or reject legislation passed by the Parliament, an ‘Initiative’ lets citizens initiate a new legislation or constitutional amendment, by putting their own proposal on the political agenda that Parliament is ignoring. A bill drafted by a group of citizens and supported by a small percentage of the electorate (again established by signatures) is put to a nationwide direct vote. In Switzerland, two per cent of its electorate needs to sign and support an Initiative, to make it eligible for a nationwide direct vote. If the citizen-initiated legislation gets a majority it becomes a law.

    For example, in Uruguay, in 2002, the government committed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), that it would privatise the supply of drinking water and sanitation services to the entire country. This move met with opposition from the people, who responded with a citizens’ Initiative. The Initiative demanded that access to drinking water and sanitation should be enshrined in the constitution as a human right. This Initiative was voted on in 2004 and won with a resounding majority.”

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