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Polling for trouble

Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh are due early next year. No one can beat Mulayam Singh Yadav when it comes to laying the political chessboard to his advantage, writes Sunita Aron.

india Updated: Dec 06, 2006 03:15 IST

'Why can’t we get a receipt for our vote cast?’ an old man asked, sparking a debate on the integrity of the electoral system in the United States. His suggestion triggered doubts over the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs). Frustrated with the electoral system, some groups have canvassed for boycotting elections. This, when the US Election Commission has proposed negative voting. The vulnerability of the electoral system is not new. But what amazes is that despite the scene in India being far more distressing, political parties don’t seek change, leave alone citizens.

Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh are due early next year. No one can beat Mulayam Singh Yadav when it comes to laying the political chessboard to his advantage. An unimaginable number of votes — 36,000 — were invalidated in Lucknow’s recent civic elections. As a result, the Congress candidate lost the mayoral seat even after putting up a superb show.

Why can’t political parties use their energies to amend laws and plug loopholes in the electoral system rather than demand dismissal of the leader in power? The perception is that the EVMs have made it easier for the party in power to rig polls as the casting-vote process is longer and the ‘polling staff’ are available to ‘help’, especially in rural areas where voters have to be guided on buttons to press.

Instead of gunning for Mulayam’s ouster, the Congress would have done better by implementing two of the EC’s proposals. These would have easily checkmated Mulayam’s juggernaut. The first recommends detailed accounting of income and expenditure by political parties. This transparency is a given in American politics. Transparency in the funding of elections is better than putting a limit on expenditure. Candidates in the US submit quarterly reports on funds received and disbursed. Expenditure details include even a visit to the hairdresser’s. The list is open for public scrutiny. Donations are made by cheque and receipts issued immediately. Nothing clandestine about it — unlike in India, where the source of the money collected by Mayawati on her birthday remains a mystery.

The second proposal, pending decision, is the disqualification of a person accused of an offence, punishable with imprisonment for five years, from contesting elections. But the central government is sitting pretty over this, though it accuses Mulayam of criminalising politics. This mockery can only lead to more criminal elements in governance. India should learn from electoral debates in the US.