A case for structural reforms
The electoral system is suffering from grave disorders, threatening the life of democracy itself
by BR LALL
(The author passed away shortly after writing this article)
INDIA, the largest democracy in the world, is suffering from very serious threats from within. Justice, transparency, equality, rule of and respect for law, which are the basic hallmarks of any true democracy, are disappearing, yielding place to corruption and other accompanying aberrations. Ever since Gandhi and Patel departed from the national scene, personal integrity has been held at a discount. In 1963, the then Congress President, D Sanjiviyya, in the formal session of the party, regretted that the “Congressmen who were paupers in 1947 are now millionaires and multi-millionaires. They own palatial buildings and factories... without having any ostensible source of such income.” Such frank talk was intolerable even in the Nehru era and Sanjiviyya was punished for his audacity in attacking the “hon’ble” political dons and was soon eased out into anonymity. That was the beginning of organized mafia-like action in politics.
This highhandedness crept into the services also and in due course the dangerous unholy nexus developed. Lots of unemployed youth available in the wings served as the musclemen for whoever could pay, and some of them selected politics as a career basically to blackmail and make money. Though some of them held respectable positions, all the same they polluted and subverted the system.
Unfortunately, over the years, a justification has been built up that democratic elections are a costly affair and a politician cannot contest elections and maintain himself later within the meagre compensation that he gets from the State as an MLA, MP or Minister.
After Independence, we adopted democracy as the form of government that entrusts the country to the hands of the elected representatives. It was never difficult for the country to afford adequate compensation for the clean MLA, MP and Minister, obviating any need for corrupt or illegal means on their part. They chose to wear a facade of false idealism, false feudal dignity and selfless service. Though it was considered infra dig to accept an appropriate salary, in their perception the respectability remained intact even if huge amounts were accepted through underhand and highhanded means.
Former Congress President D Sanjiviyya once publicly regretted that the
Congressmen who were paupers in 1947 were now multi-millionaires owning
palatial buildings and factories.
It is an axiomatic fact that our electoral system is suffering from very grave disorders and requires basic reforms. In our elections, votes are purchased, liquor flows like water, muscle power is used to intimidate the people and black money is used freely. The caste and communal cards are played to the utmost extent and at the final crunch, the booths are captured.
Initially, criminals were inducted to scare the people, but slowly the criminals themselves entered the political arena and criminalized politics. Money power rules the roost and the impression has gained ground that those who do not have big money and musclemen at their command cannot contest, much less win, elections.
This is a very dangerous situation which, if allowed to continue, will bog the poor further in the mire of poverty and deprivation, and will mentally subjugate the entire population and keep the country perpetually weak and poor. Here are some measures for cleansing the system of election or the electoral processes.
The electoral system has to address itself to the following:
◗Everyone who wants to vote should be able to vote without any fear or without being under any undesirable influences i e there should be a free atmosphere for everybody to vote.
◗Only the right type of candidate should be fielded. The system should be so designed that it should be able to debar criminals, members of mafias (both physical and financial), and the corrupt from contesting elections.
◗The system should reduce the very requirement of funds for fighting an election.
◗The number of candidates in a constituency should be within reasonable limits.
◗The system should be able to prevent offences under the Representation of the People Act.
Declaration of Assets
Every candidate, under the law, in his application form for candidature, should be required to declare all his assets, both moveable and immoveable, in India and abroad, owned by himself, his wife, sons, daughters, daughters-in-law and sons-in-law. It should be clearly laid down by law that in case of false
declaration (a) all the undeclared assets, whether moveable or immoveable, will lapse to the state; (b) his membership of the House would stand automatically terminated in case the declaration is found to be false after the poll and he has been elected; (c) he should be debarred automatically from contesting any election to any political office in the country for the next 10 years; (d) false declaration should be defined as a corrupt practice which by itself should be enough to attract prosecution under Representation of the People Act and stringent punishment must be prescribed.
Person Under Chargesheet Not to Contest Elections
There is no need for us also to tolerate tainted persons in these sacrosanct offices, as we also require the fairest of the fair to lead us and not the pick of the scum who are facing accusations. If he continues to be in power, first he will block the evidence and break or even eliminate the witnesses and ward off conviction by misuse of his office. Second, this “honourable” criminal in high position would have wrought irreparable damage before conviction, if at all that comes about. However, at the same time some statutory verification is a must to prevent false/motivated complaints.
Funding Election Expenses
The question of state funding of elections has engaged the attention of the Election Commission, the media, the political parties, the academicians, the financial experts and many others. Even if a certain amount of money were given by the state to the individual contestant, there is no guarantee that a candidate will spend it usefully for the purpose or that some other candidate will not spend more from his own resources. So the problem will continue. Second, the state can contribute only a limited amount, which by itself may not be adequate or of substantive help for fighting an election for a beginner in the field and for the others it may be of no consequence. Third, many dummy candidates may be fielded to claim the amount and drain the exchequer. The implications of funds required have to be looked at before deciding on this issue. State funding can be successful only where the number of political parties is limited and there is no provision for any independent candidates. It could be possible if the number of contestants could be limited to, say, just five per constituency. In our context, even thinking of state funding in cash should be a sin, the burden of which the poor ordinary Indian will not be able to bear.
The state, instead of direct funding, should create infrastructure to provide full opportunity to every candidate, taking away the privilege, the advantage, the edge or the influence that money brings. A few steps in this direction are suggested:
(a) Publicity by the State: The objective will be achieved if a common chart for each Assembly or Parliamentary constituency is published and prominently displayed in its area by the Electoral Officer.
(b) Allotment of Time on Radio and TV: Time should be allotted to candidates on government and private radio and TV channels. It should be made mandatory to divert time over all the TV channels during prime time free of cost during election days for a period determined by the Election Commission.
(c) Manual Propaganda: The heaviest legitimate expenditure is on hiring of vehicles and volunteers for going to places, shouting slogans and canvassing, as also organizing and conducting meetings. The alternative is that the government should prepare permanent platforms in villages and localities in cities and towns. The candidates should address the people from such platforms alone. The creation of platforms right up to the village level will require some planning and expenditure. These should be created in schools or other such common public places belonging to the government or the local authority or panchayat and can be used for community purposes or by schoolchildren when elections are not being held. The added advantage is that these platforms will provide a focal point for local gatherings. Once created, these platforms will be permanent.
Free-flowing liquor is the biggest extraneous undesirable influence that mentally subverts the simple voters, particularly in the last phase of any election. If there is no liquor, there will be no rallying point and no such subversion.
To contain the number of candidates, the amount of security deposit and the cut-off point for its refund need to be raised considerably, so that some of the non-serious candidates are eliminated automatically and the practice of putting up dummy candidates for various purposes is also discouraged.
Electronically Charged Photo Identity Cards (ECPIC)
No method of preventing booth capturing or impersonation can be foolproof, particularly where the staff on duty colludes. However, the electronically charged photo identity cards could be the biggest deterrent possible. Not even one bogus voter will be able to cast a vote after introduction of photo identity cards.
Fixed Terms for Becoming Member of a House or Member of a Cabinet
No individual should be allowed to continue fighting elections indefinitely for a number of terms. It has many serious implications. First of all, a person acquires permanent vested interests. Second, certain people become permanent fixtures and deprive others. Third, one adopts politics as a profession, devoting his whole time to it. He then tries to hoard money so that when he is out of power or when he retires, he has enough to fall back upon.
Fourth, the very essence of democracy is that diverse ideas should flow forth and help in nation-building. For the Prime Minister or a Chief Minister the upper limit should be two terms, which naturally will spread over 10 years, but if someone comes in mid-stream then he or she should be able to assume charge not more than three times but not exceeding 10 years for all the terms combined. Similar should be the restrictions for Ministers except that if one becomes PM or a CM, the term should be extended. Similarly, an MP or an MLA should get 15 years but not spanning more than four Assemblies/Parliaments.
Election violence is a consequence of the blatant misuse of the police. With a straightforward and wellmeaning police force, there cannot be any bungling in elections. It has been observed that whenever the administration and in particular the police see the return of a government in power, the bungling goes up. Basically, the police should act as the umpires, but they often act as a party. The reason is simple: this disciplined force is in the hands of the ruling party. Disciplined people normally do not question the commands of their senior masters.
Second, people have become wise and everyone, including the policeman, tries to cultivate the would-be masters. But it is not possible to alter this equation unless the police is freed from the executive/political control. But before this fundamental change is brought about, what can be enforced immediately is to place the State under Governor’s rule before elections.
Youth and Politics
Should the youth join politics at a very early age, making politics a full-time career? A person who joins at a very young age naturally searches for a livelihood from politics. Young people who are not settled in any career are joining politics and deriving their bread and butter from it. Acquiring an office of profit has become all-important for the elected representatives.
Besides money, the office provides power that can be used for the welfare of the constituency and it also gives an occasion to misuse it to serve personal ends, both noble and ignoble. They should have sufficient time to settle in a career, profession and life so that they join politics fired by ideology and not to convert the impending power into money. The minimum age to enter electoral politics should be 35. On the same grounds, political parties should be barred from entering the universities and
Mid-term Referendum on Government Functioning
A frequent complaint is that the elected members do not bother about the constituents. No doubt, given that long a period (five years) for the next round of accountability, any candidate can easily become idle for at least the initial three years on the premise that public memory is short and he will make good during the last year or at the most two years. Besides, those who are on a looting spree by converting the power conferred by the people into wealth, have a field day for five long years and do not mind the possibility of being eased out after having utilized their five years gainfully, as time is
money for them. Thus, the conduct of the poll twice is a must, which is not practical as most of the States will always be in the process of election in some constituency or the other. The other remedy is to have a shorter term for a House, say, three years. The best way out is to hold a referendum after two years in place of elections. In a referendum, the people will express their opinion as to whether they want to change the government. If the answer is no, the government can continue, but if the people express a desire for change, the regular elections should be held immediately after imposing President’s Rule.
Central Rule During Elections
The elections are conducted by the State governments, both for Parliament and for the Assemblies. So there are allegations of favouritism and bungling against the State governments and such allegations are on the rise. The worst aspect is that such allegations are often true, irrespective of the party in power in a particular State at any time. To stem such and similar other problems, the States should be brought under President’s Rule, say, three months before elections.
Only National Parties to Fight Elections to Parliament
We are witness to the contemporary pulling and pushing by various partners in the coalition governments at the Centre. The craft of coalition politics has been reduced to blackmail, bungling, threats and so on, putting national interests at bay. The regional or local parties are concerned with personal matters or the local issue at the most. In Parliamentary debates, such matters are now dominant and in allotment of resources the regional parties have the upper hand. There is an urgent need for only the national parties to be allowed to fight elections to the Lok Sabha and for all the regional parties and Independents to be debarred from contesting.
Every candidate under the law, along with his application form for candidature, should be required to declare all his assets, both moveable and immoveable, in India and abroad.
No Mid-term Poll
Elections should be held at a fixed time and both the Union and State elections should be held together. If at the State level the government cannot be formed by the political parties, there can be Central rule till the next elections. At the Centre, if no party can form the government, there can be a national government under the President.
These are a few suggestions for fulfilling the urgent objectives regarding the process of voting alone. They would definitely produce very healthy effects and remove some of the fundamental problems that the electoral process faces, and may possibly break the vicious circle of the role of black money, criminals, musclemen and the mafia, and restore sanctity. They may also help society get rid of some of the unhealthy attitudes that have become part of its thought process. g