Political parties

Chasing black money: How parties are resisting transparency in funding

Posted on November 8, 2014. Filed under: Black money, Elections, Financial transparency, Political financing, Political parties |

Chasing black money: How parties are resisting transparency in funding

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Electoral Reforms: Law Commission’s Recommendations, Talk delivered on Oct 08, 1999

Posted on January 6, 2014. Filed under: Elections, Political financing, Political parties, Politics | Tags: , |

Electoral Reforms: Law Commission’s Recommendations

Fourth Lecture on Governance delivered at

Wagh Bakri-AMA Centre for Governance,

Ahmedabad Management Association, on October 8, 1999,

by

Jagdeep S. Chhokar

Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

 Let me begin by sharing with you what I plan to do this evening. I will begin with some observations on the electoral situation in the country.  I will then tell you in brief what the Law Commission is and the process they have followed to come up with their recommendations on electoral reforms. That will be followed by a discussion of some of the major recommendations. I will then spend some time discussing the prospects of implementation of those recommendations. I will end with one example of enlightened public action for electoral reforms.

We have just been through the third national general election in three years. The Election Commission is happy that the overall voter turnout was around 60%. The supporters and sympathisers of the National Democratic Alliance and the BJP are happy that this grouping is likely to form the next government. Similarly, the supporters and sympathisers of the Congress are happy because it seems to have done better than the last election in  UP, Karnataka, etc. It indeed is a great tribute to us, the voters, that we continue to turn out in such large numbers — much better than some of the so-called developed countries and mature democracies.  But, are we happy at what we have gone through and did we participate in this celebration of democracy enthusiastically and happily?  I am not sure.  Let me read to you part of a letter written to the editor of one of the newspapers here in Ahmedabad on September 9, soon after the polling.

“Thank God! The vulgar cacophony, throwing of  abuses and trading of charges by political parties with each other is over.

All political parties have made narrow-minded, extremely bigoted … statements against each other as if they were in the race to prove who was more conservative and backward and who would be the first to destroy this nation by such ideologies, as Taliban has done for Afghanistan!

No wonder people showed fatigue and displayed lack of enthusiasm in the type of democratic exercise now repeatedly held to elect the begging candidates so that on being elected they can sit in power and loot us, and amass wealth and power for their dynasties.

Their slogan seems to be, ‘Cast your vote in favour of one whom you want should amass wealth!’

Are our aspirations being fulfilled, even minimum security of life and basic services like food, water, shelter being met by the system created?

. . .

What democratic values these bunch of self-appointed leaders will propagate with such narrow-minded approaches.  Our democracy ends the day we cast our vote.”

The writer seems to be concerned, and so should we be, at the qualilty of people that are in the electoral process. Other issues of concern are:  How long will this arrangement last? When will destabilisation begin? Will an alliance of 11 or 18 or 24 parties last? And what will it be able to do? Above all, we should be concerned with the over 100 deaths which occured as a result of poll-related violence.

Regardless of which political formation one sympathises with, the prospect of having three elections in three years should be disturbing for any one who has the welfare of the nation in mind. Of course there are political groupings who publicly proclaim that a hung parliament is in their best interest. And that they would prefer a majboor sarkar (dependent government) instead of a mazboot sarkar (strong government). It seems difficult to believe that hung parliament and majboor sarkar are in the overall interest of the nation. Instability of government and discontinuities in the governance of the country are just one outcome of an infirm electoral system. Another disturbing outcome is the damage the current political and electoral climate is doing to the moral fabric of the country. This can be seen quite clearly in the way the younger generation, particularly those who are just qualifying to vote, views the whole election and political scenario in the country. The disenchantment and scepticism of the younger generation about the entire electoral process does not appear to augur well for the future of the country.

It is quite common to put almost the entire blame of the current state of affairs on the so- called political class in the country. But all those who would  have us believe that all that is wrong has been caused by the political class seem to overlook the fact that the political class does not exist or develop in isolation or in vacuum, but that it emerges and evolves out of the society at large. Therefore the society at large, of which all of us are a part, cannot escape responsibility for the existing state of affairs. While the so-called political class cannot be assigned the complete responsibility for the current state of affairs, they cannot be entirely absolved of it either. I will come to this later but first, as a student of human behaviour, I would like to suggest that a substantial portion of the behaviour of the political class can be explained as a logical response to the broader social system within which they have to operate. And the electoral system is a major and immediate part of that broader social system.  Consequently, one way to change the behaviour of the political class would be to change the system in which they have to operate and to which they have to respond. This is where electoral reforms, especially those recommended by the Law Commission, become important.

Now a little about the Law Commission. The Law Commission of India is appointed by the Government of India and is required to apply its mind to matters of importance which have a bearing on the legal and judicial system of the country. The 170th report of the Commission on the subject of electoral reforms has been prepared by the 15th Law Commission which is chaired by Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy, who is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India. Other members of the Commission are Justice Leila Seth, a retired Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court and Dr. N.M. Ghatate. The member secretary of the commission is Mr. Subhash C. Jain. These are all legal luminaries of unimpeachable reputation and standing. As a matter of fact I am told one of them was offered the governorship of a state but declined. I am not sure how many politicians would decline an offer of governorship.

Piecemeal and sporadic attempts at reforming the electoral system have been made from time to time over the last many years particularly whenever it suited the party in power.  The recent statement of Mr. L.K. Advani that a draft bill to ban candidates contesting Lok Sabha election from more than one constituency is just the latest instance of this. Given the complexity of our electoral system it should be obvious that piecemeal attempts at reform are not going to achieve anything worthwhile. It is for this reason that I find the comprehensive look that the Law Commission has taken at all components of the entire electoral system, and the rationale and justification that they have given for their recommendations, to be a valuable opportunity. Like all opportunities, even this one is unlikely to bear fruit unless it is implemented in right earnest. Before discussing how to implement it, let us first see what the Law Commission has done and how it has gone about doing so.

Let us first see the how. The 15th Law Commission undertook a thorough review of the Representation of People Act, 1951, and associated legislation with the underlying objective “to make the electoral process more fair, transparent and equitable. The effort was to reduce the several distortions and evils that had crept into the Indian electoral system.” The Law Commission prepared a working paper which contained several proposals and their justifications. This working paper was communicated to all the recognised political parties both at the national and state level, the Houses of Parliament, the State Legislatures, the High Courts, Bar Associations, Election Commission, prominent media personalities, associations and organizations interested in electoral reforms, and many other persons for their comments, observations and suggestions. A large number of responses were received. Subsequently the Law Commission held four seminars, the first and the fourth in Delhi, and one each at Thiruvananthapuram and Bangalore. After thoroughly analysing the views obtained from various quarters, the Commission prepared their 170th report containing recommendations which in their opinion were “essential to make our electoral system more representative, fair and transparent, to strengthen our democracy, to arrest and reverse the process of proliferation and splitting of political parties and to introduce stability in our governance.”

Now to what the Commission has done. Considering that the primary duty of the electoral system is to represent the wishes of the electorate as effectively as possible, the Commission has made a large number of recommendations. We cannot of course discuss all the recommendations here given the limited time, but I will try and give you a flavour of the recommendations and share with you some of the major recommendations and their rationale. For ease of presentation it is useful to group them into a few broad categories.

The first set pertains to the functioning of political parties. The Commission maintains that a democracy and particularly a parliamentary democracy without political parties is inconceivable. It quotes from a Supreme Court judgement to say that  political parties are integral to the governance of a democratic society. They perform the critical function of mobilising and organising public opinion and will, and function as a link between the public at large and the government, particularly its political wing. While they are a necessary mechanism for the functioning of a democracy, it is paradoxical that a number of them are highly undemocratic in their own internal functioning. We all know of political parties, and leading ones at that — both nationally and regionally — in which internal elections are hardly ever held. It is these internally undemocratic parties which often claim to be the upholders of the democratic tradition in the country or in their respective states. The total lack of transparency of the financial affairs of political parties is another anomaly.

Our Constitution is silent on the issue of functioning of political parties. Some of us might find it surprising that the Constituent Assembly did not deem it necessary to mention anything about this. In my opinion this is because it was a group of principled and high minded people who drafted the Constitution. In their deliberations for the future of the nation, they were perhaps influenced by their idealism, particularly in the immediate after-glow of independence. I assume they must have thought that people similar to them will lead the country even in the years to come. The Indian genius has certainly evolved over the last 50 years and at least in some ways, the socio-political milieu of India has changed almost beyond recognition. Some of the assumptions and expectations of members of the Constituent Assembly are, therefore and unfortunately, not valid today.

After considering the vast number of responses received in response to their working paper and the views expressed in the four seminars, the Law Commission observed that “if democracy and accountability constitute the core of our constitutional system, the same concepts must also apply to and bind the political parties which are integral to parliamentary democracy. It is the political parties that form the government, man the Parliament and run the governance of the country. It is therefore necessary to introduce internal democracy, financial transparency and accountability in the working of the political parties. A political party which does not respect democratic principles in its internal working cannot be expected to respect those principles in the governance of the country. It cannot be dictatorship internally and democratic in its functioning outside”.

The Commission came to the conclusion that it is necessary to introduce internal democracy, financial transparency and accountability in the working of political parties…by law. In this connection, it has proposed that a new part titled “Organization of Political Parties and matters incidental thereto” be added to the Representation of People Act. This will specify things such as regular holding of elections, transparency of financial affairs. Non-observance of these provisions will attract de-recognition as a political party. It will mean that the party will cease to exist legally as a political party and consequently will neither be able to put up candidates for elections nor be entitled to facilities and benefits that would be available to registered political parties. These recommendations suggesting legal provisions for the functioning of political parties are possibly the most significant part of the entire report.

The second set of recommendations refers to ensuring representativeness as an outcome of the election process and reducing the fragmentation of the polity. The latter can also be referred to as preventing the “divide and rule” phenomenon which is popularly associated with the British Government in India. What is often not recognised is that we seem to have also inherited this “divide and rule” policy, and its operation has continued over the last many years to the overall detriment of the nation. An interesting question is who is using this “divide and rule” policy?  Why?  And How?

The answer is contained in the question itself. Who can use such a policy except the rulers? And who has been ruling the country for the last 50 years? The answer:  The Politicians.

Why have the politicians being dividing the nation? Simply because it gets them elected.  And they have been doing so by continuing to split political parties into smaller and smaller factions, thereby also fragmenting the electorate and the polity at large.

To begin with the big ones, the Indian National Congress has undergone five major splits since 1969 giving rise to eight different formations in addition to the so-called “parent” grouping. The greatest achiever in the regard is what was called the Janata Party in 1977.  After splitting countless times, the number of formations it has resulted in seems to add up to 24! The regional parties too suffer from such splits. Starting with the DK of Periyar Ramaswamy, we now have the DMK, AIADMK, MDMK, and the PMK in Tamil Nadu.  The irony of parties splitting was captured in a recent newspaper headline “Further Split in Janata Dal (United)”. Possibly, the ultimate practitioner of this art is the Elder Statesman of today and the Young Turk of yesteryears, Chandra Sekhar, who appears to be in a party all by himself. This fragmentation of the polity seems to call for replacement of  the phrase “unity in diversity” with “utility of diversity” at least for the politicians.

As I mentioned earlier, it is easy but not completely correct to blame the political class for this fracturing of the nation. The political class has also evolved over the years in response to the conditions prevailing in our society. And one such important and defining condition is our electoral system.

One major feature of our electoral system which encourages fragmentation is the “first-past-the-post” system of election.  This system when seen in the context of multiplicity of political parties, results in candidates being elected with as little as 30 percent or less of the valid votes cast. The remaining 70 percent or more votes, which indeed is the  majority, goes waste and is left without representation or voice in the elected body, Parliament or State Legislatures. Given that the percentage of eligible voters who actually vote may range from 50 to 70 percent, we possibly have people declared elected with as little as 15 percent of the total eligible votes. How representative they are of the entire electorate does not require much imagination.

Another outcome of  the “first-past-the-post” election system  is that often a party with as little as 30-35 percent of the total votes cast in the country can end up with as much as 70-75 percent of the seats in Parliament, whereas another party which may have polled 27-28 percent of the votes, might get only about 25 percent of the seats. As a psephologist would say, a “swing” of 2 to 3 percent in votes can result in a huge difference in the number of seats won. The Law Commission reviewed  all the 212 parliamentary electoral systems listed in The Global Distribution of Electoral Systems in order to assess what might be the most appropriate for us.

A useful way to judge the efficacy of election systems is to assess how closely they translate national votes into parliamentary seats won. This assessment requires that one looks at both, the vote-seat relationship and the level of wasted votes. After analysing all possibilities, the Commission has suggested a combination of the “first-past-the-post” system and the “list system”. The proposed addition of the “list system” would require that the number of seats in the Lok Sabha be increased by 25 percent, and these additional seats be filled from lists submitted by political parties at the time of filing nominations, in proportion to the percentage of votes polled by parties nationally, the party polling the highest number of votes getting the highest number of seats, and so on.

It is in this context of reducing the fragmentation of the polity and improving the representativeness of the electoral system that the Law Commission has made two recommendations which have caused considerable controversy. The first of these is that only those political parties be allowed representation in parliament who poll at least 5 percent of the vote on a country-wide basis.  The total votes polled by each party are to be tallied at the end of the election and candidates of those parties who have polled less than 5 percent of the total vote on a national basis will not be declared elected even if they have polled the highest number of votes in their constituencies. In such cases candidates securing the next highest number of votes will be declared elected provided, of course, the political party of such a candidate has polled more than 5 percent of vote nation-wide.

The second controversial recommendation is that of debarring independent candidates from contesting elections for Lok Sabha. These recommendations have attracted a fair amount of negative publicity even to the extent of calls to reject the entire report. The rationale for these is reducing the fragmentation of the polity, and thus of the society, and to discourage  frivolous and nonserious candidates from contesting the elections.

There is no dearth of political parties in India. As a matter of fact their number seems to be increasing progressively. The Law Commission has observed that “the proliferation of political parties appears to be mainly inspired by regional, caste, religious/communal and linguistic considerations, besides personality clashes between the leaders of a given political party. Very often splits take place in political parties not on the basis of any ideological differences but mainly on account of personality clashes and personal rivalries and ambitions…The process of splintering is increasing with every general election which is not based on any ideological differences but lust for power.” The requirement of the minimum of 5 percent of the national vote to qualify for representation in parliament is to curb this phenomenon.

On the question of independent candidates the Law Commission report mentions that out of 1,915 independent candidates who contested the election for the 12th Lok Sabha, only 6 were elected. In percentage terms this means that only slightly more than 0.3 percent of all the independent candidates won the seats contested by them. As many as 1,883 of the 1,915 lost their security deposit. In the 1996 election, only 9 out of 10,635 independent candidates won the election. The winning proportion here works out to 0.08 percent. As many as 10,603 (99.7 percent) forfeited their deposits.

A combination of the “first-past-the-post” system and independent candidates encourages a candidate to divide the total vote in the constituency in ways that cut into the votes of the opponents. This division of voters can be on the basis of caste, religion, language, or any other system of grouping.  Sometimes this acquires farcical proportions as when a large number of candidates with the name V.K. Malhotra contested the election from a constituency in Delhi. Obviously all but one of the V.K. Malhotras had been put up by rivals of the one V.K. Malhotra who was a serious candidate. The combination of the “first-past-the-post” system with multiplicity of political parties and a provision for independent candidates to contest elections, results in a situation where the elected candidates represent increasingly smaller proportions of the electorate. The proportion of wasted votes often is as high as 70 percent or more, and it results in gross unrepresentativeness. It also makes a large number of people disinterested in the election process when they repeatedly experience that their vote really has no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the election process, leading us into a vicious cycle.

Attempts have been made in the past  to discourage independent candidates. For example,  the Election Commission increased the security deposit of independent candidates to something like Rs.2 lakhs for this purpose. This action of the Election Commission has been criticised on the ground that it will make the elections even more the exclusive play ground for moneyed people where the poor would not even be able to think of gaining an entry. It has been suggested that a more useful method to eliminate nonserious independent candidates would be to increase the number of proposers to something like 1000 or even 5000, so that before aspiring to contest the election as an independent candidate, one would have to work with the electorate and build a support base, instead of merely having to arrange a large amount of money as security deposit.

The Law Commission is of the view that we should move towards consolidating the political processes in the country so that the representativeness of the election process can be enhanced, fragmentation of the polity reduced, and we can have greater stability in the governance of the country than we have had in the recent past; and their arguments in favour of this appear to be very persuasive. Whether we, as the people, accept their recommendations as they are in full, or accept them in part or with some modifications, or reject them; it should be for us to decide. But first we must become aware of them and discuss them.

The next set of recommendations is aimed at providing some stability in the governance of the country. The two major recommendations here pertain to no-confidence motions in parliament and the Anti Defection Act. The Commission recommends that a motion of no-confidence in the Lok Sabha be necessarily accompanied by a motion of confidence in an alternate Prime Minister, and that these two motions be debated and voted upon simultaneously. In addition, once a motion of no-confidence or confidence has been voted upon, no such motions should be allowed for a period of two years. It is interesting to note that in this respect, the Commission appears to have shown remarkable foresight by almost anticipating the situation which caused the last election.

The second component needing attention for enhancing stability in governance is that of defection after the election. This of course was attempted to be corrected through the Anti Defection Act. It has not proved to be enough of a corrective because of the provision that if one third or more elected members of a political party leave that party, it does not attract the provisions of the Act. In addition, the phenomenon of several parties providing support to another party in the formation of the government from the outside and then withdrawing the support without attracting the provisions of the Anti Defection Act, has also become a major source of instability in the governance of the country. To guard against these, the Commission has recommended that the exemption from disqualification in the case of parties “splitting” or merging should be removed. This takes care of the sarcastic comment which was made about the Anti Defection Act even when it was enacted, that while it outlawed retail trading of MLAs & MPs, it permitted wholesale trading. Another recommendation is that any pre-election front or coalition should be treated as a political party and withdrawal from such a front or coalition should attract the provisions of the Anti Defection Act. The Commission has made very interesting observations in the regard while saying “the membership of house does not become (a member’s) private property nor can he trade in it. It is a trust and he is in the nature of a trustee.” How many members of parliament and state legislatures think this way is any one’s guess.

In addition to the three main sets of recommendations the Commission has also considered and made recommendations on several other issues pertaining to the electoral system.  One such issue is the intrusion of crime into politics and the increasing nexus between politicians and criminals. In a national seminar on electoral reforms, a former Speaker of the Lok Sabha himself raised the question of what should be done if a political party puts up candidates with criminal background. The editor of a national newspaper mentioned that these two were feeding on each other resulting in “criminalisation of politics and politicisation of crime”. The police find themselves unwilling and unable to take action against criminals because of the nexus between politicians and criminals. At the same seminar several participants expressed strong opinions about the politicians taking the help of criminals not only at the time of election but even at other times, as well as to the direct entry of criminals themselves into the politics. The Commission has recommended that it should be necessary for a candidate seeking to contest election to furnish details regarding criminal cases, if any, pending against him. The Commission cites the suggestions of the Election Commission that framing of charges by a court should be enough to disqualify a person from contesting the election. In this context the Commission upholds people’s right to information while observing that “before allowing people to enter public life, the public has a right to know the antecedents of such persons.” The Commission has also suggested changes in the relevant laws to make enhanced penalties compulsory for lodging frivolous complaints with a view to discourage these.

On another critical issue, that of state funding of elections, the Commission has reiterated all the recommendations of the Indrajit Gupta Committee which had recommended partial state funding of political parties, generally on the same lines as what has come to be called the Dinesh Goswami Bill of 1990. It is worth recalling that the Dinesh Goswami Bill was based on a consensus of all political parties, which itself is a rarity. The Law Commission is however emphatic in saying that “it is absolutely essential that before the idea of state funding (whether partial or total) is resorted to, the provisions suggested in the report relating to political parties (including the provisions governing their internal functioning ensuring internal democracy), and maintenance of accounts, their auditing and submission to Election Commission, and deletion of Explanation 1 to Section 77 of the Representation of People Act are implemented.” I will talk about Section 77 a little later. This is just one example of the interconnectedness and comprehensiveness of the Law Commission’s recommendations.

The Commission has also discussed what it has called “an alternative method of election”. This was included in the working paper prepared by the Commission on the basis of suggestions received from what the Commission calls “certain eminent persons with long experience in public life”. It has two major components. One, according to this method, no candidate would be declared elected unless he/she has obtained “50 percent plus one” of the valid votes cast in the constituency. In case no candidate gets more than 50 percent votes, then there would be a ‘run-off’ election between the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes. The rationale for this is “to curtail the significance and role played by caste and community considerations in the electoral process, since there is hardly any constituency in the country where any one particular caste or community can command more than 50 percent of the votes. This means that a candidate has to carry with him/her several castes and communities to get elected.” The second component of the alternative method of election is the possibility for voters to cast what is called a “negative vote”, by which the voter indicates that he/she is not inclined to vote for any of the candidates on the ballot paper. The reason for suggesting a negative vote is “to put moral pressure on political parties not to put forward candidates with undesirable records such as criminals, corrupt elements, and persons with unsavory background.”

As required by law, the report has been submitted to Mr. Ram Jethmalani, the Minister of Law, Justice, and Company Affairs. The implementation of the recommendations contained in the report now rests with the political arm of the government. We are therefore in the quagmire where politicians are the ultimate authority to decide whether recommendations which disturb their existing, familiar, and comfortable arrangement should be implemented or not. Given the current political milieu of the country, it is any one’s guess what is likely to happen. My view is that it is extremely unlikely that any significant recommendations will be implemented. I say this because politicians do not seem to enjoy a very good reputation. It is worthwhile discussing why this is so. A basic question is “Is politics bad?”

It does not have to be. Dictionary meanings of politics are “the science or art of government”, or “the affairs or activities of those engaged in controlling or seeking control of a government.” As has already been said, political activity and political parties are an essential requirement for the functioning of a democratic society because they provide the necessary link between people at large and the government. In a broad sense, politicians serve the function of mobilising and crystallising public opinion and translating it into executive action. If done conscientiously and with due diligence, this should result in the good of the public. Notwithstanding this, politicians tend to attract derisive comments from their publics the world over. The situation in India seems to be particularly acute. In the words of the Law Commission “there has been a steady deterioration in the standards, practices and pronouncements of the political class, which fights the elections.  Money-power, muscle-power, corrupt practices and unfair means are being freely employed to win the elections.”

While there has been a deterioration of standards in all walks of public life in the country, the extent of this deterioration seems much greater in the political arena. I think the Law Commission reflects broader public opinion when they say that “people are generally likely to enter politics or contest election for getting rich overnight.” Why has this situation arisen? One possible answer to this question is that the “politicians” want it to be, and like it, this way. While this may appear to be an extreme answer, let me cite just one example in support.

Section 77 of the Representation of People Act entitled “Election Expenses”, as originally enacted mentioned that every candidate at an election should maintain a complete account of all expenditure in connection with the election incurred or authorised by him/her or by his/her election agent. There is also an upper limit specified for such election expenses by the Election Commission which, I believe, currently is around Rs.15 lakhs for the Lok Sabha election. Section 123 of the Act also mentions that the incurring or authorising of expenditure in contravention of Section 77 is a corrupt practice which disqualifies the person from contesting the election for the next six years. The politicians decided to observe the letter of the law but violate its spirit by maintaining that incurring of expenditure by the political party or by the friends and supporters of the candidate were different from the expenditure incurred or authorised by the candidate or by his/her election agent, and therefore the expenditure incurred by friends and supporters, and by the party, did not come under the purview of Section 77. When this matter came for consideration of the Supreme Court in 1975, the Supreme Court maintained that “a party candidate does not stand apart from his political party and if the political party does not want the candidate to incur the disqualification, it must exercise control over the expenditure which may be incurred by it directly to promote the poll prospects of the candidate. The same proposition must also hold good in case of expenditure incurred by friends and supporters directly in connection with the election of the candidate. This is the only reasonable interpretation of the provision which would carry out its object and intendment and suppress the mischief and advance the remedy by purifying our election process and ridding it of the pernicious and baneful influence of big money.”

True to character, our politicians did not like this. Soon after the above judgement, the Cabinet recommended to the President an ordinance amending Section 77 by inserting Explanation 1 in subsection (1) of Section 77. The President, in keeping with conventions, approved of and issued the ordinance. The President supposed to be above party politics, but it might be interesting to think how many of our Presidents have not been involved in politics for major parts of their lives! Explanation 1 clarified that “any expenditure incurred or authorised in connection with the election of a candidate by a political party or by any other association or body of persons or by any individual (other than the candidate or his election agent) shall not be deemed to be, and shall not ever be deemed to have been, expenditure in connection with the election incurred or authorised by the candidate or by his election agent for the purpose of this section ….” In effect the ordinance, which was subsequently passed as an amendment to the Representation of People Act, completely nullified the object and purpose of the Supreme Court judgement and underlying Section 77 (1) read with Section 123 (6) of the Act. The Supreme Court has reiterated its stand in several cases and judgements subsequently and has also said that since laws have to be made and amended by the Parliament, and the courts can only interpret and implement them, it is for the Parliament to correct this situation by removing Explanation 1. But our politicians in Parliament have not considered it worthwhile to rescind the amendment for nearly 25 years now. Why? Because it is convenient and comfortable for the politicians to have a system which can be manipulated. Big money is brought into the elections under the garb of Explanation 1 (which in the opinion of the Supreme Court has removed even the “fig leaf to hide the reality” of the impact of big money on the outcome of elections). Big money is contributed by those elements who look for favours and paybacks in kind from the politicians after they get elected. And the politicians are an active and willing party to the arrangement. This is why it seems to me that left to the politicians, implementation of significant recommendations particularly those considered uncomfortable by politicians, is unlikely.

So, what can we, as common citizens, do?  I am not an activist and am, therefore, not in a position to suggest an activist’s agenda. However it does seem clear to me that unless pressure is created from the public at large, neither the electoral system nor the political class is going to be reformed. What is needed to generate this pressure from the public at large is sensitisation of the public, and mobilisation and organization of public opinion.  Unfortunately this is a task in which the political class specialises. However, we, as the public, owe it to the country and its future that we do whatever we can in this regard.  Sensitisation of public opinion is precisely the objective of this gathering here this evening.

As an example of enlightened public action, let me mention an initiative in Andhra Pradesh taken by a registered society which describes itself as “a non partisan movement for democratic reforms.” They decided to take up the cleansing of the electoral process of corruption and criminality.  They invited the public to inform them of candidates in the last election who had either been convicted in criminal cases or had criminal cases pending against them. They received thousands of letters from the public giving details, and a screening committee consisting of 16 eminent men and women examined these cases.  Based on their perusal, they found 52 candidates who had either been convicted or had major criminal cases pending against them. The charges ranged from conviction with a sentence of life imprisonment to several murder charges, bomb blasts, rigging of votes and booth capturing, rioting, loot, arson, abduction and criminal intimidation. The candidates belonged to all major political parties including the Congress and Telugu Desam, the two main parties in Andhra Pradesh. These details have been publicised for information of the general public.

Such public spirited action obviously requires a lot of effort, time, and energy in addition to money. Above all, it requires public spirited citizens who are willing to spend all these for a public cause without any individual or material benefit for themselves. I don’t think there is a dearth of such citizens in a state as progressive as Gujarat.

Before I close, let me summarise.

1.         There is an urgent need to reform the electoral system in the country if democracy is to continue and succeed, resulting in overall social and economic progress for the country as a whole.

2.         The recommendations contained in the 170th report of the Law Commission provide a very useful opportunity for initiating a process of electoral reform. Legal stipulations for the internal functioning of political parties is possibly the most important of the recommendations.

3.            Substantive electoral reforms are unlikely to happen if left only to wishes and whims of the political establishment in the country.

4.         The people at large have to take initiative on their own, however difficult it may be to organise it, if significant electoral reforms are to happen and the chances of democracy succeeding and overall development happening are to be increased.

Thank you.

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Jagdeep S. Chhokar (Ph.D., Louisiana State University, USA) is a professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, since 1985, where he teaches organizational behaviour, cross-cultural management, and international marketing.  He has also taught at universities in Australia and the US.   Before becoming an academic, he worked for 12 years in a variety of engineering and managerial positions, including four years as an international marketing manager.  His broader interests include electoral reforms, informed choice, and world affairs.

He can be reached by email at chhokar@iimahd.ernet.in.

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Conspiracy of silence: Applicability of RTI to political parties

Posted on June 21, 2013. Filed under: Elections, Political financing, Political parties, Politics, Right to Information, RTI |

Conspiracy of silence: Applicability of RTI to political parties

The June 03, 2013 decision of the Central Information Commission (CIC) declaring six national parties as public authorities under the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) is explained, along with implications of being a “public authority” for political parties. The major apprehensions of political parties are also discussed.

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    This blog contains Jagdeep S. Chhokar’s views, opinions, and comments on variety of issues.

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