Yesterday, after a gruelling election schedule that spanned for six weeks, India elected members to the 17th Lok Sabha. Elections in India are based on the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system encoded in Article 81 of the Constitution of India, 1950 in which candidates with the greatest number of votes in a constituency win a set in the Lok Sabha.
In recent debates on India’s electoral system, some have claimed that FPTP is undemocratic and unrepresentative of marginalised minority communities. There have been calls for discarding FPTP and adopting the proportional system. It is a system where a party’s or group of candidates seats’ is proportionate to the votes they receive.
So why did the Constitution framers choose FPTP over proportional representation?
Kazi Syed Karimuddin proposed that FPTP be substituted with “system of proportional representation with multi-member constituencies by means of cumulative vote.” He argued that FPTP perpetuates ‘tyranny of the majority’ and believed that proportional representation was ‘profoundly democratic’ as it ensures that every voice of the populace was represented. More importantly he highlighted how FPTP led to disfranchisement and non-representation of religious minorities in Ireland.
KT Shah came in support of proportional representation through single transferable vote. He argued that this system was a ‘greater reflection of popular will’ and would secure a politically diverse government.
M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar was not convinced by these attacks on FPTP. He offered two arguments opposing proportional representation. First, it was impractical to implement proportional representation as some constituencies had large populations. Second, proportional representation was too ‘advanced’ for our India in light of the poor rate of literacy.
BR Ambedkar too, believed that proportional representation did not suite Indian conditions. He pointed out that Karimuddin assumed that Indian citizens were literate and could read numbers. Also, he invoked British Parliament’s refusal to adopt proportional representation as it threatened stability of government. He argued that minority interests were better secured through reservation in legislature rather than proportional representation.
After hearing arguments on the first-past-the-post system and proportional representation the Constituent Assembly finally decided to retain the former.