One Nation, one election is a regression, a denial of democratisation of the marginalised
While electoral reforms and the question of social justice need to be centre stage, this path is not the way
The ruling Hindutva forces with the support of the national media are spreading a myth that the policy of ‘One Nation, One Election’ is indeed good for the country. The recent campaign was triggered by the setting up of a committee by the Narendra Modi Government to look into the possibility of simultaneously holding elections for Lok Sabha, assembly and local bodies. The eight-member committee is to be headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind.
Apart from the formation of a committee, a special session of Parliament has also been called between September 18 and 22 to discuss the issue. Prime Minister Modi has strongly argued that the policy of conducting all elections together was necessary for the development of the country. An old speech of Modi is being widely shared on social media in which he is heard saying that ‘One Nation, One Election’ was not an issue of debate, but it is the need of India. He added that after a gap of a few months, a big election was held at one place or another. This, according to him, had resulted in creating impediments in the path of developmental work. Modi, therefore, called for a thorough study of this issue.
In the din of ‘One Nation, One Election’ debate, several important questions are being ignored. If parliamentary, assembly and municipal/panchayat elections are simultaneously held, it is likely to harm the political interest of small parties and marginalised communities. It is because the bigger national parties have huge resources at their disposal and they enjoy strong corporate support. Thus, they can easily manage large-scale elections, but the minor players would find it almost impossible to stand in the race.
‘One Nation, One Election’ is also against the spirit of federalism, one of the key ideals of the Constitution. Remember that the Hindu Right has often spoken in favour of a unitary state, while our Constitution calls India “the Union of States”. The Hindu Right has been a strong votary of a strong majoritarian state and an opponent of minority rights. On occasions, the Hindu Right has spoken in favour of the presidential model of government. But the political scientists have argued that the strong-majoritarian state and the presidential model of government are against the interests of marginalized communities. They serve elite interests and promote personality-based politics.
The proposed ‘One Nation and One Election’ model may also promote the evil of hero-worship and cult in politics. As a true champion of democracy, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was strongly opposed to hero worship in politics. While the Hindu Right is at the forefront of showing itself as “the true champion” of Babasaheb, it has often worked against the interests of the marginalised groups that Babasaheb worked to serve throughout his life.
Dr Ambedkar was also a great champion of proportional and effective representation for marginalised groups. He had no hesitation in saying that the upper caste representatives often failed to serve the legitimate interests of the lower castes and other marginalized social groups. The bitter experience of Ambedkar as an untouchable made him conclude that a good law or a good constitution did not necessarily ensure justice. To achieve social justice, the marginalised groups should become the policy-makers. The messiah of the downtrodden argued that if laws were good and those who were entrusted to translate them into action were casteist and communal, the marginalized sections would never get any relief. That is why, he called for ensuring the proportional and effective representation of the exploited classes at every organ of the government including legislature, executive and judiciary. Even in the domain of culture, cinema, media and religious institutions, marginalized communities should have effective representation. The domains of industry and agriculture should also be democratised to achieve any substantive social change. These issues are deliberately ignored in the current debate on ‘One Nation, One Election’. It is feared that the ‘One Nation, One Election’ model if implemented, would further marginalize the marginalized communities.
Thus, the most important issue before the electoral system of India is to achieve social justice. It is a fact that the major political parties, except the Dravidian parties in the South and the BSP in north India, are dominated by the upper castes. Even the Communist parties, who otherwise keep talking about revolution day and night, have been hesitant to give key positions to Dalits, Adivasi, lower castes, Muslims, women and other marginalised communities. While their social base is subaltern groups, their leadership largely comprises privileged castes. This is one of the main reasons why the parties with red flags, which were once far ahead of the RSS and the BJP, are now reduced to a few pockets of the country. These examples are pointers to the fact that the privileged castes are ruling the roost everywhere. Even in the social justice parties, the major influence of the upper caste lobby cannot be ruled out. The need of the hour is to give power to the powerless. But the proposed policy of ‘One Nation, One Election’ may further consolidate the position of the dominant sections.
It is a historical fact that the dominant forces of society have always tried to resist the democratic upsurge of the people. Both the market and the corporate forces, in their pursuit for profits, have negatively looked at the democratisation from the below and called the social welfare schemes impediments to growth.
The history of democracy bears witness to the fact that the peasants, labourers, and women were not given the right to vote in charity but they fought for it. In the early days of democracy, those who were the privileged class could only have the right to vote.
Even in ancient Greece, which is called the cradle of democracy, slaves were kept out of the democratic process. Till the last century, women were denied the right to vote. Great thinkers like Aristotle considered women as inferior and he favoured a limited form of democracy. The elite bias against the marginalised groups is still not dead.
The history of India is the history of the conflict between the privileged classes and the marginalised social groups. At the time of Independence, the people’s power was so strong that the ruling classes had no option but to embrace democracy and extend the right to vote to everyone. However, it is also a fact that the conservative sections of society have never accepted democratic values wholeheartedly.
The nexus among capitalists, landlords and privileged castes has often tried to cut the democratic roots in the country. These dominant sections have always worked against democratic upsurge. The talk of ‘One Nation, One Nation’ is the reflection of the same anxiety to check the resurgence from the below.
For example, when the country was celebrating Independence Day, Bivek Debroy, the Prime Minister’s economic adviser, advocated a new constitution for the country and echoed the saffron party’s politics against the marginalised groups. But who will tell these reactionary forces that democracy is not all about voting once in five years and then keeping quiet thereafter?
Democracy, in its true spirit, is every day’s plebiscite. It is another name for vibrant street and civic participation. Democracy, despite all its limitations, is a beacon of hope for the downtrodden. The dominant forces fear the democratic upsurge because it has been successful in dislodging the most authoritarian regime in the world. That is why, it is baseless to say the ruling classes are trying to curb the electoral process to protect their interests and to justify their counter-revolutionary act, they argue that such a model is good for development.
We need to keep in mind that wherever democracy has been weakened, authoritarianism has risen, resulting in the suffering of the masses. That is why, the need of the hour is to curb the role of money and muscle in the electoral process, not the electoral process itself. There is an urgent need to provide a level playing field for candidates belonging to the poor and the weaker sections. The hero-worship in politics has emerged as a big threat to Indian democracy and it is likely to increase further in case of the rulers adopting the policy of ‘One Nation, One Election’.
Thus, we should oppose counter-revolutionary acts and support movements for weeding out corruption and ending the misuse of power. Among them, the most urgent thing to do is to reform the office of the Election Commission. It appears that the Commission has become “the political arm” of the government and it must be brought out of the influence of the government.
But most importantly, we have to wage struggles to achieve proportional and effective representation for the marginalised sections. It is a dangerous trend that the Muslim community, the second largest religious group in India, is being treated as “political untouchables” in Indian politics.
Look at the irony that the BJP is winning election after election, while it has almost denied Muslim candidates’ tickets. The fact that Dalits and Adivasis are only given tickets in the reserved constituencies, shows the casteist mentality of the top political leadership. The unreserved seats, which are open for everyone, appear to have been reserved for the dominant castes. This trend is dangerous.
Worse still, the areas where Muslim voters have a considerable number and are likely to influence the electoral result, are being changed in the name of “delimitation” so that their political weight gets diluted. This communal design further marginalizes Muslims in Indian politics. Unfortunately, these key issues do not figure anywhere in the ‘One Nation, One Election’ debate in the mainstream media.
(Dr Abhay Kumar is an independent journalist. He has also taught political science at NCWEB Centres of Delhi University. Email: email@example.com)
Courtesy : Sabrang India
Note: This news piece was originally published in sabrangindia.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Right