After having reached an agreement with the salesman for the purchase of our last automobile, a van, it was time to decide on its color before ordering. I asked my family members to tell me their first and second choices. First choice of each one was different from all the others, but rather remarkably, the second choice of everyone was the same: Silver.
When there is a multitude of parties and candidates contesting an election, each with limited support and the voters vote for their first preferences, outcome can be and often is no single party with a clear majority. In such situations, it becomes necessary to form coalitions each with a number of partners with disparate views, policies and mandate. Alliances, negotiations and jostling starts even before the elections, each partner attempting to acquire stronger position. One of such coalitions forms the government with several partners existing in an uneasy coexistence: A chitkabra government. Imagine the looks of an automobile with many colors haphazardly splattered on. Luckily, there are constraints that save us from a chitkabra vehicle. In democracy, we are stuck with a chitkabra organization; an unstable and dysfunctional government. It has been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. It can be said that a government designed by a multitude of voters voting for a large collection of their first choices often results in anarchy.
Everyone knows the problems a coalition government poses, particularly if the number of partners is large. Mandate of such a government remains unclear fabricated by fusing all of the mandates presented by the disparate contestants, which is open to further adjustments often at the whims of the partners. The voters really have no right to hold such a government responsible for a clear mandate. Each smaller partner asks for and usually gets a position and other concessions exceeding its representation resulting in too many tails wagging the dog; too many chiefs; not enough Indians. Just keeping the coalitions in place becomes a chore leaving little room to govern; to get something done.
In democracy voters are often faced with the choice among two evils; in fact, many evils. All a voter can do is to vote for the lesser of evils in one‘s perception, which is often difficult to decide for there is really no lesser of the evils. For example, when faced with the the recommendation of SC to keep the convicted politicians out of the elected bodies, all parties and politicians united against it as they did to keep themselves out of the ambit of RTI. NOTA can be used to express one’s dissatisfaction with all of the candidates but one would still be elected. If NOTA can be made more effective, e.g., by enabling it to force re-election, then nobody knows how many elections it would take to get a government or no government ever. Thus somebody is to be elected. The elected candidates and parties interpret and declare this to mean that the voters elected them with pleasure and thus, an implicit approval of their objectionable practices, which continue unabated or with even more vigor.
About the only alternative available to people is to express their concerns in between the elections, which is their right as well as their responsibility, for, as Thomas Jefferson has said: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. However, if a voice is raised against any undesirable activity, e.g., corruption, time tested techniques like vilification are unleashed with arrogant vigor to neutralize the voice not by defending oneself against it but by declaring the voice to be illegitimate and using it to legitimatize the continuation of their undesirable practices by some unexpressed twisted reasoning. Just pointing to a little speck of dirt, genuine or fabricated, is used to rationalize a pile of muck that the defender is covered with. People are told by smug, complacent politicians who exhibit and express an attitude that they belong to the ruling class and the people, to the ruled, that the only democratic right available to them is to vote at every election time, which they can exercise and then disappear into oblivion until the next election time (See How to Bring Democracy). Recent examples of such occurrences are the skirmishes between the protagonists of the movements raising their voices against various forms of corruption, which is rampant in all walks of life. The tactics succeeded in effectively neutralizing the movements to a large extent but the rage augmented by the tactics used by the politicians and their success, even if limited, simmered inside people and the enraged masses constitute a powerful force as witnessed by history. Quoting from one of my poems, March of History:
Born under hooves in synchronous march
pounding breast of earth forever
fought without swords, without spears
Sound of whip slashing through wind
punctuated with occasional howls of masked wolves
ripped fabric off membranes of ears
Forever is long time
Tip thrashing flesh off fingers
tangles at times in tender twigs
sprouting out of broken bodies
Reverses the course of history
The tip of the whip did get caught in the enraged fingers and the tremor was felt. Ordinance against the directive of SC was withdrawn by staging a poorly directed and poorly acted out drama, for example, and about all of the politicians scrambled to align with the flow. This was only the tip of the iceberg of people’s anger, which they expressed by voting against the politicians whose conduct had enraged them as soon as they got an opportunity, even if it meant to have a government constituted of a less than coherent collection of agitators who were inexperienced in the matters of governance. By this act of the “collective wisdom,” people succeeded in shifting the paradigm, which is amply demonstrated by the swiftness with which the seasoned politicians adjusted their modus operandi. Whether this sustains or not, and to what extent, will depend on the level of vigilance exercised by the people. For now the politicians appear to have learned that if the elected representatives do not listen to people, democracy empowers people to render them unable to listen to people. People are the ultimate custodians of democracy.
A stable and strong government with clear mandate and skill to implement it is needed at the center. There are various major concerns people have that must be taken into consideration. Discussing them even in brief would take the material off to a tangent, but a few can be mentioned. It has become quite clear that elimination of corruption of all kinds at all levels has become the topmost priority and of course, the issues pertaining to the economy and safety, of the nation and of the people, must also be addressed. Yet again, people have to elect “lesser of many evils” to the extent it can be determined. If someone is to be rejected for one or even some flaws, no one would be acceptable. Thus, people have to attempt to strike a balance. In a democracy, rejection of “unacceptable,” including the poor performance, constitutes a potent weapon as it has the potential to shift the paradigm; if not, it sends a message; and those who ignore it, do so at their peril.
It is quite clear in the prevailing situations that if people vote for their first choices, they are not going to get an orderly, stable and functional government at the center that would address their concerns to at least some extent. After having taught a “lesson” to the politicians, the immediate task people face is to elect an acceptable government. Can people think, setting their emotions aside, how this is possible? If one’s first choice is less likely to form a stable government or be a part of one, then can one look for a second choice that has a better chance, and can one vote for it? Can one vote to elect the best possible government under the circumstances instead of voting for one’s dream government? Can people demonstrate the collective wisdom to vote for their “second choice(s)” keeping in mind the kind of government they need, want and is possible? If they do, they are likely to get something much better than they might get otherwise, which could not only not be their dream government but no government at all.
Oh, yes; we did get a silver color vehicle.