Reforming Elections: development is the key

By Prabhakar Timble
09 January 2012 20:22 IST


To a large extent, democracy is all about self-government through elections from the local to national level. Many from the educated elite may despise election politics and look down on politicians with contempt. There is no other prescription available to assert the ‘will of the people’ in a parliamentary democracy except through regular elections to representative bodies commencing from the grassroots. Hence, free and fair elections are the crux of a vibrant and successful democracy.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has devised a model code of conduct and compendium of rules for political parties and contesting candidates, imposed limits on poll expenses, upgraded systems and processes of election monitoring and made qualitative improvements by providing for disclosure of antecedents of candidates at the time of filing nominations. Every new general election from Mr. T. N. Seshan onwards has improved on the process and the conduct of elections in terms of transparency, participation and fairness. However, the clouds of gloom still pervade election politics. There is no major dent on the perception of the general public that elections in India mean the use and abuse of money, muscle and criminal power. It is also considered as a caste cum minority game. Of late, people also speak that the migrant vote bank upsets the election equation to the detriment of the locals. In most cases, the winning candidate polls less total votes than the combined votes polled by the rivals. As a result, it is presumed that the election strategy is more garnished to splitting votes of rivals as opposed to pulling votes for the self.

Two codes: ECI v/s Political parties

Electoral reforms are normally associated with fiddling with laws relating to elections. ECI has done substantial positive reforms in laws and implementation. Probably, there are only three major areas which need a legal intervention. Firstly, an amendment to the Representation of People’s Act disqualifying any person accused of an offence punishable with imprisonment of five years or more even if the trial is pending i.e. even before conviction. Secondly, recognise the right to reject by providing the relevant option to the voter.  Thirdly, reservation in favour of women to remedy the present inequity.

For translating the promise of free, fair and fearless elections into a reality, we also need suitable interventions by political parties. Just as the ECI has enunciated a model code for candidates and political parties, the political parties have also evolved a stronger code for selection of party candidates. It is diametrically opposite in spirit to the code and compendium of rules enunciated by ECI. No party ticket unless the candidate has a capacity to unload 4 crores excluding payments to the party or a nominee of the High Command. Ticket to those who threaten to quit the party. Tickets to new entrants on eve of elections. Tickets to those who treat political party as a doormat. Exclusive tickets to those whom the coalition partner cannot accommodate.  Tickets to those with high potency to split party and keep ministry on tenterhooks.  clinging to skeleton of dead political parties for tickets to coterie. Tickets for the winnable meaning to those who can get elected without party support.

Vote banks are worldwide

The nurturing of vote banks is throughout the world and across all political parties and politicians. Identity, security and share in government facilities and social welfare schemes are natural reasons for such conglomeration. Minority based on religion, caste, race and social backwardness will also assemble to grab their share in political power.  We talk of migrants as vote-banks in Goa. In United Kingdom, their dialogue is on the vote-bank of Asians. Minority agglomeration is also a world-wide phenomenon. The prevailing economic and social set up will automatically get reflected in elections. The expectation that free and fair elections mean freedom from religion and caste only inside a polling booth is most unnatural. As long as citizens and civil society is tied to caste, democratic elections would also revolve around this cyclone.

The ECI focus is on conduct of elections. The ECI has shown the necessary clean up in this process. However, it cannot undo the corrosion and erosion that has engulfed the system in the long intervening period of governance. Hence, we notice the complete derailment of the financial limits set on election expenditure. Earlier, money power was used to lure defections of elected representatives. With the anti-defection law tightening the screws on defections and splits, today the money power can engineer the resignation of an elected representative and insure a re-election. This is the current state of affairs.  The success of the model code of conduct is mainly in the area of halting public projects and government schemes for sixty days. The response from the bureaucrats is overwhelming even to halt old projects nearing completion because it keeps them in their comfort zone.  

Development is cause and pill

Economic development, gradual empowerment of the underprivileged and access to education has been the cause of rising expectations of the less privileged sections. This is bringing a change in the profile of political leadership at all levels of governance.  Development and corruption has moved hand in hand, almost inseparable and tied in a knot like the newlyweds.  Corruption has thrown up the challenge of money and muscle power in elections. It has today invaded the seeds of democratic institutions rendering the “will of the people” marketable and purchasable.  The answer to this lies in further accelerated development of sectors and sections which have remained backward. Development, to my mind is the main cause of exploding corruption, ignited caste equations and downslide in democratic politics. The pill for the malaise can be nothing else except further development. There can be no other short-cuts. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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