By Saif Khan:
All of us would collectively acknowledge and accept the fact that it’s high time for the government of India to initiate sweeping electoral reforms to strengthen our democracy. The populist opinion in the country is that the politics of the country is chaotic and electoral reforms is one of the most fundamental steps that the government needs to take to improve the state of polity in the nation.
Electoral reforms have been on the Government’s agenda since quite some time but they caught the public eye when social activist Anna Hazare announced that he’ll be launching a countrywide movement to initiate electoral reforms. Anna Hazare and his team have come up with a couple of proposals which they think are game-changing in nature but before critically analyzing their proposals, I would like to put forth my views. Instead of asking for the introduction of bizarre rules and regulations, I root for something far more basic and necessary.
The first step that needs to be taken is to debar criminals from contesting polls. One of the primary reasons for the hatred of the common man towards politics is because of its criminalization. The Election Commission did summon an All-Party meeting to discuss this highly important issue but the proposal was unanimously nailed down by all the parties. Mainly two arguments were fielded to skill-fully downplay the proposal of the Election Commission. The first one said that the Election Commission cannot debar anybody from contesting elections who has been accused of a serious offence butÂ hasn’tÂ been proven guilty. The reason behind this being that the law of the land says that a person is innocent till proven guilty and since the person has still not been proven guilty, the EC cannot take away his right of contesting in polls. The second argument which all the parties collectively fielded was that many a times false and frivolous complaints are registered against politicians to defame them. Ironically, this is done by their political opponents only to garner political advantage by tarnishing their rival’s image.
According to me, both the arguments fielded were quite reasonable but were not reasonable enough to reject the proposal. We need to categorically debar individuals from contesting elections who are facing serious charges and for this we need to develop an effective strategy within the framework of the constitution. It should not violate the rights of those who are accused and want to contest but at the same time it should ensure that no criminals are given the liberty to contest. Political intellectuals, bureaucrats, jurists, civil society members and academicians need to sit down together and devise a pragmatic policy to eliminate criminals from politics. The second thing which I want to see is State funding of elections because my motto is, ‘Dissociate money power and muscle power from politics’.
While the first initiative which I mentioned earlier will take care of the latter concern, the first concern is going to be addressed by the State funding of elections. Most of the campaigning in elections is done with help of black money. To stop this, the State needs to plunge into action. State funding of elections will not only block the flow of black money into elections but will also ensure a level playing field for all contestants. Every contestant (having political affiliation or not) will be given the same amount of money for campaigning. This move can certainly address many serious concerns in relation to elections in India.
I also feel that there is an urgent need to further strengthen the Election Commission. The Chief Election Commissioner needs to be elected by a cross political body comprising of Government representatives as well as Leaders of the Opposition in both the Houses of the Parliament and not just by the Government so as to give his office a more non partisan look. We should ensure that the Election CommissionÂ doesn’tÂ become yet another asset at the Government’s disposal while tackling other political parties.
The next two issues that I am going to deal with are the Right to Reject and the Right to Recall. The beauty of India is its pluralistic form of parliamentary democracy but the problem lies in the fact that politics in India is party oriented. We don’t elect individuals on the basis of their merit or policies, we elect individuals as per our political loyalties. We vote for that party’s candidate whom we support on the national scene. We are so ignorant that we often vote for a candidate whom we have no knowledge of but still we don’t mind voting for them because they belong to party to which we are politically inclined to. The Right to Reject can work out properly only when politics is individual centric. In the current political set up, it will be a failure. The Right to Recall is an even more bizarre proposal. In India, most of the people are passive recipients rather than being active participants in our democracy. We are not even aware of the policies enacted or initiates undertaken by our Government since its inception for our benefit. In such a scenario, the inevitable question is how will we judge the Government? WeÂ shouldn’tÂ be judging them on the basis of populist opinions. We need to become aware citizens first and only after that should we be given such a power. The Right to Reject as well as the Right to Recall is like asking a science student (symbolizing the people) to correct the answer script of a commerce student (symbolizing politicians) and this science student feels that all commerce students are fools just like we think that all our politicians are incompetent and immoral. Such prejudices can be extremely lethal for our democracy if they are given a chance to speak.
Since most of us have no knowledge of the candidates who represent us and their policies, we do not deserve the Right to Reject and the Right to Recall. I personally feel that Electoral Reforms are a must and should be initiated immediately. The priority should be on debarring criminals from politics and on State funding of elections while the Right to Reject and the Right to Recall can take a backseat till politics becomes individual centric.