Electoral Reforms is an Important Part of the Larger Agenda of the Complete Political Transformation
Hyderabad, December 23 : For past few days thousands of young people have been on the streets protesting against growing violence against women, demanding tougher action against culprits and making public spaces safe for women. However, in Delhi where thousands converged near the North Block were greeted with lathis, barricades and tear gas shells; two days ago same happened at Chief Minister’s house too. Why is no one from the political leadership coming out to talk to them to address their concerns ? It seems our political representatives are more comfortable in meeting business tycoons but not its own peacefully protesting citizens. Governments today, mostly coalitions, can manage media, buy its way through minority vote in the Parliament or Legislative Assemblies but fails to resolve demands of social movements protesting peacefully. This is more clear than ever before ! Another growing trend has been the complete control of corporations over the governments, who can now have Ministers changed as per their convenience or run their business smoothly no matter which political party comes to power. Politicians in opposition, with due exceptions, who are crying hoarse over inaction of the government are equally guilty themselves since 74 of the sitting MPs have serious criminal charges against them. Criminalisation of the polity is a concern shared by everyone but even then the same is not reflected when it comes to giving tickets to them.
These issues came for a discussion during a day long national consultation organised by National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) on electoral reforms at Sundarayya Vigyan Kendaram, Hyderabad on December 22.
Introducing the context of the consultation Medha Patkar, said, “electoral reforms is an important part of the larger agenda of the complete political transformation, leading to decentralisation of power and power to the people. This is the goal of all the struggling people’s groups, who are fighting for power to the lowest units of governance for control over resource use, conservation and planning in their villages, Bastis or wards. The current structures doesn’t support that, which has made our political representatives completely unaccountable to its constituency and many a times they don’t even represent the whole constituency, since winning percentage of their votes is much less than the majority vote. Election Commission of India is powered with holding fair and peaceful elections in country but is that enough?” She suggested, there is more to be done by ECI, which can check growing influence of money and criminal presence, funding of elections and functioning of party democracy, disqualification of candidates for bribing within the given provisions of Representation of People’s Act, 1951. ECI is one of the proactive institutions, but they need courage to take action against the defaulters within the existing provisions of the RPA, 1951 and other provisions.
M C Raj, Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India, said, “the difference between the winning party and the opposition in UP elections was 3% and in Gujarat mere 8% but a huge difference in the number of seats. Time has come when India need to make a transition from ‘first past the post system’ to ‘proportionate representation system’ of elections. This is necessary for a diverse country like India with numerous parties existing on linguistic, caste, ethnicity and religious lines. PR system has been advocated by Jai Prakash Narayan appointed Justice V M Tarkunde Commission and also by National Law Commission 1999. The current FPTP has served its purpose and many of the ills of current electoral systems can be addressed by the PR system.” Former Chief Secretary, K Madhav Rao echoed his support the PR system and said even though it may not solve all problems but it could be the most suitable system for a country like India.
Trilochan Shastry, Association of Democratic Reforms, said, “if we really want to fix the electoral system then one key issue which needs to be fixed is growing influence of money over the elections and political parties. In Uttar Pradesh elections an estimated 10,000 crore black money was spent, as said by former CEC S Y Querishi, and if we take an average then a conservative estimate would give us a figure of 200,000 crore black money spent in general, state, municipal elections all together, way beyond stipulated limits. This needs a systemic constitutional change, but it is very difficult, since those sitting in Parliament are not going to make it happen, as they did with Lokpal Bill. We have to work to get people on the street and use effective legal interventions to get these changes, as ADR did in 1999-2002, when Supreme Court ordered compulsory disclosure of criminal charges and financial assets.”
Mr. Padmanabh Reddy, Forum for Good Governance, said, “the current system is inadequate to check the ills like growing money and muscle power. Narrating their efforts in Andhra Pradesh elections, he said action is not taken by the concerned departments, even when full information about money seized during elections is available. Income tax departments refused to share action taken on these matters, even through RTI. In one case nearly 280 cases of violation of election code were recorded, but zero conviction.” Election Commission need to be empowered to follow through these cases even after the elections are over, then only it is meaningful.
Prof Sridhar, NALSAR, spoke about the whole process of registration, regulation, accountability and democracy within the political parties. He said, “there is a process for registration of parties with ECI but there is no control over their functioning beyond the elections time. The complete lack of opacity in candidate selections, nominations to legislative councils, Rajya Sabha or continued presence of certain families over the top remains a serious cause for concern.” He further added that there is a need for a regulatory institution to regulate political parties and their funding, determine fixed terms for presidents of political parties, ensure democratic decision making, and develop statutory norms which may lead to suspension of their registration on violation. Even there the ECI can play a more proactive role.
Prof. K C Suri and Former Rajya Sabha MP Ramchandra Reddy spoke for the need of fixing accountability of the political parties to what they say in their election manifestos. How can a voter, hold them accountable after the elections, who they vote based on the promises made during the elections? There has to be some mechanism evolved, right to recall, as an option sounds attractive, but can that be a real solution remains doubtful. There is need for election watch and people’s forums to be evolved to evaluate their performance and assess their actions against the promises in their manifestos.
The meeting agreed that as an immediate step, there is a need for concerted campaign to change certain things, which are possible within the current ambit of the Representation of the People’s Act and other electoral provisions and can be done by Election Commission of India with support from others. Detailed strategies would be finalised in the next meeting in Bangalore soon and a presentation made to the Election Commission of India.
The meeting felt the electoral process is only one part of the problem and the larger challenge remains of turning the tide in favour of people, making people’s issues a political agenda. The current economic policies is perpetuating the distorted distribution of power and the effort has to be at organising the people to bring systemic change, to change the whole framework of rajneeti itself, even though in shorter term we may be able to mobilise and bring significant changes within the current governance paradigm. NAPM has decided to hold broader consultations with other people’s groups, social movements, academic institutions and then plan a series of actions to bring about these immediate changes and work towards larger goal of power to the people.
B Ramakrishna Raju, Sarasvathy Kavula, Madhuresh Kumar
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