In a recent article published in the Economic Times, a leader of a political party has opined that negative voting by opting to reject all candidates is akin to boycotting of elections and instead one needs to consider electoral reforms such as state funding of elections and proportional representation in place of "first past the post" system.
The author is correct in arguing that negative voting is like boycotting of elections. Also, there will be no disagreement amongst those who want to make the Indian democracy work for the people, that some serious reforms are necessary. I would like to point out two issues here.
Why are people talking about negative voting in the first place? It is because, their experience shows that those who get elected do not or are not able to work in the general interest of the electorate. Fundamental reason for this can be traced to the party system of governance. Most winning candidates belong to recognized parties and are under the whip of these parties. It is people’s experience that the high commands of these parties set their agenda from considerations other than serving the interest of the broad masses. Other candidates belonging to smaller parties and independent candidates, most often don’t win. And, even those who do win end up supporting ruling or opposition parties or are totally marginalized in the system. Thus in present state of affairs, people find themselves in utter state of helplessness, which leads to the second important issue that I would like to raise.
What kind of reforms do we need? There have been dozens of proposals made by the Election Commission, political organisations and individuals. By themselves many of the proposals appear to be well meaning. However, I would argue that such reforms, submerged in the existing electoral system, would be subverted to by the strong forces wanting to retain the status quo. Take for example, the issue of state funding of elections. If the state funding is limited to a set of recognized parties, as is the desire of these parties reflected in the recommendations of the Indrajit Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections, then it does not do one iota to enable the candidate belonging to nascent political forces that want to serve the people. The same is the case for proportional representation system. In most proportional representation systems around the world, the proportionality applies only to limited number of major parties and once again leaves out nascent political forces. Therefore, a pre-requisite of any genuine reform is that it must go in the direction of vesting sovereignty in the people.
The Constitution of India recognizes that the sovereignty should ultimately vest in the people. In practice, if at all, people seem to exercise sovereignty only in the brief period of casting their vote. They seem to surrender their sovereignty in toto and are left with no power and no role till the next election. This is the real cause of the marginalization that people are feeling, which is alienating them from the electoral process. It has to be noted that vesting sovereignty to the people will necessarily mean that governments will have to hold themselves accountable to the people. This will require developing such mechanisms as those that will bring electorate in the decision making process. Those who want truly inclusive democracy, and specially those who want to transform our social system, must work in this direction and push for an integral clutch of demands that will vest sovereignty in the people.