Archive for May, 2011

Jan Lokpal: Changing the power structure

Posted on May 28, 2011. Filed under: Elections, Politics |

The Tribune, May 28, 2011


Jan Lokpal: Changing the power structure

The Lokpal Bill is a small step in the shift of a bit of power from the political class, supported by bureaucracy and business, in favour of the people. Such shifts are necessary from time to time in a dynamic society to correct imbalances that creep in over time

Jagdeep S. Chhokar

THE last time a corruption tsunami hit the country, it ended up with two significant changes. The time was the late 1980s, the trigger was Bofors. The changes were a move towards a federal polity from the unitary one prevalent since Independence, and the start of a change in the overall power structure in society, with the subaltern classes realising the strength of their numbers.

While the current “Bofors” are the Commonwealth Games, 2-G, mining, and the like, what changes will this current tsunami bring forth is not clear. Not being blessed with clairvoyance, one can only look at the game as it is being played and try to look for straws in the wind.

While the real changes will take time manifesting themselves, the current visible face of the saagar-manthan appears to be the Lokpal Bill. It is of course not clear whether, finally, the jinx of 42 years will be broken and there will be a Lokpal, and in what form, but the societal dynamics of power are fascinating.

Continuing the practice started with the fourth Lok Sabha in 1969 and another six attempts, the government innocently prepared yet another draft of the Lokpal Bill in October 2010. This is what seems to have now acquired a life of its own, inviting sobriquets such as “monster”, “Leviathan”, “beacon of hope”. Why is it causing such extreme reactions?

Assume that a potentially effective Lokpal Bill gets passed and is also implemented in the right spirit, who will get affected, and how? Those who benefit from corruption are likely to face a cut to their monetary inflows, and those who have to pay to get their legitimate dues are likely to gain. Admittedly, this is a simplistic formulation but will do, given the space constraints.

Again, who benefits from corruption the most? The proverbial common citizens who pay bribes benefit by getting their job done, but the one who gets the bribe to do the job benefits more. Who are these beneficiaries?

The nexus of the political class, bureaucracy and business is too well known to need explanation. Liberalisation has not broken this nexus but has only changed some of the dramatis personae. The avalanche of opposition to the Jan Lokpal Bill leaves no room for doubt that the opposition is intense and organised. All forms of the traditional saam, daam, dand, bhed are being used to discredit the whole attempt and the very idea that any one other than these three sectors of society can even think of having a say in the law-making process.

The politicians, being the kingpin of this nexus, possibly have the most to lose. Actually all the Jan Lokpal movement has done so far is to create a mere whiff in the minds of politicians that it just might be possible for someone to challenge their completely unfettered hegemony over matters of the state for the period between two elections. This mere whiff seems to have unsettled the political class so much that all manner of stratagems are being used to nip this audacity of common folk in the bud.

And what of these common folk? Their tragedy is that they need someone to “represent” them, as 1.2 billion people seemingly cannot express themselves except through their representatives. The actual representativeness of the elected representative is in some doubt despite the euphoria at the outcome of the recent state assembly elections. The other claimant to representing the common folk is what used to be called the “civil society”, which now, in some people’s lexicon, has become a bad word.

Who, or what, is this “civil society”? Without going into an academic discourse, these are supposed to be people who do things for general, public good without the expectation of a tangible payoff, in contrast to those who get some return from doing public good, such as salary for bureaucrats, exercise of state power for politicians. It is a large, diverse, and complex mass of people, usually self-proclaimed do-gooders.

While doing selfless service, they are not free from usual human weaknesses, and therefore amenable to manipulation by those who have high stakes. How, and by what means is manipulation done depends on who is to be manipulated. In true Chanakyasque style, our politicians have mastered this art. Two well known techniques being “divide and rule”, and a law often attributed to Parkinson, “Delay is the deadliest form of denial.”

The political class seems to have succeeded in convincing some significant parts of civil society that the Lokpal Bill being an extremely important piece of legislation, needs to be discussed in every district, taluka, block headquarters before it can be considered seriously, the real agenda of course being to delay the process so that the commitments made to get the Jantar Mantar fast broken can be progressively diluted ad infinitum.

What needs to be remembered is that this bill is a small step in the shift of a bit of power from the political class supported by the bureaucracy and the business, in favour of the people. Such shifts are necessary from time to time in a dynamic society to correct imbalances that creep in over time. The side that stands to lose even a bit of its power is bound to resist. It is for the countervailing forces to keep themselves together if any shift, however small, is to take place.

The game is on, let’s keep watching.

The writer is a former professor, Dean, and Director In-charge of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

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Electoral Reforms Consultations

Posted on May 26, 2011. Filed under: Elections, Politics |

For the best possible democracy:
Electoral Reform Consultations
by Jagdeep S Chhokar

GovernanceNow, February 16-21, 2011, pp.32-33
The law minister and the
chief election commissioner
announced a major initiative
on electoral reforms on December
9. They announced
that seven regional and one
national consultation would be held over
the next couple of months with political
parties, NGOs and other stakeholders for
a comprehensive overhaul of the electoral
laws. It was indicated that the proposals
would be ready for initiating action
within six months of the national consultation
in New Delhi on April 2-3, 2011.

Our electoral laws were made almost 60
years ago, during idealistic times in the
afterglow of independence. While there
has been no shortage of ideas and recommendations
(see accompanying box for
the list of reports) and there have been
piecemeal amendments from time to
time, the laws, as a body, are almost completely
out of tune with current ground
realities. The initiative to collect views
from across the country in order to make
comprehensive reforms is thus very
The whole effort can be looked at from
two perspectives: content and process.
One way of getting at the content is obviously
to study all the existing recommendations
and the amendments and
their rationale, see how they match up
with existing realities and how things are
likely to evolve in the years to come, and
then develop the proposals for change.
This can be improved by consultations
with a wide cross-section of people. This
is precisely what the law ministry and the
election commission set out to do with the
seven regional and one national consultation,
and that is what raised high hopes.
There have been five consultations so
far, at Bhopal, Kolkata, Mumbai, Lucknow,
and Chandigarh, but the process
followed during the consultations, sadly,
does not inspire much confidence. The
first consultation in Bhopal seemed limited
to politicians and bureaucrats making
speeches. Based on feedback given after
Bhopal, the format at Kolkata was revised
to include parallel panel discussions. The
same format has been followed at Mumbai,
Lucknow, and Chandigarh.
The Chandigarh consultation
The consultation at Chandigarh was
scheduled for February 5, at the Judicial
Academy, consisting of three sessions: inaugural
session (10 am to 12 noon), three
parallel panel sessions (12 noon to 1.30
pm), and the valedictory session (1.35 pm
to 2.15 pm). What actually happened is
The inaugural session started with a
‘welcome address’ by the registrar of the
National Law University, Patiala, followed
by an ‘introduction on (sic) electoral reforms’
by Vivek Tankha, additional solicitor
general of India, and the chairman
of the core committee on electoral
reforms constituted by the law ministry.
‘Thoughts on electoral reforms’ by Bhupinder
Singh Hooda, chief minister of
Haryana, followed. Next was a talk on
‘the need for electoral reforms in India’
by S Y Quraishi, chief election commissioner.
Then there were ‘thoughts on electoral
reforms’ by Manish Tewari, Salman
Khurshid and Pawan Bansal, followed by
‘agenda for electoral reforms’ by M Veerappa
Moily, law minister. Following this,
the governor of Punjab, Shivraj Patil, delivered
the ‘inaugural address’, followed
by the ‘vote of thanks’ by Mohan Jain, additional
solicitor general. What is important
to note is that the session started at
10 am and lasted till 1.30 pm.
The parallel ‘panel sessions’ were officially
and technically reduced from 90
minutes (12 noon to 1.30 pm) to one hour
(1.30-2.30) but actually lasted only 45
minutes (starting at 1.45 pm and finishing
at 2.30 pm). Two panel sessions had
six listed panelists each, and the third
had seven. In the panel session that I
attended, the panelists spoke for barely
five minutes each, that too with the
chairperson almost constantly exhorting
them to be brief, and two other participants
got to speak for about a couple of
minutes each.
The panel sessions were to be followed
by the valedictory session, which was
supposed to comprise of six items, each
of five minutes. These, as listed, were (i)
opening remarks, (ii) I panel chairperson’s
presentation, (iii) II panel chairperson’s
presentation, (iv) III panel chairperson’s
presentation (v) address by chief
election commissioner, and (vi) reflections
by M Veerappa Moily, union minister
for law and justice. This was to be followed
by a 10-minute “prize distribution
for the best research papers,” ending the
programme at 2.15 pm.
When the panel session participants
reached the venue of the valedictory session,
around 2.30 pm, Pawan Bansal was
giving prizes to the students and there
was hardly anyone else around. Most
people had moved on to lunch.
The first three rows in the Judicial
Academy auditorium were reserved for
‘VVIPs’, next two for ‘advocates’, the next
two for ‘judicial officers’, and one after
that for ‘press’. The remaining seemed occupied
by a lot of young people in formal
attire who seemed to be students.
Of the 19 panelists listed for the three
panel sessions, there were five politicians,
five academics (three of whom were professors
of law), four from the media, three
advocates, and two bureaucrats (one retired
IPS officer and one serving IAS officer).
The three professors of law and three
advocates, taken together, make six legal
professionals out of the total 19 panelists.
The process followed for the five consultations
conducted so far certainly seems
to have involved local political figures, including
chief ministers. For example, in
Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh chief minister
Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s remarks that the
Rajya Sabha should be closed down, as its
memberships were being freely bought
and sold at the time of elections, were a
major news story. Similarly, at Lucknow,
the media reported that it was the first
non-BSP event attended by Mayawati after
becoming chief minister. However,
the event at Chandigarh seemed to be
meant almost exclusively for the Congress.
In addition to the speakers mentioned
above, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and
Vidya Stokes were also on the main dais
though they did not speak. There were
some representatives of the BJP, INLD,
and NCP among the panelists but the Akalis
were conspicuous by their absence.
All the five consultations held so far
seem to have been dominated by the legal
fraternity. This is also indicated by the
composition of nine-member ‘core committee’
constituted by the law ministry
“to work as a nodal committee for electoral
reforms”. The committee consisted
of three additional solicitor generals, one
legal scholar, one advocate, one additional
secretary to the government of India
(law ministry), one joint secretary and
legislative council, one person from a civil
society organisation, and four research
fellows. As a natural corollary to this
composition, the consultation in Mumbai
was held in and organised by the law department
of Bombay University, and the
one in Chandigarh was held at the Judicial
It is of course true that any significant
change in the electoral process would
necessarily require fresh legislation but
the assumption that only politician, legal
experts and bureaucrats will be able
to put together the most appropriate legislation
is not correct. There are a lot of
other people in the population, and not
limited to organised civil society groups,
who have experience and knowledge of
the electoral process and may be able to
contribute meaningfully to the ongoing
A couple of examples of potentially significant
contributors come to mind. One
is the former supreme court judge and
the former chairman of the law commission
of India, Justice B P Jeevan Reddy,
under whose stewardship the 170th report
of the law commission of India on
electoral reforms was prepared. Though
it was written in 1999 and therefore may
require some updating in view of the
changes in the situation on the ground,
it remains, by far, the most comprehensive
document on the subject in the country.
The others are the former chief election
commissioners, J M Lyngdoh and N
The other concern is the lack of general
awareness about this exercise. At Lucknow,
two days before the proposed consultation,
a large section of the media did
not seem aware of what was planned. The
situation in Chandigarh was different, as
the media seemed fully aware. It is difficult
to say if that was the result of the high
“power” speakers or otherwise. Following
the media reports, one is struck about the
lack of “buzz” about this extremely significant
exercise in the country.
Reforming the electoral process in the
country is actually the most important
activity in the governance of the nation
since the making of the constitution, as the
chief election commissioner, S Y Quraishi
has often said. This indeed is true and the
electoral process is the backbone of the
functioning of our democracy. For democracy
to bear its just fruits, it is necessary
for the electoral process to be effective
and efficient, and to cover the entire political
spectrum, including the functioning
of political parties. It is hoped the process
will be recalibrated to ensure that the
outcome is the best possible for the future
of democracy in the country. 

Electoral reforms: the
reports so far
1. The Second Administrative Reforms
Commission (2008)
2. Election Commission of India – Proposed
Electoral Reforms (2004)
3. National Commission to review the Working
of the Constitution (2001)
4. Law Commission Report on Reform of the
Electoral Laws (1999)
5. Indrajit Gupta Committee on State Funding of
Election (1998)
6. Vohra Committee Report (1993)
7. Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms
Chhokar is a former professor, dean and
director-in-charge of Indian Institute of
Management, Ahmedabad, and a founding
member of Association for Democratic
Reforms ( and National
Election Watch.
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Vote for positive change

Posted on May 26, 2011. Filed under: Elections, Politics |

Vote for positive change
by Jagdeep S Chhokar

GovernanceNow, May 16-31, 2011, page 32

The interim success of the
movement for Jan Lokpal
Bill, led by Anna Hazare, and
the almost raging debate on
corruption, have once again
brought focus on the issue of wide-ranging
reforms. Before going on to discuss
some of what has been called a slew or
a basket of reforms, it is important to
underline that the current events seem
to have brought the Indian society and
polity at a critical juncture where farreaching
changes in the way we govern
ourselves seem to be a possibility within
reach. It is possibly the first time in independent
India that the political establishment
seems to feel a threat to its hegemony.
While the necessity, criticality
and contribution of the political establishment
in a representative democracy
is a given and must be recognized and
respected, its blatant functioning for its
own benefit, seemingly at the cost of the
nation and its people, is not healthy and
points to the need for course correction.
The Jan Lokpal Bill is one such correction
whose time seems to have come after
a 42-year wait and this opportunity of
moving the balance of power in favour
of the so-called non-ruling class must not
be lost.
Among the other reforms that have
been mentioned, not only by the media
in general but also by some of those intimately
involved with the Jan Lokpal
Bill, are electoral reforms. It has been
said that while the Lokpal Bill is an attempt
to catch and punish those who
engage in corruption, electoral reforms
may be able to prevent those susceptible
or prone to corruption from getting into
positions where they can indulge in it.
But what do electoral reforms entail? Is
it only getting a button on the EVM that
says “None of the above”, and/or getting
the “Right to recall”?
Elections are usually thought of as a periodic
affairs, originally on a five-year
cycle, when “We, the people” choose who
will govern us for the next five years. As
a TV spot featuring Aamir Khan says, we
often spend more time choosing which
vegetables to buy than in deciding whom
to vote for. Whether that is realistic or
not, it seems to be true that most of us
don’t spend much time thinking about
what goes on behind our casting of our
vote. While the election commission of
India is the best source of this information,
here is what possibly is an incomplete
listing of what the electoral process
It starts with the basic issue of “Who
can vote?” While the parliament decides
what the voting age should be, the responsibility
of registering voters rests
with the Election Commission (EC). The
next basic issue is: “Who can contest?”
Once again, the law is made by the parliament
but its implementation rests with
the EC whose officials (whether permanent
or on deputation) accept or reject
nomination papers.
In between these two, there is a plethora
of actions that have to be taken. How
will the winner be decided? We follow
the “first-past-the-post” system that we
borrowed from the British, who themselves
recently held a referendum about
its continuation. Is the current system appropriate
for us or should we change? If
we do want to change, which of the 272
systems that the Law Commission of India
tells us exist in the world, should we
Which political parties are to be recognised
and are eligible to put up candidates
on their behalf? How much money
can a candidate spend on the election
campaign? How can, and should, the expenditure
be monitored? How many polling
booths should there be and where
should they be located? How many and
who should be the polling agents, and
election observers?
While the constitution lays down the
life of the legislatures, it also provides
for a window of time during which the
elections must be held. Decisions about
exactly when to hold elections also have
to be made. Of course, Article 324 (1) of
the constitution vests “the superintendence,
direction and control of the preparation
of the electoral rolls for, and the
conduct of, all elections to parliament
and to the legislature of every state and
of elections to the offices of president
and vice-president held under this constitution”
with the election commission.
While this is what is called “plenary”
power, which the dictionary describes, as
“full; complete; entire; absolute; unqualified”,
it still has to be exercised within
the limits laid down in the constitution
and as interpreted by the supreme court.
It is in this background that we are embarking
on a series on electoral reforms.
Each of the next few issues will carry a
fairly in-depth piece on an important aspect
of electoral reforms. This week, we
look at the rising expenditure on holding
elections and the ways to curb this escalating
Chhokar, a former dean of IIM, Ahmedabad,
is a founder of Association for Democratic
Reforms and National Election Watch.
GovernanceNow | May 16-31, 2011, p.32

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Campaign for finances

Posted on May 26, 2011. Filed under: Elections, Politics |

Campaign for finances


Why we should not rush into state funding of elections?


Jagdeep S. Chhokar


Thursday, March 17 2011

In this season of scams, there is one more in the making. There has been a lot of talk about the increasing cost of elections, and state funding is again in the news as a panacea (‘Elections awash in cash’ by M. Veerappa Moily, IE, March 7).

The starting point of all discussions on state funding is the 1998 Indrajit Gupta Committee report. While touting its recommendations, the first paragraph of the “Conclusion” is never mentioned. It says: “The committee cannot help expressing its considered view that its recommendations being limited in nature and confined to only one of the aspects of the electoral reforms may bring about only some cosmetic changes in the electoral sphere.” Coincidentally, the Law Commission of India had undertaken an exercise for “overhauling” the electoral process and submitted its report in May 1999. On state funding, it said: “It is absolutely essential before the idea of state funding (whether partial or total) is resorted to, that the provisions suggested in this report relating to political parties (including the provisions ensuring internal democracy, internal structures) and maintenance of accounts, their auditing and submission to

Election Commission are implemented…. The state funding, even if partial, should never be resorted to unless the other provisions mentioned aforesaid are implemented lest the very idea may prove counter-productive.”

Then came the report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) in 2002. Its observation on state funding is: “Any system of state funding of elections bears a close nexus to the regulation of working of political parties by law…. Therefore, proposal for state funding should be deferred till these regulator mechanisms are firmly in position.”

A “comprehensive paper on the campaign finance in foreign countries” published in 1999 by the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), and quoted by the Union law minister in his article, also points out that even when public funds are provided to political parties, they continue to use other funds.

Recall the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, when 6,719 of 6,753 candidates declared that they had spent only 45-55 per cent of the Rs 25 lakh limit. This, alongside the clamour that the limit was too low, shows that state funding is not going to solve any of our electoral problems, a fact also noted by the Indrajit Gupta Committee.

The IFES brought out another paper on campaign finance in 2009 in which it said that “disclosure is meaningless unless regulators make information publicly available. (It was) stressed… that civil society must have ready access to usable reports.” In this context, it is worth pointing out that disclosure of assets and liabilities of candidates was bitterly opposed by all parties in the Supreme Court from 2001 to 2003, and the government of the day even issued an ordinance to try to prevent it. Then, in 2007-08, 15 parties fought tooth and nail, in hearings in the Central Information Commission, to prevent disclosure of their income-tax returns.

The IFES paper concludes that at the end of the day, laws must be enforced. What it overlooks is that for laws to be enforced, a precondition is the existence of laws. That is what possibly prompted the Law Commission to point out: “It is necessary to provide by law for the formation, functioning, income and expenditure and the internal working of the recognised political parties.” Further: “It is therefore necessary to introduce internal democracy, financial transparency and accountability in the working of political parties.” The NCRWC too echoed the views of the Law Commission.

The ministry of law put out a background paper on electoral reforms. It mentions seven issues: criminalisation of politics, financing of elections, conduct and better management of election, regulation of political parties, auditing of finances of parties, adjudication of election disputes and review of the anti-defection law. Going by the general sense of the reports of the Law Commission, the NCRWC and the Indrajit Gupta Committee, regulation of political parties seems to be the most pressing issue. It is perplexing that the background paper confines its section “Regulating Political Parties” to select observations of the NCRWC, and even in those the para quoted above is overlooked. The Law Commission’s report is conspicuously missing from that section.

It is hoped that we will not rush into the biggest scam by throwing thousands of crores of good public money after bad money under the garb of state funding, and the historic initiative for electoral reforms started by the law ministry and the Election Commission will not lose sight of critical issues such as internal democracy and financial transparency of political parties.

The writer is a former professor, dean and director in-charge of IIM, Ahmedabad

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