Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India (CERI)

Hans Magnusson
Dalit Solidarity Network-Sweden

Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India (CERI)

The Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India known as CERI constitutes a new political alternative involving a change of the electoral system, which may offer the prospect for Dalits and other suppressed groups to acquire a substantial number of mandates representatives in the Parliament. It carries a strong belief of the possibility of sustaining democracy through electoral means.  

It was launched on the initiative of REDS (Rural Education for Development Society, Tumkur in the state of Karnataka) at the International Conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 8th-10th October, 2008. The CERI Manifesto was adopted in Kathmandu on 18th-20th November, 2009 by the CERI Core Team. The release of CERI Manifesto was preceded by a panel organized by CERI in the Civil Society Summit in Bangalore on 25 January, 2010.

The CERI Manifesto takes as a point of departure that India is a composition of a multiform of identities shaped by religion, caste, language, region, and culture. The challenge for Indian democracy as is underlined in the Manifesto is to materialize the fundamental responsibility to make legitimate and legal space available to all the multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual, and multi-religious communities dwelling within the borders of India. B.R. Ambedkar gave voice to this challenge as he at the time for the drafting of the Indian Constitution declared: “I am of the opinion that in believing we are a nation, we are cherishing a great illusion. How people divided into several thousands of castes can be a nation? The sooner we realize that we are not yet a nation in the social and psychological sense of the word the better for us … In the country you find really two nations – a ruling nation and a nation which is a subject nation”[1].

The Manifesto further points out that India has traditionally been a hierarchical society at which indigenous communities are isolated and made outcaste by dominant forces, which also are controlling the sources of their livelihood. The Majoritarian Electoral System (MES) as applied in India through the First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system with an emphasize on producing a solid majority and by this granting stability to the political system does not, it is argued, live up to the claim of realizing the criterions of justice, equality, inclusiveness and the representation of all social groups in the political decision making process.  It is pointed out that subsequent elections in India since independent have shown that candidates with even less than 10 % votes in a given electoral constituency can win the seat. And, in the 2009 general elections to the Indian Parliament, 145 out of 573 elected members won with less than 20 % votes. 

The Manifest also rejects the reserved seats system as a means of bringing about a righteous representation. This system, being the outcome of the Poona Pact between Ambedkar and Gandhi, although creating a clear reservation quota has not fostered the emergence of well-articulated policies for minorities. Rather, it is argued, the candidates are totally dependent on the party establishment for being nominated. So being they are also depending on them in formulating policies for the respective minority groups they are representing; exercising independent thinking may lead to a situation at which their political future will be put at risk. So, it is argued, reservation within the Majoritarian Electoral System has only become a handy tool in the hands of the dominant parties to politically neutralize Dalit and Adivasi leadership. The conclusion is that when actual representation is removed from the praxis of democracy, it is bound to be a failure.

The Manifesto also recalls that Ambedkar in 1955 changed his position on Separate Electorates for Dalits arguing that there was no need for separate electorates and reserved seats; what was needed was an electoral system with multimember constituencies.

The alternative system, the Proportionate Electoral System (PES), involving a broader representation would, it is asserted, be more equipped to realizing the criterions of justice, equality, and inclusiveness. The democratic ideal for the Campaign is a ´bipolarity of power, adding power as participation´, involving a distribution of power, allowing “participation of all citizens in the instruments and mechanisms of governance at all levels. Such participation in decision making should ensure proportional democratic space for all people so that no one group becomes the absolute owner of material and spiritual values”. To ascertain this, the aim of the Campaign is to make possible and ensure the participation of all communities in governance, and check all tendencies to usurp dominant and brutal power by some caste groups in India.  

Another argument put forward is that the prevalent electoral system does not respond to the vast change of the political landscape that has taken place in the last few decades. India has seen the emergence of a rather large number of local parties with the ability to attract a lot of votes in their respective regions. This indicates that India has ultimately arrived at the era of coalition politics and, it is argued, that the MES in India consequently has lost its major advantage.

The CERI Campaign has since its start carried out a wide range of activities in India and abroad, which is accounted for in the CERI Annual Report of Activities 2009-2010. 

 State Conferences have been organized in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tripura, Tamil Nadu, Manipur, Orissa, Maharashtra, Delhi, Kerala, Rajasthan and district level conferences have been held in the states of Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, and Rajasthan. In Maharashtra, the Chapter of CERI made use of the opportunity of huge gathering of Dalits on the Death Anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar. They hired a stall and printed pamphlets about CERI to be distributed. More than thirty thousand people visited the stall of CERI and collected the materials. Interest to join the CERI Campaign has also been shown in the states of Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Arunachal Pradesh.

At the Karnataka conference many preparatory meetings were organized with the involvement of those who attended the CERI Day deliberations in Bangalore. At the end of the State Conference a Press Release was made that made a good coverage in the Bangalore Press. Since REDS has an established position and name in Karnataka the Campaign has moved ´leaps and bounds´ in the State. The Booshakthi Vedike involving the Network of REDS in Karnataka and the Dalit Panchayat Movement planned to move ahead pressurizing the governments at the State and at the Centre to bring about Proportionate Electoral System in India. All the Coordinators in 11 Districts of Karnataka met together on 15 December 2009 to specifically discuss about consolidating the CERI Campaign in their respective Districts just as Tumkur District was moving ahead with its own plans. Later they joined all the Coordinators of the Dalit Panchayat Movement in an elaborate planning for three days. After long discussions the entire group decided to organize huge public rallies in all the Taluks of Tumkur District and mobilize one hundred thousand signatures for electoral reforms and another hundred thousand signatures for five acres of land to each Dalit family. 

The CERI Kathmandu Conference took place on 21st-22nd November, 2009. Special guests were Shri Neelambar Acharya, the President of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution of Nepal and Mr. Neel Kanth Uprety, the Chief Election Commissioner of Nepal.  Dr. Anne Sullivan, Head of the Maori Department in the University of Auckland, a Political Scientist was the Keynote Speaker. Dr. Asta Balto, Sami University College, Kautokeino, Norway, was invited to speak on the history and culture of the Sami people as a necessary prelude to understanding the Electoral System of Norway, particularly in reference to the Sami Parliament. Dr. Joe Saglie from the Social Research Institute in Oslo presented an overview of the Norwegian electoral system.

Jyothi and M.C. Raj of REDS visited New Zealand for looking into the electoral system in New Zealand with special reference to the Maori people. New Zealand changed their electoral system into the proportionate electoral system in 1993. Academicians, elected members and traditional leaders of the Maori community interacted with Jyothi and M. C. Raj. The first two days were spent in Auckland University. This was a gathering of Professors from the University. With them was also Raymond Miller, who has written a book on the Electoral System of New Zealand. There was also Harald Gaski, a Professor in Tromso University of Sapmi (Sami Land) in Norway.

The research finding of their study in Norway on the Sami Parliament is coming out as a novel. M.C. Raj has written this novel and the agreement for publication has already been made with the Raider Publications in the US who have also their office in Nagpur in India. The President of Sami Parliament has written the Preface to the novel.

CERI has also registered the public support of many political parties in India. One of the biggest collaborations they have managed to work out is with the All India Milli Council. This is an official organ of the Muslim community in India with a strong national presence. The General Secretary of the All India Milli Council has given a clarion call in a public meeting in the United Theological College in Bangalore to collect ten million signatures for Proportionate Electoral System and present the same to the President of India as early as possible.  

CERI has now got seriously involved in the formation of the World Parliament of the Indigenous People. The Sami Parliament, the Dalit Parliament, the possible Maori Parliament and the planned North Eastern Parliament, the Native Americans, and the indigenous people of Greenland, Canada will come to Booshakthi Kendra, Tunkur, in January 2011 for the first ever historic Round Table Conference in preparation of the World Parliament of the Indigenous People. 

[1] Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India (CERI) for Proportional Representation; the Manifesto adopted in Kathmandu on 18th-20th November, 2009 and released in Bangalore on 25th January, 2010; The Manifesto is built on the discussions held at the CERI International Conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 8th-10th October, 2008.
M.C. Ray and Jyothi (2007); Dalitocracy, The Theory and Praxis of Dalit Politics; Ambedkar Resource Center, Tumkur, Karnataka, India;


  1. Thanks much Hans for this very well written Article.

  2. Excellent article touching all important points affecting democracy in India. The points in the articles should be discussed throughout the country involving all political parties. This is to bring out much required changes in the election process.
    Nishit Sahay
    Trustee, Center for Standards in Public Life (CSPL)