Need smaller units of governance for democracy to work: Abhijit Banerjee

For India’s democracy to really work, it needs smaller units of governance, Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee said Friday.

“There is a fundamental problem with the design of our democracy which is that our states are way too large. We have twenty times larger seats for Parliament than the United Kingdom has,” Banerjee said.

Banerjee was delivering the 27th Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture on the “Democracy on the ground: What works, what doesn’t and why?”

Banerjee said that although India has a population 20 times that of the UK, the UK has 656 seats in its Parliament compared to 543 in India. He argued that the vast size makes it difficult for all voters to access information about their legislators.

Citing his field experiments with Delhi municipal elections, Banerjee said that if voters are given information on the performance of those elected, their pattern of voting changes. “There’s almost nothing that a legislator does that can really reach you (the voter). Therefore, the leaders on the ground matter very little for our voters. That’s a structural problem in our democracy,” Banerjee said.

Justice Hima Kohli of the Supreme Court also spoke at the event, recounting her memories of Justice Bhandare. “Very few know that she joined law college after she got married and she had enrolled with the Maharashtra Bar Council when she was a mother of two,” Justice Kohli said.

Justice Bhandare was a former judge of the Delhi High Court who died in office at the age of 52.

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