By Sudipta Purkayastha, Gujarat National Law University.
Referendum. The Oxford dictionary defines this word as : ‘A general vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them for a direct decision’. Perhaps a more colloquial version of this definition can be found in the Cambridge dictionary : ‘A vote in which all the people in a country or an area are asked to give their opinion about or decide an important political or social question’.
Why, you ask, is it necessary to know what a Referendum entails, in 2015? The answer would lie simply in the fact that this year has already witnessed a historic referendum in Ireland in May 2015, whereas the second major referendum in Greece is, while this author types out this article, currently underway. Missing out by a few months was the much-awaited Referendum in Scotland (wherein the Scots voted to stay on as part of the United Kingdom rather than creating a separate nation of their own) which, had it been conducted just 4 months after it really was, might have anointed the year 2015 as the ‘Year of the Referendums’.
Ireland, which had once become known for its strict stance on important social issues such as abortion (which has, since the incident of Savita Halappanavar, been relaxed), has now not only appeased, but also won over the hearts of the world-over. Its Referendum on the 22nd of May asked the Irish citizens to either approve or disallow the 34th Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill, 2015, which sought to amend the Constitution by adding the words “marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex”, thus providing same-sex marriages with legal sanctity. A vote of “Yes” by 62% of the total voters demonstrated that Ireland truly deserved its status as the 5th best nation in the world in terms of gender equality.
An entirely different, but equally interesting case is that present in Greece at this point. Greece, which has been termed as ‘In Arrears’ with the IMF owing to its non-repayment of the 1.6 billion Euro debt owed to the IMF, has now asked its own citizens to vote on whether the government should accept the “bailout” deal laid out by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, at the Eurogroup meeting held on June 25. The Referendum, scheduled to, and currently taking place, on the 5th of July, could mean that the nation would be required to slowly exit the Euro, should the decisive vote be a “No”. However, even after the Referendum reveals either result of “Yes” or “No”, how the nation will then tackle its financial situation is something that can only be guessed at, and may only be discerned within a few weeks of the result.
With such important political and social questions bring left to the public to decide, would it be possible to emulate such a concept in India, a country which faces major social, economic and political issues almost everyday? Is the holding of Referendums a demonstration of a true democracy, or is it too ideal for a country as vast and diverse as India? Social activists would strive to make this a reality, while the government would, in all likeliness, reject it as a process which would further complicate and block the government’s already intricate policy making. Further, with a sizeable proportion of the population still suffering from illiteracy, how feasible would it be to leave major decision making to the public? It cannot, however, be denied that irrespective of the level of literacy, each citizen of India is accorded the right to be a part of the electorate, and should be allowed a voice, in keeping with India’s identity as a Democracy. Perhaps, with the coming of a newly developed India, more and more voices will rise up, and within the next few decades, India can find itself on the list of nations which have successfully conducted a Referendum.