Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s advocacy of State funding of elections, though laudable, is an idea that can be worked upon only in stages. That is an inference one can derive from the conclusion drawn by the Election Commission, which has said that State funding cannot be fully successful without electoral reforms and politics being decriminalised. The State funding of elections can be compared to buying a house, in whose case it is difficult to say how much more has been paid over and above what has been stated in the registration papers. Similarly, even with State funding, it is difficult to ensure that parties would not adopt other means to raise money. It is only greater inner-party democracy and a strong oversight process that can prevent malpractices.
There are ways by which electoral reforms can be brought about. The Election Commission has for long been saying that changes in legislation should be made to regulate the functioning of political parties, including their registration and de-registration. There have been demands that parties must get their accounts audited and they must be there for the public to see. In addition, the manner of raising funds should be transparent. But given the rigid dictatorial style of functioning in most parties, this is something that cannot easily come about. Hence in its 255th report the Law Commission submitted to the government last year, it had recommended that political parties failing to hold internal elections should be de-registered. All this presupposes a certain level of unanimity among the political classes that they would be willing to participate in the reforms process. But looking at the manner in which the Union law ministry disagreed with a suggestion of the Election Commission that it should be empowered to rescind elections if there is evidence that voters have been bribed, the path ahead does not appear to be smooth.
Some bit of State funding has already been provided for. Parties can now give their views on State-run All India Radio or Doordarshan and the time allotted to them depends on whether they are national parties or State parties. A way to curb the use of money power during elections is to reduce the period of campaigning in Lok Sabha and assembly elections. TN Seshan and JM Lyngdoh, as chief election commissioners, had demonstrated that the commission could enforce its will. And as suggested by Mr Lyngdoh himself, there can be an informal referendum by civil society and advocacy groups to press for electoral reforms, which the political class may find difficult to ignore.