Swami Ramdev’s Peculiar Beliefs

I don’t know who Swami Ramdev is. I have not seen him, read him, or heard him. My knowledge of who he is is limited to what I read about him in this Rediff article, “Swami Ramdev attacks the political system“, which says that he is “the iconic yoga guru with a phenomenal mass fallowing (sic).”

Evidently he is widely regarded as a spiritual guru. But however spiritual his claim to fame may be, I can’t help but wonder how can an adult who is clearly able to function normally be so mistaken about the nature of the world as to actually hold the positions that the article claims he does. Does spirituality or whatever it is that is his main calling so shield him from the everyday material world that he is totally and completely disconnected from reality?

According to the article, his goal is “to stop commercialisation, industrialisation and criminalisation of the political system of the country.” Fair enough even though I am not very clear what “industrialization” of the political system actually means. Quote:

“There are some good political leaders also, but the fact is that most of them lack vision and are steeped in corruption. Commercialisation and criminalisation of Indian politics is an insult to the freedom and democracy of the country,” he said.

One can’t argue with that. His solution?

“There is an imperative need to make voting compulsory. Given the fact that the literacy level in the country is not very high, the popular mandate is not genuinely reflected during balloting. It is then important that everyone votes,” he reasoned out.

That’s a jaw-dropping, absolutely astounding, brain-numbing recommendation! He talks about democracy but does not give any indication that he actually understands that democracy is not just about voting. If the idea of democracy has any content at all, then it has to be about informed choice. People who have no clue should not be allowed to vote because their voting cannot but make the system worse off. Uninformed voters are as likely as a group to choose wisely as a group of lobotomized cretins are likely to engineer a cybernetic system — that is, not likely at all.

[Note: I am not making the claim that illiterate voters are necessarily uninformed or unwise voters. I believe that being illiterate is likely to be correlated with being less informed. I make no claim about literate people being more or less wise than illiterate people either. In any case, I would not make wisdom a precondition for voting eligibility. It is hard enough to figure out if a person is informed; figuring out wisdom is probably impossible.]

There are two objections that I have to his idea of making voting compulsory. I suppose he makes the assumption that if everyone were forced to vote, then the winners of elections would more accurately reflect the choice of the population. I am OK with that assumption. But in reality, in a country of around half a billion voters, that is a costly exercise.

I don’t blame swamiji for not knowing this but there are simpler methods known for accurately determining the population characteristics than going to the expense of tabulating the entire voting population’s preferences. It is called statistical sampling. With a well-designed and properly conducted sample survey, one can make the sample statistics come close to the population statistics to any arbitrary degree of precision. The results of such a sample survey (where as little as 0.1 percent of the population is surveyed) will be no different from the result of forcing half a billion people to vote.

That first objection is a mere technicality, if you please. But the more substantial objection is that instead of making voting compulsory, voting should be a privilege granted to only those who demonstrate that they are qualified to make a choice on the matters under discussion. (In fact, I feel that if people were not given the automatic right to vote on turning 18 years old but had to actually qualify to vote, the outcome would be a rush to qualify and vote. You would not have to compel anyone to vote because it would be a badge of honor that one is qualified to vote.)

I learn from the article that he claimed that voting is mandatory in 32 countries. (I hope Rediff has fact checkers on its staff.) Perhaps in a small country of a few million people, one may be able to get away with it. But for a practical matter, even if you pass the idiotic legislation making voting compulsory, the cost of enforcing it would be prohibitive. Once again, I think that the good swami is obviously a man more at home with matters spiritual than with matters of mundane practicality.

But why does he want to force everyone to vote? Because “the corrupt political system can be made clean and transparent by making it mandatory for everyone to vote.”

What the heck was that?!

I fell off the chair when I read that. I suppose when he made that statement, his audience uncritically accepted his wisdom. They did not fall off their chairs. They did not ask why. That is par for the course, isn’t it? The gurujis and the netajis make totally asinine pronouncements and no one bothers to call them on it.

And the press? What do the press do? Let me compose a ditty in Hindi:

muh mein aayaa buk diye
jo bhi suna chaap diye

{Translation: (The high and mighty) say whatever comes to their tongue without reflection, (and the press) just print uncritically whatever they hear.}

How on earth is voting — even forced voting — going to solve the problem of corruption? Does the great swami know what is the cause of corruption? Can he please explain what his reasoning is for believing that corruption is a result of an insufficient number of people voting?

OK, I know that it is not my station to be giving lectures to gurujis, but as it is my blog, I submit this as my reasoning on the causes of corruption, and what should be done to fix it. Since I have already tried your patience severely going on and on about voting, I will keep this one brief. (Yes, dear reader, I can be brief when I want to be 🙂 )

Corruption is related to power. I am not talking about Lord Acton’s famous observation that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I am taking about the power that one gets from controlling something and which control affords one the means to extract rents — and corruption is basically extraction of rents.

The cop at the corner has the power to extract something out of the wrong-doer. The bureaucrat has the power to extract rent because it is within his power to give or deny permission. The politician has the power to favor this or that industrialist and grant the license. Everywhere there is power to coerce, there is corruption.

The more things the government controls, the more power the politicians and bureaucrats — the people who constitute the government — have and consequently greater the corruption. Show me someone who has political power, and I will show you a person who is corruptible and most likely is corrupt.

The larger the involvement of the government in the economic affairs of the state, the greater is the reward for being a politician because the chances of raking in the moolah is all the greater. Therefore the larger the government, the more likely it is to attract precisely those kinds of politicians who have the greatest greed and therefore the most corruptible.

Socialist governments control the most and therefore they are the most corrupt. India’s corruption of the political class is a direct consequence of the socialistic government India has. The way to get rid of corruption in Indian politics is to reduce the size and power of the government to meddle in the affairs of the economy.

(Told you, I can be brief.)

6 thoughts on “Swami Ramdev’s Peculiar Beliefs

  1. Amit Thursday June 5, 2008 / 10:29 pm

    The number of countries Ramdev mentions seems to check out.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_voting#Now

    As for your suggestion of “voting should be a privilege granted to only those who demonstrate that they are qualified to make a choice on the matters under discussion.” – isn’t this rather silly and elitist? In a democracy, voting is a right not a privilege – unless you’re talking of some other currently non-existent utopian system. (And yes, I am aware of the drawbacks of democracy.)

    1. Who will decide what is the criteria for someone being “qualified”?
    2. Who will administer it?
    3. If there’s already corruption, how will implementing this idea ensure that those implementing it are corruption-free and fair?
    4. If someone is in a position to decide who is qualified to vote and who is not, won’t that person be open to corruption?
    5. How about the bureaucracy that will be added on to the existing system, which you’re probably trying to make less bureaucratic?

    If mandatory voting is unimplementable in India (as you say, and I agree), implementing privileged voting would be a nightmare in comparison.

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  2. lurker Thursday June 5, 2008 / 11:59 pm

    Amit has a point.

    If you looked around to survey the people who support ‘qualified’ voting, you will not find yourself in very impressive company.

    On one end you will find people who believe that ignorant masses need a vanguard group of elites to tell them their interests and act as catalyst for “revolution”. On the other hand you will find people arguing that country should be run by “vidvaan-s” and only a “vidvaan” can select another “vidvaan”.

    Elites self-interest lies in convincing people that they are better off giving their power of electing their rulers to them. However, statistically speaking, elite-run regimes have hardly fared any better than those run by “un-informed” masses. Rather, it is the reverse that is more true.

    ~Manish Saxena

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  3. Prashant2 Friday June 6, 2008 / 1:23 am

    I agree with Amit – “compulsory voting” is easier to implement, less controversial, potentially cheaper than “qualified voting” as suggested by Atanu.

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  4. bhopale Friday June 6, 2008 / 11:06 am

    Among the reasons for poor voter turnout in the cities, particularly of the middle and upper classes, is the complaint that they have no real choice considering the poor quality of candidates and the poor public image of the parties these candidates represent. Secondly, many citizens believe that their votes are not really going to make a difference. Very few are aware that a rule exist which allows negative voting. Rule No. 49(O) in the Conduct of Election Rules 1961 says:

    “Elector deciding not to vote. – If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form 17 A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decided not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer, and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark”

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  5. rishi Friday June 6, 2008 / 11:33 pm

    Atanu,
    “The results of such a sample survey (where as little as 0.1 percent of the population is surveyed) will be no different from the result of forcing half a billion people to vote.”

    This is not applicable in India, with a parliamentary system. You can see the facts in the various opinion polls which are notoriously inaccurate. The only way to get correct results is to hold the election.

    Also I disagree with the qualified voting concept. All modern democracies have universal voting.

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