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Towards a better democracy that can overcome unethical polity brewing in Karnataka that is ready to submerge the rest of India

Some times good things come out in crisis situations. Won’t it be great if a way towards better and more democratic governance could bloom out of the current constitutional crisis in Karnataka. We need not go into the crisis faced by Karnataka Assembly in forming a legitimate new government. However, a little in depth pondering will make it clear that at the root of the current bizarre things happening in Karnatak Assembly lies concentration of power in the hands of ministers and the Chief Minister (CM) under current conventional state governing structure. What is really needed to take care of such anomalous situation and for overall improvement of transparency in governance is to avoid conventional concentration of power in the hands of CM and other ministers by dispersal of power over the whole legislative body as outlined below!

While all decisions in a legislative body needs to be made via majority rule, there is no need to anoint anyone as a minister or CM. Let all decisions be made via majority rule without giving anyone the right to issue party whip. As long as current system of FPTP (first-past-the-post, or plurality) election system continues with the president of each party having the right to nominate whoever s/he wishes as candidates in different constituencies, various party-presidents will continue to have inordinate power of persuasion on members of their respective party. And they (the party presidents) would continue to exert undue pressure on their respective party members in the legislative bodies. However, non-declaration of CM and other ministers would have the following salutary effect on governance of the state.

Since there will be no ministers per se, the question of fall of a government would not arise. Anyone would be able to propose a bill or proposal and it will be decided by whether it has majority support or not. Formation of a conventional government puts a lot of perk (and accompanying allure) for the duration of the current term in the hands of a few individuals chosen by the CM. The perks will be off the shelf when no one is going to be declared a minister! Further, since no one will be identified as a minister, none will be wielding inordinate power (and accompanying corruption handle). Though the party presidents would have more influence over other party members than any other party members would, failure of party members to follow their leader’s diktat will not result in abrupt fall of a government, hence such lack of obedience (to party president’s orders) on the part of party members may be forgotten by the end of current term of the legislative body.

Thus lack of formation of a so called conventional “government” will be devoid of considerable amount of unnecessary and pernicious perks and corrupting power-handles. The whole legislative body will serve the function of government as described below.

Those familiar with workings of various committees corresponding to various departments, including those of standing and select committees and subcommittees, etc., claim that their deliberations and recommendations are generally of better quality than the actions of the ministers of the corresponding departments. Hence if such committees were to substitute for the ministers, governance will be improved.

But we can do even better. Currently composition of various committees are decided by steering committees of respective parties, which entail control of the party-bosses. It may be better to leave it up to the members of various parties to join hands with other likeminded members to form various ad hoc committees and make recommendations regarding various bills. Needless to say, if they could compromise and/or convince others and join hands with larger and larger numbers, that would increase the possibility of passage of their recommendations by the whole house. This kind of process of formation of various ad hoc committees by likeminded members on their own would diminish the power of party leaders, and would be more democratic.

Every time a proposal or bill is passed by the whole house, those responsible in the formulation of the bill would take the lead in forming the group of bureaucrats responsible for implementation of the bill or proposal. If too many people are interested in the implementation committee for a bill, the legislative body should be able to come up with a democratic method of reducing the size to a manageable size.

For different bills/proposals passed by the house different members may take the lead, whence there would be no need for anyone to be anointed as a minister or Chief Minister (CM). There would be no need for creating a hierarchy among representatives of nearly equal constituents. There would be no need for a hierarchical bureaucracy either. The group of legislators in-charge of implementation of a bill would supervise the group of bureaucrats chosen by them (from a pool of career bureaucrats and other intelligentsia) to execute the same.

As for signing off any paper or order in connection with a bill or proposal, signature of the speaker of the house should be enough. Speaker of the house would be one from among the speakers’ committee, on a rotating basis. Speakers’ committee would be elected by the house via Proportional Representation (list-PR, very briefly described below) system of election. Speaker’s power would be limited to facilitate debates in an orderly fashion. If and when an important decision has to be made regarding rules of conducting legislative body’s meetings, the speakers’ committee will meet and take a decision, which may have to be passed by the whole house.

Thus we see that the whole legislative body (without concentrating its power in the hands of a few individuals) can function as a government with much greater transparency, integrity, inclusivity and democracy than the functioning of conventional hierarchical government with power concentrated in the hands of a CM and other cabinet and state/deputy ministers.

A brief intro to open-list-PR system of election:

Future legislative bodies can further be equalized with the use open-list-PR electoral system. Under this system the whole state may be considered to be a single multi-seat constituency. All parties would be free to present party-list of their candidates (of whatever length, in alphabetical order) for the voters to pick and choose to vote for anyone in the list. A party can choose to have an open-list, making its list open for all interested in contesting the election under its affiliation to put his or her name in the party-list. This would make it unnecessary for any individual to indulge in sycophancy towards party leadership to become a nominee of the party. Whether the candidate would get elected will depend upon the number of votes collected by the party and votes  collected by the concerned candidate, as described below.

A voter would vote for a party by voting for a candidate in the party-list of his/her choice. That vote would be counted as a vote for the party as well as a vote for the candidate. Sum of votes for all candidates on a party-list would be the party-vote. At the end of voting process, candidate names on each party-list will be rearranged/prioritized in accord with the number of votes received by them, leaving the largest vote-getter at the top of each party-list. Each of the parties would then be assigned a party-quota of seats in proportion to the number of party-votes it received. The fractional parts of party-quotas may be rounded off but it is more conventional to use a process like the method of largest remainder (MLR) to decide the whole number of seats won by each party. Each of the parties would then fill their party-quotas off the top of their respective prioritized party-lists.

BTW, a party is likely to collect more votes (and hence win more seats) with open-lists than with a list that are not open to all for candidacy. Hence open-lists are going to become norm and all parties are going to have open-lists. When party-list is “open” for candidates and “open” for the voters to show their preference for a candidate within their party-list, it may be called dol-PR (doubly-open-list-Proportional-Representation, or simply Ol-PR) system of election.

MLR is not difficult but it is not necessary to describe the same here. Some more intricacies can be introduced in the list-PR system described above but that can be discussed separately. Biggest advantage of the Ol-PR system described above are that (1) even smallest parties that have supporters enough for electing only one member to a legislative body, but could not envision winning any seat at all under current FPTP system, can win appropriate number of seats in proportion to the number of their supporters; and (2) in case when all parties use doubly-open-list as the list of their candidates, its candidates would not have to indulge in sycophancy of the party-leaders (and be beholden to the party-leaders) to be included in the party-list of a party of their choice. Anyone can go straight to the public and get a true measure of his/her popularity in the public, and possibly win a seat in a legislative body.

With the help of unlimited supply of money for ugly politics and total lack of ethics, whole of India is at the brink of being submerged in a kind of politics totally devoid of ethics and morality. Karnataka politics is ready to be launched all over India and whole of India will be totally submerged in it. In the few states that are not yet submerged, if and only if those in power can show a far better way of ruling those states, they can avoid being deluged! The model of governing structure and principled election system presented above can prevent us from being engulfed by onslaught of totally unprincipled and corrupt polity of the kind that has engulfed Karnataka.

Author: Dr. Satinath Choudhary, A social-political activist in the USA & India

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