City Sunday

Fast-track electoral reforms like Ayodhya issue

By Vasanthkumar Mysoremath

India will be completing 72 years of independence on August 15, 2019.  The country is governed by parliamentary democracy and this form of governance continues to be appreciated by the world as the “greatest living democracy in the world albeit with a cautious qualification – ‘but with a flawed democracy”.  This political system is commandeered by people who wield the sovereign power of electing their representatives through the process of “true and fair voting”.   Maintaining sovereignty of electoral process requires an attack and removal of the flaws that include the notorious four ‘Cs’ – Corruption, Communalism, Casteism and Criminalisation and corroborated by the facts and figures on the background of candidates as declared through affidavits who won the 2019 General elections by Association of Democratic Reforms? (ADR)  –  Nearly half of the newly-elected Lok Sabha members (233 out of 539) have some criminal charge(s) against them – a 26% increase from 2014 elections.  BJP has 116 MPs with criminal cases (50% of those who won), 29 MPs from Congress (57% of those who won).

But unfortunately, these men/women with criminal and even terrorism-attached backgrounds are daringly indulging themselves in these acts of omissions and commissions, getting elected/re-elected and sitting in Parliament/Legislatures with impunity for laying down policies for the people.

Rendering service to the common man is only a ruse for getting into politics; to boot, even millionaires and billionaires are entering into the political arena that has become a ‘money-making industry’.  It will be pertinent to recollect a famous quote by Dr Samuel Johnson, who said, ‘Patriotism is the last refuge for a scoundrel,’ but In George Bernard Shaw’s words, ‘Politics is the last resort for the scoundrel.’  After 72 years, can it be said that “politics is betraying a party and staying in resorts?”

Thus voters have become silent spectators of the debacle of democracy due to inherent flaws. Therefore, there appears to be an urgent need of a surgical strike for removing the enemies within the body politic.  Electoral reforms are the most powerful weapon in the hands of the present regime that is wielding a massive mandate. In this context, successive Chief Election Commissioners have made valuable recommendations since 1985 but every Government has kept them in the backburner, for reasons known and unknown, pending.  Therefore, Parliament must arm itself with major powers by amending the Peoples’ Representation Act and Election Rules for removal of criminalised politicians who have served jail terms and/or under investigations for rape, murder, intimidation, blackmailing but are sitting in Parliament/Legislatures,   removal/ disqualification of  those who use money or inducements to buy votes/ candidates of other parties, disqualification of  defecting jumping jacks, removal of those who have filed false affidavits, those indulging in nepotism, regulating opinion polls and paid news. These are some of the major issues that have eroded the trust of the majority of voters in India.

The Law Commission of India, after examining the various recommendations made by the Election Commissioners over decades has submitted its Report to Government of India and the full report can be seen at:  http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/Report255.pdf .  Some of the major recommendations are as follows (figures in brackets are page numbers of the above report and relevant to the subjects cited) :

(i) Election Finance (215-217)

(ii) Regulation of Political Parties and Inner Party Democracy (271-218)

(iii) Proportional Representation (218)

(iv) Anti Defection Law in India (218)

(v) Strengthening the office of the Election Commission of India (219)

(vi) Paid News and Political Advertisements 219-220 (vii) Opinion Polls (220-221)

(viii) Compulsory Voting (221)

(ix) Election Petitions (221-222)

(x) NOTA and the Right to Reject (222)

(xi) The Right to Recall (222-223)

(xii) Totaliser for Counting of Votes (223)

(xiii) Restriction on Government Sponsored Advertisements (223)

(xiv) Restriction on the Number of Seats from which a Candidate May Contest (223-224)

Some action on some of these recommendations has been initiated on a selective basis by the Government thus necessitating efficiency cum performance audit/scrutiny of such issues. Examples: State funding of elections, donations to political parties,  In addition to the above recommendations pending with Government, recommendations made by many academicians and NGOs like prescribing minimum/maximum age and qualification, etc., are also pending with the government.

In conclusion, the present government that has come to power with a massive mandate has a golden opportunity and onerous responsibility for implementing electoral reforms with due diligence and checks & balances, public consultations and debates.  Establishing Swachh Rajakeeya in Mahan Bharath with a surgical electoral reforms strike, may even be of help in future for the parties and remove the dubious distinction of ‘flawed democracy”.

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