The first-past-the-post system leads to exclusion of over half the voters from the power structurehttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/maneka-gandhi-muslim-votes-half-mps-half-votes-5685082/

The first-past-the-post system leads to exclusion of over half the voters from the power structure

In the next five years, 2019-2024, crores of Indian voters will shuffle around as citizens of a lesser India, since they will have a hostile/indifferent MP in Parliament who they did not vote for.

Befitting a dynasty in the BJP, Maneka Gandhi discarded niceties to shoot straight from the hip but in doing so.

Maneka Gandhi’s arrogant rebuke to Muslim voters in her new constituency, Sultanpur, on April 11, to vote for her, and if they don’t, she will not help them when they seek her out as their MP, is an inevitable consequence of the electoral system that we’re following — and of course, her assumed entitlement. Befitting a dynasty in the BJP, Maneka Gandhi discarded niceties to shoot straight from the hip but in doing so, she told a bitter truth, which the hapless Indian voter has “normalised” over the last 70 years. Truth: MPs do not represent their full constituencies. They are Half MPs.

In the ongoing national elections, will the 543 MPs be elected by all the Indians who vote by May 19th (the actual voters)? Data shows that in the current first-past-the-post system (FPTP), Parliament is elected by only about 45 per cent the of actual voters whose representatives become Lok Sabha MPs. But what about the 55 per cent of the actual voters who do not vote for the winning candidate, and therefore, their votes are “wasted”? Who represents them for five years? As per Maneka Gandhi, the elected MP does not represent them. Fact: Nobody represents them because they did not vote for the winner. This is the first stage of exclusion of more than half the voters from the power structure for five years.

Now consider a deeper injustice embedded in our 70-year-old FPTP system. While only 45 per cent of the actual voters may have voted for the winner across all parties, of these lucky voters who scored the bull’s eye and voted for the winner, only a much smaller fraction will have voted for the party or alliance whose MPs will actually form the government, and rule over the entire country for five years. So this is the second stage at which we, the voters, are distanced from power for five years.

Illustratively, consider the reality of the 2014 Lok Sabha poll results. With just 31 per cent of the actual vote, the BJP won an absolute majority of 282 seats. Add to this its allies’ share, and we see that the NDA’s vote share was 38.5 per cent of actual voters. So only a little over one-third of actual voters provided the basis of forming the NDA government, which has ruled over us for five years. Nearly two-thirds of Indians did not vote for those leaders, who imposed their own model of nationhood, identity and growth on the country. So, for the last five years, six out of 10 Indians have gone unrepresented in the power equations that underpin our existence.

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The UPA government of 2009-14 was also formed on the strength of about 37 per cent of the actual vote, and then too, two-thirds of India’s actual voters were not represented in government. Over the decades our “strong, decisive” governments have been formed on the basis of a shrinking voter base.

In the next five years, 2019-2024, crores of Indian voters will shuffle around as citizens of a lesser India, since they will have a hostile/indifferent MP in Parliament who they did not vote for. Each candidate knows the vote count in each booth, and so local communities get identified as “for” or “against” the winning candidate. Consequences abound as the MP audits booth-wise results.

Surely such a distortion of voters’ will is totally unacceptable. A grave injustice has been been caused by our unquestioning acceptance of the FPTP system — a system devised by a small island country which is now facing the poetic justice of the Brexit insanity, arising from a referendum in 2016.

So why are enough voices not being raised in India against the narrow-based FPTP, which has been condemning about two-thirds of actual Indian voters to political insignificance for five years? Is it because leaders have led us to believe that among the worse, this is the best alternative — TIBA ?

Political pundits may stop reading now since what I describe below is a well-known, much more inclusive sab ka saath electoral system of polling — proportional representation.

But to build a case for an alternative system, consider another set of data points : In 2014, on average, the BJP needed six lakh votes to win a LS seat, the Congress needed 24 lakh votes per LS seat that it won; JD(U) won a LS seat with only 3.3 lakh votes but for Mayawati’s BSP even 2.03 crore votes were insufficient to win a single LS seat and neither could the DMK snatch even one LS seat with 96 lakh votes!

A polling skew of this magnitude is persuasive evidence that the FPTP system assesses voters unequally, depending on which party they vote for. In the 2014 election, a vote for the BJP was four times more likely to make its candidate win, than a vote for a Congress candidate. And a vote for the BSP was infinitely powerless in achieving a victory for Behenji’s candidate. Since votes are correlated to caste and community in large parts of our country, think of the exclusion of caste groups from the Lok Sabha due to the FPTP.

Clearly, the FPTP is gaming the enthusiastic and innocent Indian voter, and will do so in the 2019 LS election currently underway in the country. Parties with concentrated votes in dense clusters (vote vaults) will be rewarded under the FPTP, and other parties with more diffused votes in larger swathes of the country are likely to be punished.

Ninety-four countries around the world have abandoned or never adopted the FPTP, and have opted for a variant of the proportional representation system in which polling takes place for political parties which have pre-announced their list of lawmakers, and voters vote for their preferred party. Each party is declared to have won only as many seats as are proportional to its share in total votes polled in the election.

Illustratively, if for a House of 100 seats, a total of 10,000 votes are polled, then Party A which polls 4,000 votes gets 40 seats, Party B with 3,000 seats gets 30 seats, and so on. Many variants of this system exist, with many caveats, including a combination of direct election and proportional representation.

The proportional representation system deepens democracy for the “aam voter” since each vote is counted in electing lawmakers to the House of Representatives. This system forces the bigger parties to broaden their voter base, while other parties are assured a presence in the House, even with a small vote share.

Accepting the spirit of representation of parties in Parliament in proportion to each party’s vote share, are we too late for the 2019 polls, or can an element of proportionality be introduced even now? We are not really late, if we adjust each winning candidate’s “weight” in the next LS by the vote-seat ratio of her/his party. Permanent radical changes would, of course, be introduced only after a countrywide debate and discussion.

Meanwhile, Maneka Gandhi has reportedly now announced a grading of villages in her constituency as “A”, “B”, “C”, “D” in descending order of voter-loyalty to BJP. Not to be outdone, her colleague, BJP Gujarat Water Supply Minister Kunvarji Bavaliya, reprimanded a group of “uneducated women” in village Kanesara of Rajkot district, who were complaining of the terrifying water scarcity, “ Only 55 per cent of the village voted for me. So, how can the whole village expect water?” The FPTP system permits such imperiousness, but under the proportional representation system, there are no such half MPs lashing out at half votes.

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This article first appeared in print under the headline: ‘Half MPs, half votes’

The writer is a senior journalist