The gap between the voters and the elected, based on such criteria as income, age, gender and personality is widening. Criminals and vested interests join politics and win elections with an axe to grind. The elected and the electorate are on the two extremes in economic strata, quality of life and education. The difference in the size of voters and the size of a constituency is increasing. While the average age of MPs was 56 in the outgoing Lok Sabha, India’s median age is 26 and two-third of the population is below 35 years of age. Women account for only 12 per cent of the Lok Sabha. Women candidates in this year’s elections were less than 10 per cent. The Women’s Reservation Bill has been pending for over four decades. More than 80 per cent of the elected representatives are millionaires. Criminal candidates involved in rape, murder, kidnapping and extortion are not even barred from contesting. Voters have a Hobson’s choice or no choice at all to vote for a suitable, capable candidate who can share their concerns as their representative. The mind-blowing end game transforms the lawbreakers as law makers. Dynasty politics is a sure game-changing winning brand in Indian democracy. Political inheritance is legitimised through the electoral process.
Ordinary law-abiding citizens are intimidated by the influence of 3MS and the way the election campaigns are conducted. Isn’t the dynastic politics the greatest blemish and curse of planet earth’s biggest democracy? No other criterion matches the candidate belonging to a political dynasty, which is justified, legitimised and accepted. The constituency sizes differ drastically from a few thousand to above 3 million. The states which control population growth by family planning may get penalised for electoral representation. It is impossible to ascertain the real role of money in elections as candidates and parties spend surreptitiously in innovative ways in cash and barter services to hoodwink the Election Commission. ‘Speed money’ to get things done quickly is a reality in a country where the ‘parallel economy’ with ‘white’ and ‘black’ payments flourish, nothing seems to be free and fair in reality. The Vohra committee 1993 confirmed the nexus between crime and politicians. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW ), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Central Board of Excise & Customs (CBEC), Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) apparently focus on the infringement of laws. The Vohra Committee report did not come out with the names of politicians or bureaucrats. It furnished data that is generally known.
The RTI Act is obfuscated without getting the actuial information. In 1970, the Wanchoo Committee report pointed out that large funds are required to meet election expenses and elections are financed to a considerable extent by wealthy persons with black money. The Dinesh Goswami committee report, 1990, reinforces the role of money and muscle power in elections and criminalisation of politics. The Vohra committee report mentions the crime syndicates/mafia organisations that establish links with bureaucrats and politicians. The Supreme Court in its judgement in 1997 in connection with the murder of political activist Naina Sahni highlighted the networking of bureaucrats, politicians, media, and vested influences. The Finance Bill 2017 partially addressed political party funding.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) had to confess to the Supreme Court that the election watch dog was “toothless” having not adequate powers to deal with the dramatic, unpredictably treacherous situations. Speeches often violate the spirit of the Model Code of Conduct during the election campaigns. ECI, an independent office created under the Constitution under Article 324 for the superintendence, direction and control of all elections to Parliament, the State legislatures, and the offices of the President and Vice-President. EC is vested with powers in holding elections free and fair. The independence of the election watchdog is preserved by the constitutional provisions that the Chief Election Commissioner cannot be removed from office except in the manner provided for the removal of a Supreme Court judge. Neither the conditions his service can be altered to the incumbent’s disadvantage after appointment.
The Election Commission was headed by a single Chief Election Commissioner from 1950 to 1989 when the then CEC, Mr TN Seshan, commendably demonstrated before the nation the real power of the institution. The government wanted to tame the watchdog from barking uncontrollably against the party and government in power. Consequently, two more Election Commissioners were appointed the Commission became a threemember collegium. The appointment of Commissioners from a list of retired civil servants is the government’s prerogative. Many bureaucrats are known to have lobbied vigorously, demonstrating the right attributes with the right backing, calculated moves and maintaining desirable equations. ECI takes decisions by majority. In 1995 the Supreme Court made it clear that the Election Commissioners are at par in powers with CEC. However, the two Commissioners are not protected by the Constitution as the CEC. So, they can be removed on the recommendation of the CEC. ECI wants a Constitutional amendment safeguarding the two ECs to ensure autonomy and independence of the Commission. The EC is not empowered to disqualify candidates who commit electoral malpractices. Nor does it have the power to deregister any political party. The Constitution enables EC to decide whether a candidate has incurred disqualification by holding an office of profit or has been declared an insolvent, or acquired the citizenship of a foreign state. In such cases, the President of India or Governor has to refer it to the EC and its decision will be binding.
EC has all along been doing its best to conduct free and fair elections in the largest democracy in the world. It is responsible to ensure that the voters are free to vote freely, fearlessly, mindfully to choose their representatives to form a government. EC has been writing to the government for electoral reforms. Parliament, the central government, the judiciary, the media are considering the issue. Maintaining transparency in the election process is a Herculean task in the largest democracy with many inherent issues, constraints and complexities. The lacunae in the law needs to be addressed. Electoral reforms are inevitable for making India a fully functional, vibrant democracy to represent truly the majority of the people in order to fulfil their growing aspirations. An appropriate change in the People’s Representation Act, 1951 and its effective enforcement are indispensable to address innumerable flaws in the electoral process.
Certain amendments needed to empower the EC. The Constitution of India needs to be amended to provide constitutional protection to the other two members of EC as in the case of CEC. It is important to make the budget of EC under the ‘charged’ expenditure like other constitutional bodies like the Supreme Court, UPSC and CAG of India. It is imperative to establish an independent Secretariat for the Commission. This is a justifiable demand to exercise full control over all the functionaries of EC. The most critical issue is how the CEC and the other two Commissioners are appointed, what are the eligibility criteria, who should be considered, what must be the composition of the appointment body and the process of selection of the eligible members. Unless the selection and appointment process is fully made transparent without the interference of the party in power, the result will be the appointment of a few committed retired bureaucrats. They will be selected for their unflinching loyalty to the party and commitment to the government. There must be objective selection parameters for adjudging the most suitable citizens, pre-eminently like judges or individuals known for honesty, integrity, and unblemished professional track record for the constitutional post. The selection process must be absolutely transparent to ensure reliability, credibility and objectivity beyond the partisan line appointments as has been the practice so far.
EC has suggested several reforms in the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act, 1950 to enable the commission to improve its functioning. Some significant issues like decriminalization of politics, misuse of religion for electoral gain, making bribery in elections a cognizable offence, registration and de-registration of political parties, tax relief for parties under the Income Tax Act, enforcing proper maintenance of audited accounts by political parties, prohibition of anonymous donations, maintenance of separate bank accounts by each contesting candidate for poll expenses, enforcing a cap on expenditure by a political party on a candidate for campaigning, a ceiling of campaign expenditure by political parties, limit the number of star campaigners, advertisements, ban on exit polls and opinion polls, government sponsored advertisement before elections, paid news in connection with elections, appointment of additional judges in the High Courts for settlement of election disputes expeditiously. (To be concluded)