By definition, a referendum is a general vote by the electorate on a single political question that has been referred to them for a direct decision. Till a few days ago, referendum was just a term in my political science text book, but it became a reality only after I read about “Brexit” (Britain leaving the European Union), so I did a little bit of reading and came to a few conclusions.
India is the largest democracy in the entire world and we have different political parties to cater to different social groups. In such a situation, the Parliament House is rid with fierce competition to stay in power – this results in a very slow decision making process. When a situation comes to hand, political leaders spend more time pointing fingers and playing the blame game than discussing how to resolve the problem. A direct poll could help in taking a decision that is consensual to a larger population. When citizens are directly involved in the decision making process, the core of democracy comes alive.
On the other hand, in a country where most adults are politically uneducated, a common citizen may not have the knowledge to take such a decision. Often, the turnout of voters is low, and the final outcome is too narrow and ultimately leads to indecisiveness. Conducting too many referendums could be tiresome and would result in the people being unresponsive and apathetic. A referendum consists of a simple yes or no question which cannot unravel the complex problems that a country faces.
Holding a referendum is rare, but not unheard of in India. The joining of Sikkim into the Republic of India and well Goa forming its own state rather than merging with Maharashtra are examples in which referendums were used to take a decision. As mentioned by a prominent journalist, “India, unlike Europe, doesn’t take chances. Referendums were called only when the result was known.”
Hence, I believe that while referendums inculcate the essence of democracy, political leaders and the government must employ them for appropriate problems and not just as a political ploy to influence the population.