The constituency system in India and elsewhere is intended to reduce the incidence of minority governments

Dear Editor


In light of our own struggle to institutionalise democracy while trying to engender respectable economic growth in Guyana, I will confine my response on Ms Saraswati Ali’s comments on the new Indian government, only as it relates to those local concerns (‘Corporate agenda backing Modi is designed to consolidate existing inequalities and hierarchies,’ SN, May 23).

In both Ms Ali’s Diaspora column and her letter, she emphasises that, “The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has taken over 31% of the vote and the clear majority of the seats.” She implies that this circumstance is somehow illegitimate and disreputable if not outrightly immoral: “All that Modi supporters really can say at the end of the day is that the BJP won the elections – with 21% of the electorate and 31% of the actual voters, and where a 12 percentage point difference in vote share with the Congress translated into a 600 per cent difference in seats.”

But this is precisely the intended effect of the principle known in political science as ‘Duverger’s Law’ where, as a virtue of the constituency system, an MP is elected by a simple plurality of votes in his/her constituency.

It is intended to reduce minority governments by increasing the number of seats in the top two parties. In the constituency system it is quite common for parties with less tham 40% of the popular votes to win a majority of seats.

For instance, in 2005 in Britain (which, not so coincidentally) bestowed most of the political institutions of both Guyana and India) Labour won a majority of 66 seats in Parliament even though it secured only 35.2% of the popular votes. We didn’t notice any squeals of outrage about “illegitimacy” from Ms Ali or from Pankaj Misra, whom she quoted approvingly. If Ms Ali and cohorts are dissatisfied with the constituency system for choosing political leaders, I wish she would suggest some alternatives rather than just making snarky comments. In Guyana, the British did change the constituency system to proportional representation, so as to deliver an outcome that was more favourable to their interests. Since then Guyana has adopted a hybrid system – with calls for even greater weight to constituencies.

At least there are concrete suggestions here.

Ms Ali is also very scathing of the present economic dispensation where business is the “engine of growth.” She scorns “business, which is thriving on division, hatred, and exploitation, is being touted as a great development achievement, whereas it is nothing of the sort. It is a rapid conduit of increasing inequality in India to mega-proportions.” But once again, rather than offering concrete proposals, she points to some sort of utopia, “which is non-corporate, where religion is not politicised and divisive, which is pro-diversity, which abhors majoritarianism and empty triumphalism, and which is revolted by massacre, inhumanity and the impunity of the financial and political elite.”

In her Diaspora article, she had pushed for the AAP’s agenda of “people’s struggles…around issues of the environment, nuclear power, the rights of the commons, rights of workers, rights of women, rights of prisoners.” She assured us that would improve “the ordinary Indian’s life.” This is the sort of vacuous politically correct platitudes that a certain ‘educated’ elite segment of the third world revels in. Couched in a melange of anti-western, read ‘anti-American,’ Marxism-Leninism, postmodernism, post-colonialism, environmentalism and feminism and whatever is the current intellectual fad, and you get (or rather you don’t get) what they mean.

The problem with Ms Ali and her fellow travellers is that they appear as poseurs with no praxis. Take their critique of capitalism – it was all emotional. It took a solid Frenchman (rather incongruously) Thomas Picketty, plodding through tax records and such minutiae for years, to demonstrate for instance that capital, does in fact, accumulate faster than income. Now, that critique will generate its own self-correcting mechanisms through new policy initiatives, much as John Maynard Keynes’ work in the 1920s did for the Great Depression.

On a personal note, as a third world student in the US in the seventies, I ran into the detritus of the ’60s generation in New York City.

They were also well intentioned – but quite impractical with their leftist critiques and communes, etc. However, some of us grew up, worked within a reformed system and could retire at thirty-seven. I hope that people like Ms Ali would grow up, obtain the wherewithal to work in countries like India (I assume that is her homeland) or Guyana, to improve concretely the lot of some of those ordinary people, whom I do believe she genuinely cares about.

Yours faithfully,
Ravi Dev

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