... Lok Satta ... What is Lok Satta ... Mission ... Emblem ... Objectives ...
People's Watch Swarajya Movement Election Watch Specific Campaigns Publications National Networking Electoral Reform Impact of Movement
Structure Key People
Article in The Times of India
Authored by Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan


National Coordinator of
VOTEINDIA movement

Of Gullivers Travels and Political Travails

Below-par performance of the reputed Pakistani pace bowling attack during the recently concluded three test series, was rather unexpected and surprising. Neither unexpected nor surprising, in many ways, were the massive irregularities in the Election Commissions voters' lists for the ongoing elections. Our Prime Minister's recent public statement about his disinclination towards (once again) leading a 23-party coalition government was unexpected but not surprising. Unexpected, mainly because of its timing no one had expected to hear it just three days before the start of elections.

But his statement is not at all surprising. Forming complicated pre-poll alliances and running a coalition government with nearly two dozen regional and minor parties is definitely a very demanding process. It could be a highly distracting one too. The PM is routinely forced to divert more resources to personal politics and away from actual governance issues.

Coalition governments during the past six-eight years have become fairly stable and growth-oriented. Recent coalitions are also more honest representations of Indian political diversity than the single-party governments of the earlier decades. For example, individual states now have a fairer share of voice at the Centre; genuine federalism has taken root in India.

The downside of this phenomenon is that the pan-Indian, national parties are forced to limit their national electoral presence because of alliances with local parties. It arises primarily because India has adopted a purely First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system as its electoral formula. Under this system, party candidates need a very high threshold of voter support (around 35-40 per cent, typically) to have any assured chance of victory. Significant but distributed support (let us say 20-25 per cent) even across large regions of India does not yield parties any electoral victories. This is the reason why national parties like the BJP and the Congress, even while having significant public support in many states, are forced to enter into alliances with much smaller political groups.

Formation of such alliances gives these small and state, region or group-based parties an influence that is sometimes disproportionately larger than their actual legislative strength or political authority. Individual politicians even with extremely localized support or parties with a very narrow or sectarian political agenda could find themselves exercising control over areas of national importance. In 1996, Deve Gowda's coalition government was compelled to make Taslimuddin, who was until then known only as a local mafia don in Bihar, the Union minister of state for home affairs! The FPTP system provides little incentive for such locally-entrenched politicians and parties to broaden their scope or widen their appeal.

The region and state-based political parties who were a part of the recent national coalition governments do deserve credit for functioning with a great degree of restraint and with a broader national outlook. At the same time, their (relatively) narrow political base makes them succumb to episodic eruptions of chauvinistic local pressures.
For instance, the inter-state river water sharing disputes or the violence in Maharashtra and Assam against recruiting outsiders for government jobs have only illustrated the fragmentation caused by the growth of small and regional parties.

Even under these circumstances, a major national party like the BJP or the Congress is forced to remain subservient to smaller, even minor parties in several states of India. It is a bit like the mighty Gulliver being tied down b the tiny Lilliputians! This pattern became clear during the 1999 general elections. In key states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu which accounted for 268 seats (nearly half) in the Lok Sabha, both BJP and Congress were reduced to playing a junior role to their local political partners. In fact, among states with over twenty LS seats, only three states (MP, Rajasthan and Gujarat) witnessed a direct Congress-versus-BJP fight. The FPTP system compels the centrist, national parties to forge (even if clearly temporary and opportunistic) electoral alliances with much smaller groupings. This has led to a clear and irreversible regionalization of our politics. As a result, in India, we no longer have a national verdict even during Parliamentary elections. We simply have an aggregation of state or regional verdicts. In an already fragmented society such as ours, this surely does not mean well for the long-term integrated growth especially for our economy.
But, there is a way out: Rectifying our purely-FPTP system by making the legislative strength of parties contingent upon the proportionality of their electoral support. In addition, parties would have to obtain a minimum threshold of vote share (10-15 per cent, possibly) across a given state, to obtain seats in the legislatures.
This would check the proliferation of many, small political parties based on caste or sectarian lines.
At the same time, this modified electoral system enables large national as well as regional parties to compete or cooperate on a level playing field - without having to give up their individual and rightful political spaces. In that case, our Indian political Gullivers need not remain tied down any more.




About Us
Lok Satta
What is Lok Satta?

People's Watch
Swarajya movement
Election Watch
One Crore Signature Campaign
Indirect Tax Reform Initiatives
New Political Culture




Specific campaigns

National networking
Electoral reform
Impact of movement


Key People
Contact Us
Media Room
Home | About Us | Activities | Organisation | FAQs | Contact Us | Media Room |Projects |Recruitment