By Anupam Saraph -November 4, 2019

Elections have been a symbol of hope. They have symbolized the power of the common man to choose a representative.

The have symbolized the power of public opinion to influence democracy. Democracy has aspired to protect the planetary, national, and public interest.

Yet, increasingly, there is a despondency about elections. People need to be told to cast their vote. More and more people are choosing to cast their votes in favor of none of the above (NOTA), rejecting all the candidates aspiring to get elected. More and more representatives carry the mandate of smaller and smaller proportion of voters, and even smaller number of people. Increasingly, there’s a disappointment with democracy.

Several states in India just went through the 5-year cycle of elections. Like in all elections, political parties sought out the most “electable” candidates.

For the political parties, what has mattered was whether the candidates have the money power, the muscle power, and the political correctness to become a candidate. For many, many election seasons now, electability has emerged as the only selection criteria. Elections have become about the short-term interests of those who field and finance candidates, many of whom are now faceless with the “Electoral Bonds”.

Not unsurprisingly then, the idea of public interest, national interest, and planetary interest have become endangered if not lost altogether. If the larger whole, that sustains us, is harmed or fails to sustain, the smaller whole cannot be unharmed or sustained.

It is not idealism to put the planet before the national interests, the national interests before the public interest, and the public interest before the private interest.

It is more than 32 years since the report by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development on “our common future”, calling for “sustainable development” – a practice of ensuring that meeting today’s material needs will not compromise the same ability of future generations to meet their needs. They had highlighted that growth that degrades the environment is not progress, but destruction. The world today faces a climate crisis that threatens to not only flood major coastal cities, it threatens to cause water scarcity, crop failures, mass migrations, and even mass extinctions. Our elections have, however, failed to seek out the candidates who are most likely to lead us on the path of sustainable development. They have not even talked about the issues of sustainable development. They have not talked about the Short Now, the lifetime of the child born today.

Even the house of “elders”, the Rajya Sabha, where scholars, intellectuals, and those who have devoted themselves to the welfare of the community, were to be nominated, finds itself with “distinguished” film stars and sportsmen instead of those who may create policies for sustainable development.

After elections representatives become tradable commodities as horse trading splits them into a government and opposition. Then majoritarianism drives decisions. Those who finance elections consider this as a short-term cost to buy decisions. Naturally, then, the decisions sacrifice the Short Now. They do not care about sustainable development.

Given their inability to elect anyone who understands and works for sustainable development, elections have rendered themselves irrelevant. They cannot result in protecting planetary, national or public interests. 

Where does that leave democracy? Electoral democracy is but one form of democracy. Like everything else, it too must evolve. What could an alternate system look like?

What if you could nominate a representative for each sector for sustainable development? A representative who understands resource dynamics, the dynamics of water, forests, air, minerals and energy, as a representative to make policy on resources? A representative who understands dignity, justice, liberty and fulfilment as your representative to make policy on these? And similarly, for other areas of planetary, national and public interest? Those representing will represent only for those areas, only for those decisions while you prefer not to nominate anyone else. 

If a hundred persons were nominated from a city, they would capture the plurality of viewpoints and nominate from within the hundred those who represent the district. They in turn would nominate those who represent the state. And they the nation.

So, the size of the representation would reflect the plurality of the views. Such a plurality would call for patience, understanding, wisdom, education, discussion and evolving a shared understanding of sustainable development before decisions were taken.

They would not put the planetary, national and public interests above private interests. Representation would not be about majority; it would be about plurality. Decisions would not be about the short-term; they would be about the Short Now.

They would bring in the wisdom of the community in protecting our common future. Not the private interests of the short-termers protecting their interests.

Do you have alternate paths for the future of democracy to evolve so that it can protect the Short Now?