Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Democracy We Need

WHEN corrupt politicians and fanatics get re-elected to power election after election, we often wonder how our people could be so blind. When educated, patriotic youngsters contest and lose their deposit - we are even more puzzled. We see politicians shed crocodile tears and talk absolute non-sense in public - and yet the mob goes crazy behind them. When free bags of rice and free TV sets are announced, why is it that our people never wake up and understand that nothing comes free of cost? Instead of laughing at the stupidity of their leaders, why do party workers blindly do anything - even to the extent of self immolating?

The reason, of course, is multi-fold. Politicians are able to cheat majority of the public quite easily. It shows that most of our people aren't smart enough to take a good decision about our politicians. It can also mean that the good decision-makers (good voters) are out-numbered by the bad decision-makers (bad voters). Here, "good" and "bad" refer to the quality of their voting decision (not their character).

Some have suggested that to refine our democracy we need to put restrictions on the eligibility to contest elections. They suggest that we prohibit criminals from contesting, and pave way for clean educated people to contest. The problem with this approach is, we never know how "clean" a person would be after coming to power. Most scandals today are done by educated people. Most fanatics today are great orators. Criminal intent can creep inside even the best educated minds, and when it combines with intelligence it makes a ruthless deadly combination. So, while it is good to have such restrictions on contesting elections (and I support such a restriction), they do not solve the problem completely.

The best solution is to give the right of decision-making (voting) in the right hands. That is, we should have more of good voters and less of bad voters.

Today, one of the major drawbacks of democracy is that it provides equal voting rights to everyone - irrespective of their ability to take a sound decision. The problem is magnified in India since a vast majority are still illiterates. Being an illiterate, they have limited access to information, poor capability to understand various issues, and they lack the ability to think objectively weighing the pros and cons of various policies of political parties.

Decision making cannot rest with people who do not qualify as good decision makers. To make a good decision, not just in casting votes, but in any situation, a person needs the following. Those who have these qualify as good decision makers.

1. Inputs about the problem (What information do we have?)
2. Knowledge to understand, comprehend and appreciate the problem (What exactly are the problems facing us today?)
3. Knowledge to envision what is best for all the stakeholders involved in the long-run (What is our nation's goal?)
4. Skill to objectively weigh the pros and cons of available options and pick the most suited one (How best to reach our goal?)

Not everyone possesses these skills. We should enforce voting restrictions and allow only those people who have the high probability of possessing such skills.

The vote cast by an illiterate cannot be treated the same as the vote cast by an eminent person like Dr. Abdul Kalam or Mr. Narayana Murthy. The weightage of their votes is definitely not same. However, our current system treats them both same. By doing so, we fail to give due credit to the voice of the qualified decision-makers (good voters), and instead we mix them with the unqualified ones and merely take the majority - which by no means gives a good result.

We should attach weightage to each person's vote based on his eligibility. So, how does a person get his weightage? I've given few suggestions. This is of course not a definite list, but merely a suggested approach.

Votes of following people deserve a higher weightage:

1. Educated people. The higher the education, the higher is the weightage.
2. Tax payers, as they have a higher say in the Govt spending.
3. Army personnels, due to the patriotic nature of their work.
4. Civil service officials (IAS, IPS, etc).
5. National award winners in fields of science, technology, arts, economics, law, defence, sports, etc.
6. Judges of Courts.

Following people should be given lesser or minimum weightage:

1. Uneducated or not sufficiently educated (eg. Secondary education should be a minimum requirement to qualify for voting)
2. Non Tax Payers
3. People with past criminal history (with each crime the weightage should be reduced, and it should only be restored subject to conditions)

Both the above lists aren't exhaustive; they can be expanded further. I've just tried to explain the rational behind this approach. With the "Unique Identification" system underway in India (by Mr. Nandan Nilekani) - it would be possible to track these criteria in a central database.

So, what difference would this make?

As per World Bank Survey in 2007, less than 40% of people in India enroll for Secondary education. Even if we assume the trend to be rising, it would be about 40% today. So, if we enforce that secondary education is mandatory for voting, then only 40% of the population would vote. And among this 40%, there would be weightage differences based on their further eligibility. Do the math, and you would understand that it makes a big difference. The probability of making a right decision increases enormously. There might be smart people among illiterates who might miss the chance to vote, but these are exceptional cases and hence cannot be considered when making regulations.

Bottomline: If you want to choose your ruler, go to school first.

This could be a motivation to complete atleast secondary education. This system places emphasis on education and honours those who've sweated their way to the top. Political parties would shut down their circus shows and start thinking for a change. They know that their audience is far smarter than before now. They can't be easily cheated - just by writing poems or giving free stuff or making rhetoric speeches. Politicians would be forced to show results. As more and more people get educated and become 'good voters', it would be even harder for rulers to fool around.

Einstein was right when he said, "You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created". Do share your views on this topic.


Lavi said...

There is one point. If you give more weightage to qualified people based on the factors you have mentioned, there is always a chance for them to misuse it at some time by recommending the wrong person. As you said power will change them :)

Viv said...

The power due to weightage is not accumulated to any individual alone, but distributed across voters. Such a dilution would avoid misuse. Moreover, why would the people (the "ruled") intentionally desire to have a bad government (the "ruler")! In general, I believe, people make incorrect decisions and choose wrong leaders mainly due to ignorance or incapability - and NOT because of their desire to do so. It is my opinion that, although moral values may be on the decline in our society, a majority of the people are still patriotic towards their country, and would desire to have a clean and efficient government. As we have witnessed in many democracies, it is usually the rulers who selfishly exploit the power accumulated with them.

Lilly said...

Excellent.. Please forward it to concerned election commissioner. :)


Impressed...Agree with all your points....but the process/program to bring the awareness in people..usually takes long course...but still we have to make an attempt to have a good governance,we all have to have same consent of mind while voting,can be able to judge who is better/best/better than the by day situation most worse then as it is today,democracy should have the voice,we are electing the representatives,we are not electing dictators,Its only cos of un-educated we all are going into the danger zone. i dont say this was the only of the reason