this threshold level is 35-40 percent. Significant, but
scattered support base over a whole state, of say under
25 percent, does not pay electoral dividends. In such a
situation, even the voters who are otherwise inclined to
prefer a party feel that their votes to a losing party are
"wasted". They switch loyalties, and vote for
a "winnable" party or candidate.
large centrist national parties, Congress and BJP, have
therefore a dilemma. As Congress monopoly of power came
to an end, the political space it vacated has been occupied
by other parties in various states. BJP could not grow quickly
in a large number of states, and regional parties became
dominant players. Today, Congress or BJP may have a sizeable
voting share in several states, but that does not get translated
into legislative representation. Therefore, they are forced
to forge pre-election alliances with regional parties to
enhance their prospects of victory. But this has a downside.
Once a national party forms an electoral alliance with a
regional party, its growth in that state is stunted. First,
its electoral presence is limited to constituencies in which
it contests. Second, it cannot compete with its alliance
partner. This competition is critical for enhancing a party's
appeal and increasing its vote share over time.
a result of these electoral compulsions in our FPTP system,
large national parties are forced to play second fiddle
in many states. If we take the seven largest states (as
they existed in 1999 before division) which account for
310 Lok Sabha seats, this trend is evident. Of these states,
in UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, both
Congress and BJP are forced to play second fiddle to the
local partners. In AP, Congress is a major factor, but is
now forced to forge alliances with smaller parties. Only
MP sees both Congress and BJP as major contenders for power.
pattern has been clear in all large states. In fact, among
states with over 20 Lok Sabha seats, only MP, Rajasthan
and Gujarat now see BJP and Congress as the two leading
political parties. This decline of large national parties
is the most significant feature of our political evolution.
Our FPTP system accentuates this trend, and encourages growth
of regional parties at the expense of BJP and Congress.
Slowly, with such political fragmentation, the idea of India
is in danger.
the regional parties have acted with restraint and broader
national outlook. But inter-sate river disputes and other
contentious issues are aggravated by regional chauvinism.
The travails of Bihari's in Assam and Mumbai in the recent
railway recruitments of semi-skilled workers indicate that
economic and social fragmentation follow rise of regional
parties. There is no other democracy which is as diverse
and complex as India. Fully integrated markets are the prerequisites
for the growth of our economy. Inter-state disputes, sons-of-the-soil
policies, and regional barriers will undermine our prosperity
collectively. One way of promoting unity and integrity is
allowing large, centrist national parties to grow, even
as regional parties are given opportunities. But FPTP system
is leading to an almost irreversible regionalization of
our polity. As a result, there is no longer a national verdict
in India even in Lok Sabha elections. It is often an aggregate
of state verdicts, dependent on local factors and the popularity
or otherwise of the state governments. This certainly does
not promote political maturity.
is the way out? If we adopt some form of proportional representation
(PR) whereby parties can get representation commensurate
with their strength, large national parties can compete
with regional parties. National parties then will not be
compelled to give up political space and play second fiddle
to regional players for short term gains. In order to prevent
political fragmentation on caste lines, we can have a reasonable
threshold - say 10 or 15 percent vote share in the state
- as the minimum requirements for getting representation
in state legislature and Lok Sabha from that state. Several
social groups will then have to aggregate their interests,
and join forces. With such thresholds, PR will actually
reduce, not increase the number of political parties. The
painful pre-election negotiations and the desperation to
perpetuate local fiefdoms and criminals in order to get
the marginal vote the 'powerful' candidate brings to enhance
chances of election will be a thing of the past. There are
no second prizes in the winner-takes-all FPTP system. PR
will give voice and fair representation to all sections,
and brings many more people to the polling stations by increasing
choice and competition.
parties will have one legitimate concern with PR. State
legislatures will be fragmented, and a stable majority government
cannot be formed. This problem can be overcome by directly
electing the head of the government in the states. With
clear separation of powers between the elected executive
and legislature, there will be greater honesty in public
affairs. The vicious cycle of illegitimate money power,
abuse of office and ubiquitous corruption can be arrested.
At the national level, our diversity demands continuance
of the current model of government through parliamentary
majority. We can also adopt a mixed system combining FPTP
with PR system.
need a political system which accommodates our diversity
while preserving our unity, integrates our society and economy,
encourages the growth of national parties, and promotes
clean politics and integrity in public life. There are simple
models which combine the best features of our current model
with the benefits of better representation. It is time our
parties and media focused on win-win solutions. Short term
obsession with power games can sometimes cloud our vision.
We need to distance ourselves from the immediate election,
and look into the future.