AAP voters must have been baffled by the announcement from Arvind Kejriwal that he will call 250 public meetings to decide for him whether he should form government in Delhi or not. Many believe that the idea of holding public meetings to take political decisions is an absurd idea for a big and complex society like India, and more in the given case when the elections had taken place in Delhi through which the people had already asked their preferred parties to form the government.
Why AAP’s letter to BJP?
On the issue of government formation in Delhi, the debate is focused on the relevance of the letters that Kejriwal has shot to Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Shri Rajnath Singh demanding from them clarifications on their respective party’s position on some18 issues picked by Kejriwal from his party’s election manifesto. The sending of letter to BJP is intriguing because their support was not needed to form the government. Kejriwal has stated that the response of these two leaders to his letters, even if it is a total support, shall be placed before the people of Delhi in the 250 public meetings to be called by the AAP in all the Vidhan Sabha constituencies. If people in the public meetings give green signal, then Kejriwal shall be ready to form government in Delhi.
While the political parties and media are busy offering their responses to the appropriateness of the letters sent by AAP leader to BJP and Congress chiefs, the other issue of holding 250 public meetings also requires to be subjected to scrutiny. It is necessary to see whether this attempt of Kejriwal to put to practice his idea of ‘political decisions through public meetings’ makes any sense or is a bogus ‘revolution’.
Let me try to work out how things may move if these meetings are held.
Whether actually 250 meetings would be called or not, or whether the idea would be abandoned mid-way is still to be seen. But what looks like is that the AAP will organize some such meetings, whatever number, as the launch of their campaign for the re-elections that may get imposed on the people of Delhi soon and also the Lok Sabha polls.
In such ‘public’ meetings of the AAP, the participants shall be their own supporters who would be inclined to support whatever course of action their leadership deems fit. But, what about the views of those who do not attend these meetings? Would the views of these common people of Delhi not matter?
Public meetings should not be a farce
It would also be necessary to look into the details of the procedures that may be adopted in these meetings. This is so because the procedures to be adopted would determine whether the act of holding public meetings for decision-making was a mere farce or it made any sense.
At the time of holding the meetings, would the leadership come prepared with their own proposal and present it to the people for their approval? If this be the case, then the people are likely to support whatever the leadership desires. The other possibility may be that the AAP leaders would prepare in a neutral manner two-three alternative views and present them before the people and allow them to choose any one of them. In case this procedure is adopted, a further question would arise whether the opinions sought would be of the individuals present there or of the crowd collectively. If the opinions of individuals are being sought, would that be done through voice vote or through secret or open ballot. The appropriate approach would be to ascertain the views of the individual participants through ballot and not of the crowd as a whole through a voice vote.
Another question that requires to be raised is: before ascertaining the opinions of the people, would the leadership educate the people on the various alternatives and their implications in an impartial manner or would the people be expected to give their opinions on the basis of whatever is preached to them by the AAP leadership?
One more relevant issue is: how would the opinions of 250 meetings be collated? Would the net result obtained in one meeting be seen as one vote and similarly 250 such votes would be obtained, or the total number of people present in the 250 meetings shall be seen as one large group and the total count of votes in favour of or against a proposal in each of the 250 meetings be aggregated together to arrive at the final conclusion. Since the number of people present in each meeting shall be different, the latter method would be a better procedure to indicate the public view accurately.
Finally, would these public meetings be just internal party meetings in closed doors or would these be general public meetings whose proceedings shall be open to public scrutiny?
It would be necessary that the AAP puts out in public domain all the details about the procedures that they are going to follow in relation to these public meetings.
In the context of this method of ‘decisions in public meetings’, some general questions also arise:
Dilution of accountability
If the decisions on public issues are being taken by the public directly, then, in the case of a decision proving to be unfruitful or harmful, who shall be answerable for the bad results? The ruling party leadership or the public? The ruling group will always try to say that it is the ‘public’ whose decision has failed to produce the desired results. This approach to decision-making would therefore provide a route to the ruling establishment to escape from any accountability for any failures in governance.
We can also not ignore the fact that the mutual rivalries in the realm of power-politics shall find a reflection in the functioning of the public meetings also wherein the decisions are sought to be made under the above mentioned system of ‘decisions in public meetings’ (also called the ‘Direct democracy’). If such rivalries remain continuously on the boil at the masses level, it is difficult to imagine how that will be good for society.
Direct democracy has its limitations
The ‘Direct democracy’ model of political governance has been experimented in history in small societies, but the emergence of big and complex societies like ours, led to the acceptance of ‘Representative democracy’ as the system of effective political governance. Even this model gives rise to its own share of problems and aberrations. As a remedial measure to these problems, the ‘Representative democracy’ provides to the society, many avenues to remain involved in the public life, in addition to the system of voting, such as, the civil society, interest groups, political activism and an alert and independent media.
Reforms can always be made in any system, but to suggest that the only option left before the complex modern societies to solve their political problems is to take them back into ancient times will be doing great disservice to humanity.