Prof. Arindam Chaudhuri
Hony. Dean, Centre For Economic Research and Advanced Studies, IIPM
As I watched with excitement the finals of Zee Sa Re Ga Ma, glued to the TV sets at a friends house, what struck me was the massive no. of votes that each of the finalists got. It was a mind numbing figure that crossed a whopping 10,00,00,000!!! Yes! It is over ten crore votes that were polled! While my friends debated with excitement at how Bengalis reaching the finals of any such show were bound to win due to the massive way they vote, I couldn't help but wonder at the irony around the fact that it is the same Bengalis who allow their votes to be rigged election after election in West Bengal and allow muscle men to dominate and snatch away their rights to what they love doing most - vote and debate. After all they were the Bengalis who for the sake of their ideology voted to power a Communist party- democratically for the first time in the world. Though the situation is better in most other states yet rigging and non participation in the electoral process remains India's biggest problem. It is because we believe that our votes count for nothing that the more educated and initiated class in India ends up voting the least. They feel this because they see election results as a process influenced more by muscle power and rigging- in larger parts of India than not. Millions in India don't go to vote because there are criminals sitting in the election booths to snatch away their rights. The current system, despite brave efforts by the election commission, is something that suits criminals most and that's why politics in India remains mainly their domain. Last time I wrote in this very column about my excitement at seeing Rahul Gandhi and the younger brigade taking up serious roles in Indian politics.. but as i sat down thinking later I felt that even they all will become criminalised in times to come, thanks to the system.
And as I thought about the great irony of voting and Bengalis, it struck me why shouln't we make our election process also SMS based. After all no one is allowed to vote without a Voters I- Card. All we need to do is to have another line out there where in voters can write their mobile numbers. And once that is computerised in a very basic process and fed into an electronic voting system, every Indian can sit at home and cast their votes- and a much larger proportion probably will- and in turn start changing the political landscape in India!! If they send from a different number it will be invalid and so will it be if they send it more than once. The way mobile phones are on the rise it would soon cover a large majority of our voters. Those who don't have a mobile number can go and vote normally- of course electronically- so that they cant vote again from their mobiles. And suddenly we will see that rigging will become virtually impossible as no one will be able to control people from using their mobile phones in the privacy of their homes. Of course there are other advantages of the system too. The entire cost of managing the election process will come down. The number of days it takes to conduct elections will also come down to a few hours. Furthermore if we charge a sum of rupees ten or so for each SMS, the entire election process could then be financed by white money if that money is channelised back according to some formula. The mobile phone companies should obviously be forced to provide this service free of cost as their cost in any case is totally negligible and allowing each subscriber a few free messages (for state and central elections) every five years is the minimum that they can do.
Also along with this there should be the final choice that many in India have been fighting for. The choice to vote for None of the above!! Democracy might take a new form then. In West Bengal we might have a result which looks like CPM 23%, Trinamool Congress 25%, Others 1% and None of the above 51%!! After all Bengalis love voting and doing revolutionary things!! And a Trinamool Congress will always be on tender-hooks even after winning such an election because they would know clearly that they aren't liked too much more than their rivals!!The seats in every parliament should also be distributed in the ratio of votes polled as it should be in a true democracy. And while democracy then will replace the existing DEMON-OCRACY in India, politicians will know that the only way to staying in power is hard work for the people, and will start doing that instead of indulging in criminal activities. And whenever there is a new scam, mobile companies can make some money by having a snap opinion poll asking voters to say if they still want the government in power. And such opinion polls cant go wrong nor can they be debated. Finally we might really end up getting governments for the people, by the people and of the people!! And if political debates can be aired live before the elections and popularity rankings done by voters after each round of debates, finally we might also see an enlightened India which is as involved in deciding their own futures as they are in deciding the futures of Debojits and Anik Dhars.
This came out as Arindam Chaudhuri’s editorial in the Mar. 24th issue of THE SUNDAY INDIAN and has been brought to you by a special arrangement with THE SUNDAY INDIAN
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