None of you?
If only…” ~ pardon the use of colloquial jargon. There are valid reasons to commend various actions of the apex court to cleanse the electoral/political system. Similarly, there are valid reasons to query the euphoric, ecstatic reaction to its authorising the inclusion of the “none of the above” (NOTA) option on the electoral voting machine. Is it really empowering the voter with the Right To Reject? Or, to use the overly used term currently in vogue ~ a game-changer? Yes, there is a very positive, appreciative, response from supposedly intellectual individuals and high-flying NGOs who seek to cash-in on the popular sentiment that all politicians are near-criminals but who conveniently overlook the crooks flourishing on “commercial street”. The reality is that what the court has cleared is secrecy will be ensured to those casting negative votes ~ to have done so earlier required disclosing personal details to secure a paper ballot sheet. It makes for convenience, encourages exercising a right to negative voting, but little more.
The first-past-the-post system remains firmly in place, in effect all the NOTA votes when added up count for nothing in determining the winner, for the rules do not specify the victor having to secure a certain percentage of the votes cast. Will people unhappy with the candidates shed their lethargy and go to the polling booth only to formally express a displeasure that has no impact on the outcome? On the contrary in regions where the practice of parliamentary democratic system is opposed by powerful elements ~ the Maoist belt rather than Jammu and Kashmir would be the best example ~ a high percentage of NOTA votes could be used to de-legitimise the electoral process. After all, the NOTA votes will not be split like those in favour of one of several candidates.
The theory that the NOTA option will encourage or pressure political parties to improve the quality of their candidates will have to be put to practical test. Clearing the NOTA option (favoured by the Election Commission) would be best perceived as one among other measures advocated to pressure parties to “behave”. Sadly, in the absence of a comprehensive re-working of the electoral regime, individual measures will have only limited effect. What Rahul Gandhi decries as “complete nonsense” is just one example of how the parties will eventually circle the wagons.
The larger question is whether legal measures will counter the “winnability” factor upon which so much emphasis is placed (of necessity?). The key must lie in facilitating, including financial facilitation, “decent people” to enter the political arena. Punitive measures, or measures of that nature, will not deliver. Just assess the efficacy of the model code of conduct, or “tough nuts” like Seshan, Lyngdoh… Unless it is followed up with more sweeping reforms, NOTA could well prove another sweet-nothing.
No change for better
hen Mani Shankar Aiyar was Union minister for development of the North-east region (Doner) he had observed that “all considerable benefits that flowed out of the Look East Policy have gone to other parts of India, particularly the south; for the region, the dividend has been virtually nil.” Even Himachal Pradesh is said to have reaped the benefit. With this in mind perhaps, last month the minister-in-charge, Pawan Singh Ghatowar organised a series of meetings in the south to provide them “exposure to available opportunities for infrastructure development to set up export units in the North-east.” But the very first meeting, on 24-25 September, turned out to be a damp squib with Ghatowar unable to attend and deliver a “special address”. Just one more instance of how Central leaders treat the North-east. But five days later Ghatowar had the time to attend the inauguration of Arunachal Pradesh&’s first TV channel at Itanagar! Little wonder then, that even after the setting up of the Doner in 2001, today nothing much has changed for the better in the region. It still lacks the three ingredients for development ~ roads, power and water.
Just a few weeks before Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura went to the polls early this year, the Union ministry of road transport and highways gave a boost to connectivity by announcing a plan to improve and extend the road network from economically and industrial backward North-east areas to the advanced economies of South-east Asia vis-a-vis the LEP.
The main objective was to provide connections to all district headquarters with, at the very least, a two-lane highway and also link remote areas covering 10,141 km. In the first phase, expected to be ready in 2016, Arunachal Pradesh will have 6,416 km of highways, at an estimated cost of Rs 33,688 crore. But even today the state has not been able to complete the vital 245-km Vijayanagar-Miao Road. Miao is the nearest administration centre. Former state governor Gen (retd) JJ Singh took personal interest in its early completion, but his hope of riding the first convoy on the road was dashed when his term expired some months ago.
Any project that gives quick returns is welcome. Since the Central non-lapsable pool for the North-east swells every year there should be no dearth of funds for development. Railway projects in Assam and Manipur are far behind schedules. Manipur has a history of missed deadlines. Its Khuga project took as many as 29 years! Estimated at Rs 15 crore, the delay escalated the cost to Rs 381.23 crore!