Keeping a watch on elections, helping voters make a choice
Mashqura Fareedi & Jagdeep S. Chhokar explain how their group National Election Watch is tracking candidates in the Gujarat elections.india Updated: Nov 01, 2012 12:02 IST
The last state assembly elections were held on December 11 and 16, 2007. It was therefore expected that the 2012 elections would be held some time in November or December 2012. The National Election Watch (NEW) network activated itself in late June and the first meeting was held in Ahmedabad on July 01, 2012.
Gujarat is important for the NEW network because the genesis of the Election Watch activities was from Gujarat in 1999 when a public interest litigation was filed seeking mandatory disclosure of pending criminal cases, and assets and liabilities by candidates contesting elections for Parliament and State Assemblies. The Delhi High Court upheld the petition but the Union of India had filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court judgment. The Supreme Court upheld the High Court judgment on May 02, 2002, in its judgment in Civil Appeal No.7178 of 2001. This required every candidate contesting elections to Parliament and State Assemblies to submit a sworn affidavit listing out any prior and pending criminal cases, their assets and liabilities, and their educational qualifications. The Gujarat Assembly election of November 2002 was the first assembly election after the 2002 Supreme Court judgment, so the first Election Watch was held during the 2002 Gujarat Assembly election. Hence, the special importance of Election Watch for Gujarat.
The first meeting for the 2012 Gujarat Election Watch, held on July 01, 2012, was attended by over 70 people, and was also addressed by the Director General, Expenditure Control, Election Commission of India, and the Chief Electoral Officer of Gujarat. Among the over 70 people who attended were representatives of several civil society organizations from most of the districts of Gujarat. While discussing what contribution could the civil society make to make the elections as free and fair as possible. Plans were also drawn up for holding meetings and consultations in various cities in Gujarat in the run up to the election, to create greater awareness amongst the voting public.
Subsequently, citizens’ and civil society meetings have been held in Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Surat, and Mehsana. A meeting is planned to be held in Bhuj.
During the run up to the elections, as political parties release the list of their nominees, NEW will release data on the criminal, financial and other background details of nominated candidates to the public. This data also contains information on top candidates who have declared criminal cases against themselves, high asset candidates, asset increase of recontesting candidates in the last five years, party-wise number of candidates with criminal backgrounds, party-wise number of crorepatis, average asset of a candidate party-wise, candidates who have declared highest income in their income tax returns, candidates who have not filed their income tax returns, number of women candidate party wise.
After election results, NEW will release similar data of the winners/MLAs to the public. This is followed by the release of the analysis of election expenses of candidates and an analysis of election expenses of political parties.
NEW runs a toll free helpline number: 1800-110-440 where citizens can call to ask about the declared background details of candidates as well as elected representatives. It also runs two types of SMS campaigns. One is the PULL SMS where one can get the following information by typing myneta<space>constituency OR pincode and sending it to 9246556070:
Pre-elections (about 10 days before polls): criminal, financial and educational background of top 3 candidates (usually of major parties) of the constituency.
Post elections: Criminal, financial and educational background of the constituency’s MLA and MP
The other is the 'push' SMS campaign in which messages (text and voice) are used to inform voters regarding the upcoming elections. Data on criminal, financial and other background details of outgoing assembly, nominated candidates and later of elected representatives is pushed to inform the voter and even to build public opinion on free and fair elections.
The purpose of all these activities is to assist the voters in making an informed choice while casting their votes.