Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Electors and the Elected
Why is the bonding missing?
Vinay Sahasrabuddhe

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment and he betrays you instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion”. –
Edmund Burk, speech at Bristol 1774

It’s a strange coincidence that just when the Parliament is celebrating its 50th anniversary, the hiatus between the electors and the elected is becoming more and more pronounced. After Arvind Kejriwal now it is Baba Ramdev who has indulged in calling names to our Members of Parliament. Expectedly, both of them have received flack from the parliamentarians and others as well. While members of civil society and parliament may continue with their war of words, it is enlightening to know as to how members of the public view these allegations and counter allegations. If the comments that readers routinely post below a news item on a newspaper portal are any indication, eight out of ten see nothing wrong about such comments, regardless the fact how irresponsible they are. But the real issue is not the comments or the objections to them. What is more important is looking into the factors that have adversely affected the relationship between people and their representatives. Withering away of the mutual bonding between the voters and the voted doesn’t augur well for the health of our representative democracy. If this distance remains uncovered, democracy will not be deemed as ‘of the people’ as what Abraham Lincoln had envisaged.
Why the very people who elect a representative tend to disown him/her almost the very next day? Why those who praise an elected representative publicly, assail almost the entire politician community privately? Why there is so much of derision and contempt all around about those whom we do not mind voting for? Why has the sense of belonging towards our elected houses been evaporating so unmistakably every time?  Where exactly has the bonding between the electors and the elected gone? Questions galore.
There are obviously multiple factors responsible for this situation. Not that people do not want to love the leaders, they elect. But the quality deficit understandably puts them off. More importantly, the crisis of purpose that has haunted politics of today has now come to the nerves of the people. They hardly believe that politicians fight elections genuinely for the cause of serving the people. Most of them continue to commit this mistake of over-generalisation thanks to the sensation-mongering media that routinely overlooks the contribution of serious, silently functioning, committed and studious elected representatives. As a consequence the image of an elected representative today is far more distorted than the reality.
Another important reason behind the public disdain for elected politicians is the weak connectivity between the electors and the elected. People who face some problem approach an elected representative with the hope of redressing their grievance. Rarely, those who want to offer some suggestions or give some policy inputs also meet an elected representative. But those who do not want to seek any favor or have no particular work with the elected representative, hardly think of visiting him and vice versa. Majority of the electors come in this last category and they end up feeling that the one whom they have elected hardly bothers for them. Obviously, this adds to the existing chasm.
The third, and perhaps the most vital reason is the nature of our electoral system. First-past-the-post system adopted by us has done several harms to our body polity. It has converted electoral battle into a mere matter of mastering the technique. Besides, it has promoted divisive tendencies, as the victory in our elections hinges more on dividing the negative vote than accumulating the positive one. If an electoral system is facilitating victory of a candidate who gets a mere 20% votes and ignores the huge (80%) popular opinion that has rejected him/her outright, how would the elected have legitimacy in the eyes of the electors?
All this has contributed to the fact that ‘aam admi’ today relishes denouncing the politician. This crisis of dis-connect has been compounded by our continued neglect of political parties as institutions. With no mechanism for monitoring the functioning of political parties and a deafening silence on the front of even electoral reforms, let alone all encompassing political reforms; this distance is bound to grow. It was proper on the part of the Lok Sabha speaker to admonish Team Anna Hazare for their utterances. But, lets not forget that their keeping the mouths shut is not going to create the missing connectivity trapped by the system. IN UK, in 2000, a commission headed by Lord Norton was set up to look into the ways and means of strengthening parliament. In its foreword Lord Norton had said, Parliament has a number of functions that it has generally fulfilled effectively. However, there is an imbalance in the relationship between Parliament and the executive. There is a need to ensure that Parliament can call government to account.” Sixty years before we decided to institutionalise our democracy on the British model. Now, we realise that we have inherited the infirmities of the system as well. But in Britan there is a quest for solutions. There is no reason why this passion for finding answers should be in short supply here.
THIS was carried by The Asian Age and DECCAN CHRONICLE in their issues on May 14, 2012