Article by Vaibhav Jaiswal, Contributing Writer at The Sahar Magazine

Illustration by Tahoor

β€œThe very essence of democracy is the absolute faith that while people must cooperate, the first function of democracy, its peculiar gift, is to develop each individual into everything that he might be.” -Edwin Land

This quote by Edwin Land quote shows us the importance of democracy in our day-to-day lives. It provides an environment where we can realise our maximum potential within the given circumstances of the existing democracy. In the context of India, the most visible form of democracy through which people relate to themselves is seen in the form of election. So, it becomes essential to analyse the processes involved in the calculation of our votes and the selection of our leaders so they can represent us and make the laws for us.

In India, we majorly follow the principle of the first-past-the-post system in which a person who gets the maximum vote in a given election is declared to be the winner, irrespective of the fact that the votes could be very less but they should be higher than the other candidates, i.e., the candidate who gets the maximum share of the votes, even if that share is a small percentage of the total votes, is declared to be the winner.

Just consider a hypothetical situation in which there are four candidates in an election A, B, C and D. Suppose that the share of votes that A receives is 30%, B receives 26%, C receives 23% and the share of votes that D receives is 21%. Here we can see that the maximum vote is with candidate A and just because they have got the maximum vote, they will be declared to be the winner. The thing which we should pay attention to here is that they got only 30% vote of the total votes which means that only 30% of all the voters of that given constituency want A as their representative but the other 70% don’t want A as their representative. By getting only 30% of the votes, A will be the winner of the whole constituency and they will represent that constituency fully 100% by only getting 30% vote.

If we look at factual data, then we find that in the Lok Sabha elections of 1984, the Congress Party came to power by winning 415 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, more than 80% of the seats but it got only 48% of the votes. At the same time, BJP got 7.4% votes but got less than 1% of seats. It clearly shows us that under the first-past-the-post system, the representative leaders do not actually represent the people in the way they are chosen by the citizens through votes. There is a huge gap between the number of people who want to form a particular type of government and the number of seats the government is getting in the particular house.

In India, another type of election procedure is followed called proportional representation in the election of the president and vice president, and for the election of the Rajya Sabha and Vidhan Parishad.

Many countries like Argentina, Portugal and Israel follow the principle of proportional representation in their elections. In this type of electoral process, a party gets the seats proportional to the share of the vote that it gets which is a true representation of the people and their aspirations shown in a true manner after the electoral process. If Party A gets 45% of the vote and Party B gets 55%, then their seats will be proportional to their votes that is Party A will get 45% of the seats and Party B will get 55% of the seats.

There are many other features of proportional representation such as:

  • Due to the presence of many parties in the decision-making process, every bill can be analysed by many people before becoming a law;
  • It can prevent many arbitrary decisions which can be taken by the ruling party because of the presence of a full majority in the house.
  • It will allow the representation of many small groups in the house who usually get suppressed in the first-past-the-post system because of the presence of the majority.
  • The first-past-the-post system is an easy form of the electoral process which can be easily understood by the people and, hence, they take less interest in politics. If the process of proportional representation is adopted, then it will become somewhat technical to be understood by ordinary people and this will encourage them to read more about it. They will have to become more conscious and, in the process of learning about the concept of proportional representation, they will also come to know about other things that may be hidden from a majoritarian mindset and this will be beneficial for society as a whole because more eager the people of a democracy are to be aware and educated, more developed and educated the society will eventually become.

It is a law of nature that nothing is perfect and it also applies to democratic values and principles. No system can be totally perfect. There will always be some lacuna between them, but we have to try our best to shape democracy into its best form. We have to keep analyzing our mistakes and make a good society in which we can live with our maximum well-being and strive towards reaching our maximum potential. The crux of a democratic attitude is then a constant rectification and development of our values and principles so that we can reach our maximum potential, both individually and socially.