As they gathered to celebrate 60 years of the election commission, country’s top politicians on Monday expressed concerned over electoral malpractices and growing disenchantment among voters.
The election commission was set up an independent constitutional body in 1950 with Sukumar Sen being appointed the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). It continued to be a one-member body till 1989, when it was made into a multi-member panel with senior most election commissioner acting as the CEC.
President Pratibha Patil, who inaugurated the three-day diamond jubilee celebrations, said the impediments, lacunae and the malpractices in the electoral process would have to be removed with determination to make Indian democracy cleaner, healthier and stronger.
“We have to see that the power of voting vested in the people makes them powerful enough to change their own destiny through democracy and therefore, the importance of making democracy fully participatory,” Patil said at the conference attended by heads of poll bodies of 30 countries.
The poll panel ruled out making voting compulsory for the Lok Sabha and assembly elections. The Gujarat government recently brought in a law making it mandatory to vote in local body elections.
“It is almost impossible to enforce,” CEC Navin Chawla said in response to a question.
Vice-President Hamid Ansari described electoral malpractices as a “blot” on the democratic process. “Unaccounted election expenses constitute the major expenditure of political parties and their candidates. These relate to the distribution of freebies, liquor and cash during elections, the phenomenon of surrogate advertisements, and the extensive media-related malpractice of paid news and coverage packages,” Ansari said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh voiced concern that the “best and the brightest” were not interested in politics. Educated professionals and growing middle-class often kept away from the electoral process.
“While there is near unanimity that something needs to be done…, there is no consensus on how exactly to go about it.”
Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, too, underlined the need to check money and muscle power in elections and prevent persons with criminal background from contesting elections.
BJP’s Sushma Swaraj and NDA convener Sharad Yadav expressed concern over growing influence of money and muscle in the poll system, resulting in people losing faith in the fairness of elections.