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Updated: July 21, 2012 00:52 IST

Our democracy must empower voters

    Prashant Bhushan
    Atishi Marlena
Comment (80)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

Instruments that permit people to vote directly on policy and to initiate legislation can ensure that the citizen’s voice is heard

Independent India has been a large-scale experiment in democracy. Unlike many other nations that gained independence from colonial rule but descended into dictatorships and military rule, India has remained a democracy, despite its size and diversity. While we pride ourselves on this achievement, we also need to reflect more on the problems and challenges that face Indian democracy. Concerns relating to scams, criminal records of elected representatives and disorder in Parliament recur, but a deeper question needs to be asked: how democratic, actually, is Indian democracy?

India is a representative democracy, where people select their representatives once in five years to make laws and policies on their behalf. Limiting the participation of the people merely to voting once in five years has significantly reduced the responsiveness of the representatives to the people. Further, representatives often make policies that are not aligned with the wishes of the people. A key reason for this is that political parties require huge funds to contest elections, which are usually provided by moneyed special interests. 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.

Benefits

The primary value of I&R is to align legislative behaviour closer to public opinion. The mere presence of I&R, even when it is not used, makes the legislature more aligned to public opinion, since they know that citizens have the I&R channel to “trump” them. For example, in Uruguay in 2002, privatisation of the state-owned mobile phone operator was challenged by citizens. They collected the required number of signatures for a citizen-initiated Referendum. Before the voting happened, the government repealed the law and no referendum had to be held.

Second, I&R results in significant governance reforms — an area in which the legislature is least likely to act, since it typically curtails their own power. There is a conflict of interest, and the lawmakers typically ignore or even sabotage such reforms. For example, in India, one can see that the Lokpal Bill, which could lead to the investigation and prosecution of corrupt lawmakers, has languished for 42 years. However, in California, where I&R is frequently used, 67 Initiatives on governance have been voted on, between 1912 and 2006. Laws regarding campaign finance, prevention of elected representatives holding other offices have been introduced via Initiatives; laws that were unlikely to have been introduced by California’s legislature.

Third, an important impact of the I&R process is the educative and transformative effect it has in creating a more politically informed and participative citizenry. Scholars find that in Switzerland and American states where I&R is active, citizens are better informed and have more opportunities for direct political participation.

Challenges

There are, however, some challenges in introducing I&R which need to be suitably addressed with appropriate solutions.

One logistical challenge is conducting in direct voting at the national or even state level. Various solutions exist, including the employment of information and communication technologies (ICT) in innovative ways. Further, the content of the ballot to be voted on, needs to be structured in a way that is easily understood by a wide variety of voters with varying linguistic backgrounds and levels of literacy. Here again various solutions exist.

Another challenge has to do with voter competence in making informed judgment on matters of law and policy. One response to this concern is if our elected representatives (who are clearly not experts on many of the issues they take decisions on) can make decisions on laws and policies taking into account the views of experts, so can the people. Additionally, in referendums it has been found that even when voters do not understand the complexity of issues, they are able to take simple cues — like who is supporting or opposing the proposition — to make informed and ideologically consistent choices. They also try to educate themselves on the issues to be voted on by listening to views of experts on the topic and engaging in debate. Mechanisms to make diverse expert opinions available in an easy to access manner need to be devised.

Yet another challenge is to prevent moneyed special interests from influencing the I&R process, by sponsoring high-spending misleading campaigns. This is an important issue that has emerged in some American states like California, Oregon and Colorado. For example in 2006, two oil companies contributed a combined $34 million to defeat an initiative for the funding of renewable energy research and production by oil companies.

One response to this concern is that it is far more difficult and expensive for moneyed special interests to convince citizens at large than to convince a smaller set of lawmakers through lobbying. That said, there is need to have safeguards that limit or eliminate campaign financing in the I&R process.

Whatever be the challenges in introducing such democratic reform, the time has come to discuss such a change to ensure that our government truly represents the people. Today, democracy is clearly falling short on this count and instruments of Initiatives and Referendums can provide a political mechanism to ensure that citizens’ voices counterbalance a legislature unresponsive to peoples’ interests. The time has come to recommit ourselves to a deeper and more participatory democracy; a democracy with greater alignment between public policy and people’s interests.

(Prashant Bhushan is a public interest lawyer and member of Team Anna. Atishi Marlena is an independent social educator and activist.)

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Fellow commentors who suggest prople are not mature enough to make right choice:
How is it valid for immature people to vote at any level including selcting MPs and MLAs ?
How about if these ideas are first implemented at Panchayat and Municipal level and eventually moving higher to national level ?

Maybe citizens in various cities would exercise these options to enforce development and planning and kick start the awareness across the nation.

from:  Rao
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 00:19 IST

I would look into the situation differently.
For sure, majority of our legislations have lost its essence with the changing scaneario and they need ammendments asap.
Ministries and Departments are run by Bureaucrats. They are literate individuals against illeterate politicians . Currently, Consulatnst like E&Y, KPMG, Deloite, PWC are advising law makers basis their international experience.
Satyamev Jayate of Aamir Khan has created awareness based on hard core research rather than depending upon myths. Moreover he was not influenced by any political ideologies. He displayed true spirit for the benefit of 1.20 Billion Indians.
Everyone blames government for food inflation can anyone explain Governments role in Supply Chain of Fruits and Vegetables? This is entirely controlled by unorganised players.
But for Commodities like Sugar, Edible Oil, Rice, Wheat; inflation has not been so high. Why? Its domiated by organised players.
Therefore FDI will be good for country. Its success globaly.

from:  Pradeep
Posted on: Jul 23, 2012 at 20:53 IST

Are our 790 MP's empowered properly? I always find its the party's
decision rather than individuals opinion,this party system killing
democracy and peoples representation.I feel correcting the
representation system will correct people too.

from:  Rajiv
Posted on: Jul 23, 2012 at 18:46 IST

The word democracy in the context of India is a misnomer. People select their
representatives by WHIP of caste, money, muscle power and sycophancy. The
existing party culture promotes sycophancy. Furthermore, one can not expect
democracy from parties who spend so much money on the candidate and in return
expect to blindly follow the party line. However, it is quite pertinent that since
people voice must be heard in democracy, they should have right to select and
deselect the candidates at the start as well as any time during their tenure. In a
large country like India, it is quire difficult to implement referendum and recall
options frequently. However, this aspect can be satisfactorily addressed, if they are
selected on the basis of a right set of conditions. One should for example make
sure that the ticket should be given to only clean and deserving candidates and
furthermore a candidate who fail to follow those conditions during their tenure
should be automatically removed.

from:  justom
Posted on: Jul 23, 2012 at 16:42 IST

As stated in most of the previous comments, it is true that for a nation as diverse and vast as ours, it might be difficult to implement I&R on national basis. So, just to keep things moving, what we can do is, we can implement it on lower levels like the state assemblies and legislatures of few selected states(chosen after careful consideration and those which closely matches the scenario at the national level) and then analyse the results and consequences after a government's term.

from:  Shamayal Raza
Posted on: Jul 23, 2012 at 15:12 IST

I read with interest the writeup and the comments thereon. These seem
to be coming from a typical middle class / higher middle class that
also acts as an armchair social worker, pointing all the evils and
providing solutions to them in words. The whole trend of the comments
seems to be that someone else should do something for me. This is the
same class that does not bother to vote, for them going to the polling
booths is a big pain. To somehow support that inaction, 1 vote will
not change anything. NO PAIN NO GAIN. And mind you the society is not
bad because it is full of bad people. the voter turnout is around 50%
to 55% in general. I spoke with many friends and for them voting day
is a holiday.If this class does not bother to invest ONE day in FIVE
years for their good then they should not lash out at others. We get
what we deserve. If we show apathy, apathy we will get.We have to work
in the system. So form a "Voters Group". I BELONG TO THIS CLASS.

from:  Neil
Posted on: Jul 23, 2012 at 14:22 IST

We are not a democracy, we are a republic. The process is democratic
process. Democracy is nothing but five year autocracy.Since we don't
like majority rule over minority in religion and other issues we are a
republic rather than a democracy. We do celebrate republic day and we
don't celebrate democracy day. Democracy is majority rule over minority.

from:  Satish
Posted on: Jul 23, 2012 at 13:20 IST

Empowerment of voters for what, for getting free color
television,grinders and washing machines.For getting free education and
free health care at cost of others. How about following the
constitution?.How about rule of law?.How about protecting the
fundamental rights of the citizens of this country?.Is it mature
democracy is to take away other peoples(those who can afford it) money
through the use of legal force and by declaring them immoral.

from:  Satish
Posted on: Jul 23, 2012 at 13:13 IST

A very informative and thought-provoking article .. while Referendum may
hinder the elected representatives from passing laws that are anti-
populist but benefit the nation at large the Initiative method will
surely bring about a positive change.. Bills like Lokpal and restraint
on electoral expenses can be brought about with the help of Initiative
method..

from:  Sheena
Posted on: Jul 23, 2012 at 13:06 IST

The concept of Referendum, if introduced, could also be used by by the
opposition to stall the law making process in the parliament.

Hence,a minimum number of signed petitions from the general public,or
a minimum number of calls to a phone number, and support from a good
percentage of electoral college must be made mandatory to assure that
referendums are not sought for every other bill tabled in the
parliament.

Also, since the voting on referendums will consume the resources of
the country and time of the country men, arrangements could be made to
make the voting process continuous, over a period of days. Thus, the
inconvenience caused to the general public could be minimized.

Resources ,like atm machines ,that have reached every corner of the
country, could easily be made to double up as voting machines for
referendums, with minor technical adjustments (bio metric add-ons).
Identity theft could be avoided by linking the atm cum voting machine
grid with Aadhar bio-metric database

from:  Jai
Posted on: Jul 23, 2012 at 11:30 IST

Democracy is still young in India. The old vestiges of Sultanate and Viceroy ruling the vast
country from Delhi continues, to the detriment of local governance and grass root
empowerment. Education and Connectivity propounded by President Kalam in his PURA
mission, aided by ICT will produce the changes in course of time towards a mature
democracy.

from:  RAMAKRISHNAN
Posted on: Jul 23, 2012 at 05:02 IST

This article is very informative to everybody. But india this type of idea is not working because our metality is totaly different with europe. We are beliveing self. Every india think about it is very good for near future.

from:  jatin
Posted on: Jul 23, 2012 at 01:04 IST

I think most of people here have by and large have two problems..
1.India is geographically too big for a successful implementing of R&I
or Direct Democracy.
2. That the voters are not educated enough to vote for the right
reforms.
yes, i agree that implementing this at all india level is not possible
at this stage , but we can try this at state or district level.
coming to the 2nd point, Even the great mind like Aristole thought
that normal citizens were not worthy of the power of voting. So, this
thinking in the minds of some is bound to be there, but we have to
accept the fact that no one knows the problems of people like they
them selfs. someone has pointed out that uneducated people might vote
for the wrong causes like "honour killing" "casteism" , for that
purpose we can have a steering commitee/ judical review that would
thwart the Initiative taken by the citizens which are against the
"basic structure" of the Constitution

from:  Deepanshu Raj
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 23:33 IST

Conducting a election In a vast & diversed country like india on a
regular basis is a big challenge (even costly).Further votes can be
easily biased in india where 30% of the population are struggles for
their basic needs. Some changes like reforms on FDI can never be
passed.It is understandable to allow R&I on social issues but bills
regarding economy,defence,foreign affairs must be the sole concern of
government.

from:  Priyabrata Dash
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 22:31 IST

This is good effort from prashant bushan to air the effects, I&R could have on Indian democracy. However, it is also self- explanatry that this would be hard to implement in a big country like India. India is a land of diverse cultures, castes, traditions, religions etc. Any Bill passed in the parliament, favours always only to some section of the society. So how could we expect their unification in the I&R process? And secondly , as prashant mentioned, we cannot be assure of people's competence who will be voting in the I&R system. But we dont even check their competence at the time of lok sabha elections. Representives use them to vote in their favour and evidently they are not wise enough to think on their own. One solution to this obstruction could be to empower only educated people upto graduates in this process, who can think beyond our social issues of caste,religion,region etc.

from:  Harpreet
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 22:24 IST

I&R is definitely not going to work for now in a country where a large chunk of people are still illiterate. These people can easily be swayed and can have high impact on the final decision. And of course it can be perilous to the minorities. For example, people can Initiate any Bill which is against the Muslims and for the benefit of Hindus, or a Bill which is against providing reservation to much needed backward class. Thus I&R will be a win-win for majority and can be fatal to minorities' interests. Other stumbling block can be the problem of voting again and again in a country as large as ours. This will be a huge financial drain. In fact the efforts should be made to keep check on election fundings and expenses. Right to Recall can be a great tool to ensure accountability of Elected Representative. I&R can be implemented with other measures and checks(another body like Supreme court can ensure this). Implementing I&R as it is by aping western countries can be dangerous.

from:  Amit Kumar Upadhyay
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 21:25 IST

It is very sad that people of India have very limited role to play for
deciding their countries future. The comparison with many of the European and developed countries is very impacting, one thing is sure
that we are living with very old laws and we need change to meet the
current requirements of the country, but my doubt is that "there(other
countries) also conditions would be similar and those laws must have
faced the oppose from politician, what made the things happen there in
those country?" I am pretty confident on the efforts made by prashant
bhushan and team anna, they have given the spark to the country which
will surely enlighten the country sooner or later.

from:  Sriharsha
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 18:09 IST

I & R are one of those powerful instruments which can decisively bring in the results,
one way or the other. So these are to be seen as tools to expedite some of the
existing processes and NOT as the sole replacement for the existing ones !
This is the point most of us have missed even when I read the comments above. I & R
are NOT going to replace any of the existing legislative and electoral processes. They
just add another set of methods through which a direct representation can be
attempted. Given the conditions of less electoral awareness and instable political
affiliations, adding another process will ensure more workable solution.

I request everyone to not just take stand for or against this topic, rather try to
appreciate it and come up with ways to mix it into the current set up !

from:  Nikhil Pavan Kalyan
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 16:38 IST

The authors seem overconfident about their proposal. They have written
much about its benefits, but they should have been meticulous about
possibility of its failure and the worst, its misuse. Ours is the
populace that is highly illiterate in the world and also highly poor.
Therefore there are serious doubts about its fairness, especially in
an era of rising corporate interests and flagrant corruption in our
society. Moreover, the use of technology in "innovative ways"
suggested by the authors seems impractical as it is a far-distant
dream to make poor and elder populace familiar with these things. In
that case those having access would get extra benefit.

from:  Ishan Tiwari
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 15:42 IST

seems workable method but how we will implement India will be 100 million question whereas so much complexity & federal structure....for instance in current scenario even reforms is not possible to implement through parliamentarian process...

from:  som
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 15:22 IST


The suggestion to introduce a new device to ascertain public
opinion on any issue other than parliament,is a paradigm shift which
should be acceptable to the people.The change over should be gradual
and there should be mock drill to practice the new system before
testing it. In other words any issues affecting nation can be doubly
checked to ensure that normal voting for any issue may have been
manipulated.This new system can be kept as an alternative method to get
approval of the people due to time consuming procedures to go for a
parliament session to discuss and get approval which must obtain
majority. It is good if the system works and get the statutory backing.

from:  Edakkat Sivasankaran
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 15:07 IST

India as a democracy has a lots of issues regarding the elections and
electorates as we do not have the provision for direct election of PM
and President by the people.All the time we just wait and watch these
contests merely as spectators being fooled by the errant
players.Another issue which affects the sentiment and confuses the
choice of electors is the multiparty system of governance and
difference of governance at state and center level and lack of sync
between them while forming the coalition.After 62 years of parliament
we don't have a government which is truly synonymous of peoples
aspirations and which tick according to the conscience of it's
citizens.On the other hand we are not a fully literate country forget
the fully educated one which can roar their firm voice as a bunch.Then
can we expect a provision of referendum and initiative?First deserve
then demand!!

from:  Subhash Mishra
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 14:36 IST

Referendum on a single issue has been pejoratively referred to as a
"never-end-um".

from:  Subhash Mishra
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 14:16 IST

REFORMS are overdue and URGENT. But, referendums are heavy and impractical as even experts are unable to make right decisions in a fast changing world. Elements of ‘Meritocracy’ that made many Singapore institutions world’s best, will help. Extreme poverty should be eradicated by fast infrastructure development thru the ingenious ward-wise prioritisation process evolved thru Participatory Budgeting in the Brazilian city Porto Alegre. It is adapted in over 40 countries including Canada, China, UK, US etc. India is the most diverse and complex country, it needs a very smart system. Anti-corruption measures should be strengthened. An auditing of the performance of and an automatic disqualification/ recall of MPs, ministers etc when REQUIRD RESULTS are not achieved, should be introduced. Today for 95 percent of world’s problems, there are solutions; in our age of information and communication it is easy to find the solutions and apply. But political will is a problem.

from:  Abraham Karammel
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 13:47 IST

Sir
Electoral reforms that strengthen our democratic polity are long overdue, and it is a welcome step to start national debates on the issue.
The I&R suggestion put forward by two eminent lawyers of this country are debatable, especially the Referendum proposal. It sounds like a very interesting proposal theoretically.
But I don’t think the ‘Initiative’ proposal suits well to the Indian realities. India is a nation of multiple diversities. National integration must be an important consideration when we think of new laws and constitutional amendments. Many “Initiatives’ that will come-up, may able to get majority approval, but it will backfire on national integration.
Many of our constitutional provisions are conceived and agreed in the light of India’s diversity and its relatively high rate of voter illiteracy.
Unity in diversity is an Indian reality which needs to be kept in mind, when we think of any legislation that introduces unitary type of governance. Most rational form of decision making process that suits our national reality is parliamentary form than a centralized or unitary form.

from:  Yathy Pattali
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 13:43 IST

I have a big question in my head- what matters more, people's voice
or the right decision? And who shall decide what is right and what
is wrong?
Our representatives are our representatives because we either like
their personality, or the person belongs to our caste or because we
did not know who to vote so we just went ahead with flipping a coin.
The fact that the representatives are equally ignorant about a lot
of things like the general public doesn't drive us to the conclusion
that devices like Referendum are solution to the problem. I believe
that just in the name of democracy, we cannot afford to decide
serious issues by leaving the matter to the public which has elected
the ignorant representatives. Majority is not necessarily in the
right direction. The issue needs a deeper view.

from:  Shiwali
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 12:55 IST

First of all I would like to thank Prashant Bhushan and Atishi Marlena for articulating these ideas to larger audience. I know these Ideas seem to be difficult to implement in a diverse country like India. But at the same time I feel that it is possible if our elected representatives think to bring change in the system. Rather than spending their effort on the politicizing the issues, they can discuss these idea on a common platform and find the amicable solution.

from:  Mallesh Utage
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 12:26 IST

As day by day scams are coming more into limelight challenging the competence of government and playing with feelings and trust of citizens. Participation of people in decision making process will provide satisfaction to them and increase their trust over democracy.
Morever,I feel this provides a benign support to basic literal meaning of democracy"by /of/for the people".

from:  Aditya
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 12:23 IST

Someone talked about majoritarianism, so is minoritarianism what it
should be.
Some people are of he view that Indians are not having enough
knowledge about the political system and legislation so doubt if they
will be qualified enough to take these decisions, in that case how can
you be sure if they are really eligible to elect their
representatives. If you doubt the eligibility and intentions of the
masses, then skepticism is obvious in any other aspect also.
I, to a lot of extent, agree with author's opinion on R and I.

from:  Sumit
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 12:01 IST

I completely agree with the article and withe the fact that I&R should
become a practice in India. If we are unable to do so, then we should
abandon democracy in the first place. People need to indulge in things
better than soap operas. Implementation seems difficult at the outset but
would be worth the efforts if we get through.

from:  Ivanshu Gupta
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 10:05 IST


The concept of empowering voters through various methods other than
ballot is a good idea. This is possible when the system of election of
ballot is perfected. In India we have an election commission which has
nearly perfected the electoral system. Going for a referendum seems to
be another device through which the popularity and acceptance of new
ideas can be tested. EG the idea of a presidential form of Government.
But there should be little more awareness and education among the
people. By education and spreading general information system our
quality of ascertaining the opinion can be obtained.The issue that
comes to mind is the LoK pal bill which is presently in back
burnner,can be tested through referendum.There is scope for empowering
voters as there are more experienced even though much can be done to
improve the quality. The scope for perfecting any system is "infinitum"

E. Sivasankaran
Coimbatore

from:  E.Sivasankaran
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 07:35 IST

It is true that money power influence election out come in a great way in so far as corporate and and individual business houses finance contesting political parties to influence government once their protege wins the election.It happens in India surreptitiously and openly in USA.Much nationally and internationally discredited Wal-Mart has contributed hugely to Obama's election fund to lobby for it to facilitate its entry into international market.So called civil societies are funded by some other interest groups.Answer to this problem has to be found elsewhere not by proposed methods by the author of this article.

from:  Anil Kumar Choudhury
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 07:16 IST

At first sight it seems to be helpful and effective to people participation in democratic model.But next,it is
important that we are talking it in the Indian context and then the whole charm get fainted.Most
importantly the citizen are still very much gullible they mostly act as a herd.We are still very much
unawared the level of awareness is not at par.So first we need to enhance the barometer of our awareness
before such reforms.Of course education is a solution,but not the only solution.Govt. and people
participation in technical and pure manner will give a much better results.

from:  Sikander
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 06:52 IST

The concept of Democracy need to be reviewed seeing what is going on in the world today.Democracy has become like mobocracy where crowd of people is driven by some political party with influential rich people.
In 60 years India certainly has not achieved what is expacted.Our education level,poverty etc.are questionable.
Putting choice of politicians in hands of poor people brings corruption and infighting.
Look at Germany with Hitler which had prospered in all fields.Look at China.Look at Iraq,Libya and even Pakistan.What they are today and what they were.
In todays environment Democracy has become tool of more powerful countries to enter in the politics of less powerful country.Democracy has become a tool to impose or import at will by other countries to rule other countries.

from:  Ashok
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 04:30 IST

Your suggestions, though commendable, are impractical and impossible
to be implemented in a country as vast as India. Firstly, how does
one ensure that votes being cast are genuine? Should the ECI hold
such referendums? How much money would be spent? The ICT measures you
suggest will take millions of rupees to be implemented on the
ground.Secondly,How do you ensure voter participation in a country
where people fight everyday for their living? Handful of elites and
lobby groups would again be able to (mis)guide public opinion.
Lastly, how do you expect the masses to have enough time to
understand complex issues. Mr. Kejriwal, if it were for people like
you, bills on reservation would never be passed in this country. It's
time you and your whole team start thinking practically and leave the
garb of being a Gandhian.

from:  Asheesh Shekar
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 02:47 IST

Of late money and muscle power clubbed with party heiarchy directive leaning at one stage to communism or to the present capitalist greed, globalisation or name and fame leaves our population even after 60 years a directionless discomfort where agriculture, forestry having lost in the hands of industrialisation, urbanisation, tourism etc which can be remedied only if a bold entire human involvement with media support only for the balanced in the decision making is made, honestly and wholeheartedly without favours or succumb to pressures to uplift the masses for a non aligned democratic socialist welfare state.

from:  K.Subramanian
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 02:41 IST

Democracy,the defination of democracy need to be reviewed in context of its success.Democracy is in fact works like Mobocracy in reality because of varying interests of different groups of people depending upon their region,education,corruption etc.
Democracy neither can be imposed upon nor can be exported.
Only one man or a small dedicated group only can take the country in the right direction.To name only one country Germany.Historians are convinced that in time Hitler Germany achieved whch no other country achieved in all fields.So is the case of China and some middle east countries.

from:  Ashok
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 02:39 IST

The problem with idealists is that they forget how the real world works. An ideal system
need not necessarily be workable in it.

from:  K.Vijayakumar
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 01:38 IST

How can India be a representative democracy when only half the voters
vote and the party with 200 odd seats makes important decisions that too
with the support of not-so-reliable allies,that have problems of their
own ranging from personal prestige, reflecting vested interests' voices
and etc.,and other parties offering some undue and unconstitutional
favors (are we a democracy ?). That means party voted by merely around
20% of population is taking decisions for all. This can never really be
a representative decision making.

from:  Jaya Prakash
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 01:08 IST

What an idea but i dont think that this corrupt government is going to
implement these instruments,I feel sorry to say but your ideas of
initiative and refrendum would find no place in constitution as these
crooks will never curtail their powers of doing corruption.Like lokpal
which recieved overwhelming support from the people but bogged down by
the government as it could send half of the cabinet behind the bars,I
& R will also meet the same fate.It should be raised in Anna's
agitation so that we can aware peope of such instruments which are
well tested and impemented by many democracies and people should also
raise their voice as our country is dooming day by day and e need some
strong legislations to save it.

from:  Anuranjan
Posted on: Jul 22, 2012 at 01:07 IST

Initiative and Referendum are instruments of direct democracy, which
are simply not feasible in India at this point, with its huge 1.2
billion population - many of whom are unaware of policy issues. I&R
will incur tremendous waste of taxpayer money, and will effectively
kill the Government's desire to make necessary and unpopular policy
changes like those that empower weaker sections or diesel price
deregulation, which are needed for the country in the long-term. Will
the authors answer how they propose to solve these issues?

from:  Gayathri
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 22:53 IST

Nicely said sir, but These terms like R & I are seems to be more of a
democracy with educated and politically learned electorate. First of
all,these terms must be familiar to electorate to create adequate demand
and pressure on representative to iclude in the Indian constitution. We
need right now Effective RTE which play the role of Informatory and
provocatory and promotory role to disseminte these true democtaic
principles like R & I.

from:  anil vinyek
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 22:51 IST

I think I$R model will not work in India because if people were mature enough to vote on i$r they must be smart enough to choose eligible representative.Majority of people in India are not educated enough to think and make suitable judgement on referendum. and if it initiated what is guarantee that it will not be biased like our general election are.so it too early for this type of reform.

from:  sourav
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 22:43 IST

R&I already started to some extend in Maharashtra,where women in the village gathered together ,raise issue to close liquor/daru shop in village.On this voting cunducted in presence of local public administrator.In majority if women supported the resolution to close such shop,then anministrator orders to close it.One day it will reflect in our democracy,hope so.

from:  Dhairyashil
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 22:17 IST

For the I&R Scheme to work, I feel minimum amount of social knowledge is
required. What if some opens an initative in Tamil Nadu to ask how many
citizens support separate nation? How about an initiative in Gujarat or
Uttar Pradesh, to have a "separate colony" for religious minorities. How
about an initiative to avoid income taxes in Bangalore?

from:  Anand
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 22:04 IST

Theoretically good suggestions,but practically, given the diverse nature of our country, many challenges needs to be addressed. In addition to mentioned in the article following needs to be dealt:scope of such instruments,relationship with constitution and with judiciary.

from:  srinivas
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 21:47 IST

The article suggests that the current system of elected governments at federal and state levels failed to represent the expectations of all segments of the citizens. The introduction of I&R is not going to work in India. Until corrupition is eradicated at all levels of public life, until ethics in goverment is followed and until politicians stopm coming up with schemes to create vote banks rather than creating real jobs, people will have to wait for long time to realize true democracy.

from:  vijayaraghavan
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 21:31 IST


Prashant bhushan and colleague has come up with a new idea for
india. it may be happening in a few other democratic countries. But a
such a scheme to be brought into play in our big country is difficult.
The article suggested referendum for any controvercial issues. In the
case of India, we had a concrete proposal backed by entire nation and
that is "lok pal bill which is now in cold storage.The issue of
corruption was to be eradicated. Lok Pal bill is bprn with full support
of the people.But people did not succeed. India consist of complex
people and soceity. Government may have its own explation for shelving
it.But indian democracy will go on.
E.Sivasankaran,
Coimbatore

from:  E.Sivasankaran
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 21:21 IST

Ultimate!! looks great as far as the theme is concerned.But it is
definitely not easy to implement for sure.Well, i believe that the merit
that this system carries is of high degree.And as far as corrupt
officials are concerned they should introspect and should join hands if
not many, at least scanty of them.Because at the end of the day what we
want is "a true reflection of Indian culture at global stage" i mean an
honest,creative,humble,confident,virtuous Indian people being
represented at the highest level.CHEERS to R and I method.

from:  nachiket raidurg
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 20:08 IST

There is a huge flaw in the argument. Empowering voters by making a part
of policy decisions and legislation initiation will definitely fall
flat. 1. Even the educated class in the country would barely be
knowledgeable over the policies and its intricate details. 2.Huge
financial and administrational burden. A people representative is
supposed to better than the layman who voted for him aided by the
bureaucracy should undertake programs benefitting the public who sent
him there.

Empowering voters should begin with the way people representatives are
chosen, they could hold discussion within their constituencies detailing
the policies they wish to undertake with pros and cons. Along with it,
regular discussions with the representative in a community center to
discuss the ongoing developments within the locality etc. Eliminating
the existing elitist nature of the people representatives with public
backing off to bring forward valid and necessary opinion.

from:  Srinivas
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 20:05 IST

Where even voice of billions of people is being neglected so as to continue the loot this system of politicians and bureaucrats has developed, where institution like lokpal is languishing for 42 years .It will be a very hard battle to set up powerful instruments like referendum / initiative in Indian democratic set up. But it is also high time that policymakers feel the pulse of nation and act accordingly so as to set up democracy in its real sense otherwise it won’t take long for something like Arab spring to happen in India.

from:  Ashu singh
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 19:23 IST

Excellent article.The basic assumption that the elected representative would take an informed and balanced decision for the benefit of the nation while formulating a policy or a bill is itself flawed.How can one assume that these illeterate MPs would take an unbiased decision?Educated people should themselves participate and should take a decision in the interest of common people and the nation as a whole.With the advent of IT and IT based projects like Adhaar,this can easily be done.What we need is a concise effort to implement these kinds of intiatives.

from:  Himanshu Verma
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 19:20 IST

Direct voting negates the concept of representative form of democracy.
It will just become a 'rule of majority' and the voices of others will
never be heard. Such impractical ideas are good enough only to bring the
country at a standstill. A nation, as large and as diverse as ours, can
never be governed directly by people which is just an alibi for
"Majoritarianism'.

from:  sanjay
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 19:18 IST

With 74.04% literacy rate in india,it is unreasonable to compare it with
any european nation with average literacy rate above 90%.We all agree
that certain reforms are needed for our country to continue its path
towards development but merely copying them from any european nation
which does not even resemble a single thing with our vast and diverse
nation is just puerile.
A country having 22 major languages and 8 major religions,i am sure that
it deserves a new,innovative approach.

from:  Prakhar Bansal
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 19:10 IST

It's late to implement such modern, sophisticated and empowering
measures. Still our people's right-enforcing methods are in the era of
1940's! Even banking sector adopted electronic technology to withdraw
cash (I refer valuability and security), but still we are in a paper-
ballot, middle men (MP) representation system. It's very hightime for a
change.

from:  Christo Chiramukhathu
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 17:07 IST

mr. Bhushan's ideas have been in discussion for the many times. from
one hand it seems just and appropriate solution for the emerging
challenges in front of Indian democracy, on the other hand Mr. Bhushan
seems to have forgotten the actual demographical situation and
diversity of the country. Citing examples of Switzerland and U.S and
comparing with India seems to be rubbish. Referendum is some kind of
direct election in short way. Does our economic condition allow that
to go for referendum everytime? Secondly, we have about 74% literacy
as per definition of Census of India (any person above age 6, who can
read and write in any language is literate), but for vital issues like
referendum, is this kind of literacy is enough?????? thirdly, how
would such referndum protect interests of vulnerable sections such as
minorities, SC/ST etc, because they definitely are in less no in
population. Definitely outcome of the referendum will go against their
interest.

from:  amar
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 16:33 IST

I dont see how anyone can argue against direct referendums and initiatives by electorates, while supporting policy-making by representatives that are elected by that same electorate?! If electorate is not yet ready to vote directly on policies, then it is also not yet ready to analyze and vote on representatives based on their policy-making abilities!

from:  Guhan
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 16:12 IST

The present movement against corruption in India is not just merely
something designed by Anna team. They are just serving as an outlet
for the long suppressed aspiration, anguish and frustration of the
people of this nation.The parliamentarians, in spite of opposing the
move of civil society should sit for a moment and reflect and
introspect that, why this movement led by Anna happened. They should
find out the fact that being elected by the people and empowered by
the constitution, being paid to their heart’s content from the money
of the people what prevented them to do which they ought to have, and
people themselves had to take initiative for it... They should feel
ashamed of the fact that the will of the people could not be reflected
through them and the process and the noble institution their talking
of. The established process of parliamentary democracy failed to
address the peoples concern.

from:  Manoj Kumar Sahu
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 15:51 IST

I agree in totality. Yester year leaders were different from today's politician. Even the holy Judiciary is not pure any more. The noble medical fraternity has become ignoble, barring a few. Trusting in democracy is onething and putting the trust in politicians is another thing. The circumstances have changed now and not retractable. Hence I & R is a must. Once people directly participate they will become better informed and the quality of our democracy will rise further.

from:  mvrangaraajan
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 15:18 IST

Tools of direct democracy-Referendum,Initiative, Recall,and plebiscite
are efficient in case of Scandinavian countries and in some latin
american countries considering their small geographical area and
abscence of religious-ethnic-lingual plurality.contrary to this, India
is having such a vast geographical area and multi religious-ethnic-
lingual plurality.By implementing these tools of direct democracy our
religious-ethnic-lingual minority might be deprived of their
representation and opinions, rights of minorities will be ignored and
might affect secular nature of our democracy.
Second, these tools might create the anarchic situation
parlimentarians may experience hanging psyche and face paralysis of
decision making process.Proper check and balance should be there to
make democratic system efficient but extreme and too much check and
balance might hurt the system itself.

from:  ANMOL KORE
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 13:51 IST

the suggestions given by the authors are fantastic but we cannot really
compare India with switzerland. more to add is that politicians may
spend more money now n then for influencing IR n may devise new corrupt
ways to earn this lost money.

from:  Gaurav shinde
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 13:25 IST

nice attempt to empower the indian masses.but not practically possible
because of huge mass base and it is not possible for us to conduct
elections every month(atleast ,according to our law making frequency
on serious issues).ICT is also not available with most of masses.right
to no vote and call back a candidate,however are more pragmatic powers
can be availed to masses.I&R will be more pragmatic if only
representatives of people at lower levels,such as
panchayats,municipalities,trade unions,student unions etc.are allowed
to vote for the interest of the masses as they are directly answerable
to the masses and type of more responsible for their actions.

from:  jitender singh
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 12:48 IST

The author must be commended for bringing such useful information and I think that Indian public is mature and wise enough to use such
initiative to protest against unjust policies. And I think that in a
country where scams have become rampant and each single scam is of the
magnitude of lakh crores( which make the common people wonder how can
such a thing happen) this type of initiative will provide a tool in
the hands of common people to protest against unjust. The common man
might have a low awareness among issues but he is not a fool so we
should trust our people a bit more.

from:  Rahul Agrawal
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 12:46 IST

A mid course of increasing the number of representatives should also be debated. 530 representing 1.21 billion is too less.

from:  Sandeep T
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 12:42 IST

Dear Sir, While the idea of Referendum and Initiatives are apparently good they are not without pitfalls of their own. Any steps towards empowering voters should take into account the complexities and divisiveness of our society. The examples of Switzerland, Peru and similar countries may not throw much light to us. What happens when the required number of voters initiates action to bring about a law detrimental to the minorities? It may pass in the Referendum, but legislating on the basis of the referendum may violate the constitutional protection provided to minorities. What happens when initiatives are taken about issues such as national language, state's official language, rights of women etc.? There are not only strong lobbies against such moves but linguistic and religious fanatics of various communities issuing fatwa to vote one way or the other. At the end initiatives and referendums will make us much more divisive.
Before this country can venture on such moves to empower voters, there is need to ensure our elected representatives are in touch with the masses. Our elected prince lings need to be subjected to performance audit every six months and the audit process and audit report should be in public domain. Such audits can be done only by voluntary bodies. Come election time, the audit report should reach every voter. Let the parties use them against each other. I urge Prashanth Bhushan to initiate action to form a voluntary organization which will function as the national body for auditing the performance of elected representatives.
Yours truly
Mangalore

from:  V.K.Talithaya
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 12:35 IST

Its very difficult to adapt in India but if its possible it will help a lot for Indian democracy more effective up to some extent only!!!!..only thing is our representatives have positive response towards new change...my personal opinion is its right time to adapt this type of techniques in India...

from:  BHARAT C NAVALAGI
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 12:01 IST

I&R mechanism seems to be a proposition which is well suited for the mature democracies as we have in western countries.In a country with huge diversity of public interests this would not give promising results in the present scenario.May be in future we will adopt such a module to give space to public voice but homogeneity from cultural,economic,regional aspects is a prerequisite for its success.

from:  mukesh
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 11:37 IST

A much required reform though difficult, needed to be implemented to make Indian democracy more effective.

from:  Pardeep Bansal
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 10:40 IST

For better democracy
It is sure that the instruments that permit people to directly on policy and initiate legislation can ensure that the citizen's voice is heard. We want democracy which is the good for ruling method in practical in our world. But it need the good thinking people. In other words qualitative people is the back born of democracy. In India so many people do not know well understanding the democratic ruling method which ruled themselves because they fighting for their one term food in a day. Their illiteracy and poverty not allow them to strengthen democracy. So the authority should be planed to removethe most sin that poverty and illiteracy among their people. The youth movements can do a lot but their many leaders not really want it.

from:  Unnikrishnan Manjeri
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 10:04 IST

But how can the instruments of direct democracy be useful to the country like India with 1250 million population, deeply divided societies and pervasive illiteracy. I think some new methods to take public opinion in account should be innovated in context of India. Some steps in this regard would be highly appreciated in the general public and would send positive impulses to the public and shall further strengthen the ideals of the welfare state.

from:  shailendra
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 09:17 IST

The 'I & R' idea is not workable in a country like India mainly for the reason that majority of the electorate are still not mature enough to understand the values of democracy. We have seen in the general elections how money and offer of freebies play a decisive role in the outcome of an election. Most of the people still consider the election time as a season for making money or getting freebies and our corrupt political system respond by taking advantage of it. Can we expect from the people, accustomed as they are to barter away their votes for some material gains, a differential or distinctive treatment in the case of a referendum? There also, in my opinion, money would decide the issue. So the I&R process as envisaged by the author may not bring the desired objective under the existing corrupt political dispensation in our country. And another point for consideration. What about the cost of holding a referendum? Can the Tax Payers bear the huge burden?

from:  T.Sathyamurthi
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 09:14 IST

People have the right to vote, to elect their representatives, but as Anna Hazare mentions many of us are actually short of options when it comes to voting.A large number of literate and urban people abstain from voting.As a result, the outcome of the elections(held in every 5 years) does not take into consideration the real picture.Everything is changing for its betterment, so why not democratic elections? and role of people in policy making?

from:  Rohit
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 08:39 IST

Currently, the democracy in India is a 'top down model'. What is required is a 'bottom up' model. The candidates must be selected by local people at the grassroots and nominated as a candidate for a party of their choice. Any misappropriation of the process by the people with money and might, when suspected, the electoral commission has to have the power to disqualify the candidate. There has to be minimal educational qualification and acceptable character as an absolute requirement for being a candidate. Even at mid term,the people of the constituency, if not satisfied by the member's performance, shall have the right to recall their representative. People have to be educated in electing people on the policies the parties offer ignoring other considerations such as religion,cast and language. Paternalism / maternalism and dynastic persuasions have no place in a modern democracy. Such positive changes alone can take the country forward as a modern and progressive democracy.

from:  Saratchandran
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 07:34 IST

Political parties require huge funds to contest elections, provided by moneyed special interests [quid pro quo??] Today, politicians find it easy to factionalise the illiterate voters below poverty line & half the nation - along communal/caste lines and buy off their votes - making elections very expensive. SOLUTIONS must include (i) educating the public (ii) outlawing these practices (iii) lowering barriers to entering politics.

Other voters also disenfranchised, either take advantage of the corrupt system, or haplessly acquiesce. SOLUTIONS must (iv) drastically reduce corruption (v) clean up politics to attract'good' people (vi) make every vote count (vii) raise voter participation.

NOTHING WILL SUCCEED WITHOUT (1) strengthening anti-corruption measures, (2) electoral reforms, (3) reducing collusion between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary (4) ensuring media independence (5) displacing dynastic political parties (= family businesses for private gain & power).

from:  D Mahapatra
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 06:12 IST

Excellent suggestion! But the stumbling block for introducing I &R is our politicians.

from:  T. P. Srinivasan
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 06:04 IST

The most learned Authors of this Article deserve to be appreciated for such valuable information. In India Adult's franchise was given to the citizens . Women were given the right to vote much later in several developed countries. Illiterate voters have thrown Governments from Power. Leaders like Ambedkar, Indhira Gandhi , A.B. Vajpayee , K. Kamaraj , Ramnath Goenka , C.N. Annadurai, J. Jayalalitha and several others have been defeated in elections. This is an acid test for true and vibrant democracy. No money power or muscle power can change the people's will. Refrendum is taken once in five years. Unfortunately in India the elections are held often. We should decide to hold General Elections to Parliament and States simultaneously and avoid elections now and then. We should have a referendum to decide the need for such Refrendems suggested.

from:  N. Thirunavukkarasu
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 05:11 IST

The authors are suggesting ways for chaos and collapse of governance in our country.It is a premature Utopian dream.We cannot ape Switzerland or California. It is rather naive to expect that the electorate who elected their representatives irrespective of the criminal records of the person, will exercise their choice in the referendum on the merits of the issues.After a mammoth exercise of referendum , we may get a majority decision as good as we decide an option, by tossing a coin.Our country is so vast and so diverse that we can not expect an wise optimum decision on issues.Vested interests lobby easily by means fair and foul. On many occasions, we do not see informed debates even in our elected bodies. To expect a public debate weighing the pros and cons of the issues and get a verdict in the best interest of our society, is too premature for our country. As is, in our country, referendum will mean not only policy paralysis but death of administration.

from:  Krishnan
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 02:40 IST

The first of this I&R must be to elect the PM directly by citizens. Pick and chose of PM and thrust on 120 crore people must be stopped forthwith. Opportunity must be given to all from all parties to contest PM post. It appears inner party democracy is very much absent. Otherwise, how can they air name of certain persons as PM candidate for 2014 election while many are equally talented?

from:  R.Ganesan.
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 02:36 IST

I beg to differ. There is basic difference between governance in India & that in Europe, while in Europe, govts are mostly the agents of status quo, in India govt is the agent of change. Bills like - reservation, honor killings, helmet compulsion, subsidies reduction, uniform civil code, communal harmony etc - would never be passed if we empower general population for Referendum.

Realise that certain bills are made not because society by & large wants them, but because in changing social dynamics, it is empirical that compulsion should be made on people to make the society change in desirable direction.

Inequality in India with power of Referendum will ensure that middle-class & rich getting upper hand over policy making while leaving poorest & illiterate 30% population unheard.

What electoral reform urgently needed is perhaps - Right to Reject the candidate.

While Referendum is very good idea, time is yet not reap for it.

from:  Mahesh
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 01:49 IST

Day by day scams on very big scale has decline the faith of people representatives to whom they elect and send them as their leader for their welfare .But mostly are not doing their job honestly and they are not taking or participating to make any law or policy which would not be in favour of their benefit but that would be in the favour of their own citizen who elected them.
So referendum is a desperate need in today's time for some major policies.

from:  Pankaj Kumar Dubey
Posted on: Jul 21, 2012 at 01:40 IST
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