The Fault in Our Democracy - 1

With more votes, comes more power, but what about checks on power?

(TLDR? Read bold)

Citizen: Why this article?

Me: Ask these questions to anyone in the country — are we nearly corruption free? Do we have near cent percent literacy? Are we largely prosperous? Is there income equality? Do we have great infrastructure? Do women feel safe everywhere in the country? Are we giving a healthy environment to our current generation? Have farmers stopped committing suicide? The answer to all of them is NO.

Citizen: We need more opportunities, prosperity, resources, literacy, safety, equality, and less corruption. What do you think is the reason for our sad state?

Me: There are many, but this article deals with one prime reason. Large scale problems like ours stem from a bad system. We have a system in place - our democratic political system. No system is perfect, but you can always make it better. But it is important to make changes to reach perfection and not the other way…

Citizen: Stop deviating, I don’t want your lecture. Tell me about the problem.

Me: Fair enough. The way it is supposed to work is this: You, the citizens, hire (vote for) people (politicians) to handle bigger issues. You pay them money (taxes) to deal with it. You give them power so that they can take action. And if everything had worked well, the answer to the above questions would have been yes. Clearly, there is some problem.

Citizen: Yes, that is what I am asking.

Me: You are kinda doing your job. You vote and you pay taxes. Although you are not a rational voter, let’s ignore that for some time. The politicians, are they doing their job?

Citizen: Yes, how else is the country running then?

Me: If they have been doing there job, why is there so much corruption? Why do we still have low literacy? Why is our population not our asset? Why does no one want to send their children to government schools? Why is a government job equivalent to idle work? Are you seriously saying that they have been doing their job?

Citizen: I guess you are right. They haven’t done it well enough.

Me: Well enough!! I guess it is fair to say that they have done a poor job largely. You may see good things around, but it is nothing in comparison to what was possible with our country. Given our size and the talents this country has, we have done very little compared to our potential.

Citizen: I agree. But what is the problem with politicians?

Me: Nothing.

Citizen: What!? but you just said that!

Me: The real problem isn’t politicians. Politicians didn’t drop from the sky. They are our fellow citizens. And frankly, my guess is, a large population would not have done a different job than what has been done. Now, many feel that it is okay to give small bribe to the traffic cop than a heavier fine, and to temper with their electric meters to get a lesser bill. Many are doing corruption at the scale they can. Politicians just have a bigger scale. You play in tens, they play in tens of crores or more.

Citizen: What is the real problem, then?

Me: The real issue is the system that allows for unchecked power. Politicians have too much power and not many checks on power. Let me explain, say there is a trench like this,

image credits: work with nature

if you want everyone to cross it you may put a plank on it, but you wouldn’t do any calculations for the strength of the plank. You wouldn’t do simulations to create a good design for the plank. You’ll just use one that works. Why? Because it is good enough and it’s not a big deal if it fails. Imagine, however, that the trench is several kilometers wide and you need to make a bridge that would be used by a large number of people, cars, trucks, etc. You would do simulations, check wind speed, include safety factor in the design, make a robust design and ensure good implementation.

image credits: CSFCL

Perhaps, you’ll also include real-time monitoring on the bridge to ensure everything is running fine. The bridge has a larger responsibility than the plank and the consequences are more disastrous if the bridge fails. Therefore, we include more checks in designing and maintaining a bridge than a plank.

Citizen: So, what’s the point?

Me: Politicians have more power than ordinary citizens and therefore we need more checks on their power. I am an engineer, I see this political system as an engineering problem. If I were to design it, what changes would I do to make it better? More robust, less prone to random errors or even systematic attacks. I see it as a problem of the system rather than of the individual. If we can make the system largely independent of the individual, we can possibly achieve what we haven’t so far.

Citizen: Sounds good. But how?

Me: You know the biggest flaw of the system?

Citizen: I wouldn’t ask you if I knew.

Me: The biggest flaw is: the politicians can make laws for themselves. They can and have made it legal to accept anonymous donations. Even though it’s you who vote for them, they may be working for someone else. They can make it legal for themselves to contest elections even after multiple serious charges of rapes, murders, etc. They can lie in their affidavits and nothing happens to them. They can transfer honest bureaucrats and nothing happens to them. The can do all sorts of immoral things and make it legal if they wish. They have done that many times and they continue to do it. And that, my fellow citizen, is a messed up system. You know what, our country is like a mac book pro running on a windows 98 system.

Citizen: Yeah, that sounds about right.

Me: You know in judiciary they have a phrase — nemo judex in sua causa, which means no-one should be a judge in his own case. We need the same for politicians. No politician should be a policymaker for their own law, i.e, a law applicable to them.

Citizen: I agree. Do you have any idea on how to make it happen?

Me: I have several, in fact. I can share one with you here. The first thing that we agree on is that in the new system, politicians are not allowed to make laws related to themselves or political parties. But we still need a legal framework that means we need laws. And someone has to make laws and it can’t be politicians. I do not suggest citizens electing other people to make laws because it would essentially be a parallel political system that would be easy to penetrate for politicians. I suggest a merit-based system to place checks on political power.

Citizen: Merit-based system! Are you suggesting some kind of exams?

Me: Not really. It could be a way, but no, I am not suggesting that here. For example, we have a very talented pool of IAS officers that get selected after rigorous examination. Elections can be carried out within the IAS officers to select a few that would make laws relating to politicians. And the voters would be IAS officers only. We don’t have to restrict to IAS officers, we can also include people from other services such as IPS, Tax Officers, even judges from the high court. Moreover, we need not restrict to active members. We can also use the pool of retired officers as well. These folks would have a parallel parliament similar to our parliament but smaller. Primarily concerned with making laws that politicians won’t because of their self-interests. They won’t have any power in governance nor they can accept any political position later. I can extend more but I guess you get the idea.

Citizen: Yeah. I get it.

Me: This is just one possible way. It may have flaws. But I want you to focus on the essence here - we need a system where politicians can’t make laws regarding themselves and it is better to have a merit-based system for that.

Citizen: I find it radical though.

Me: Yes, it is. But it only one change in the larger system. We need more.

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