Politicians are unwilling to arm the aam aadmi with the ultimate weapon - right to reject or recall a candidate, a demand flagged by anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare.
Amidst sizzling debate for electoral reforms, the first Hindustan Times political conclave in Uttar Pradesh (UP), at Hotel Taj on Saturday, top politicians rejected the growing 'reject/recall' demand, reflected in the HT survey where 54% people favored the 'recall' option.
Agreeing that the role of 'money and muscle' in elections was "worrying" they did not favor fixing an eligibility limit for contesting the polls. In a rare convergence, former UP chief minister and former defense minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, former national BJP chief and ex UP CM Rajnath Singh, national SC/ST commission chairman and Congress MP PL Punia, all turned down the demand for making voting compulsory and fixing an eligibility limit for the contestants.
The politicians had their doubts on "state funding" of elections, even as VK Bhasin, secretary, ministry of law and justice said a group of ministers has been set up to consider whether funding would be full or partial.
"A proposal regarding funding women and SC/ST candidates is being discussed," said Bhasin. Umesh Sinha, the chief electoral officer, UP, suggested the political parties should look for setting up "voter awareness and mobilization" cells to increase voter turnout.
However, aware that they were facing an august audience, which was keenly observing their comments, the politicians, came up with alternatives, to bring more transparency in elections and more credibility to politicians.
Rajnath Singh favored a special session of Parliament to discuss electoral reforms and even suggested revisiting the present system of electing candidates.
"I think the present first past the post system should be replaced with one where a candidate is declared elected, only if the candidate gets at least 50% votes because these days even those who get abysmally low votes get elected, due to low voter turnout," the senior leader said. Yadav wanted HT to play a role in evolving consensus on the nature of electoral reforms.
"I think Hindustan Times should seize the initiative by getting top leaders of prominent political parties to make suggestions, debate it before reaching a consensus," said Yadav, who made it to the HT conclave despite being unwell.
Punia urged the election commission to monitor the conduct of candidates, not just before the elections, but, throughout the five-year tenure. The former bureaucrat turned Congress MP from Barabanki also wanted the commission to screen if political parties honored the promises made in their poll manifestoes besides maintaining a performance "report card" of MLAs and MPs.
Doesn't low voter turnout worry politicians? It does, but politicians hold the educated elite responsible for it. "It's the uneducated man, the rural poor who turn up in large numbers to vote but the educated, and these include bureaucrats too, often stay indoors on the polling day. When I was the CM, I had to ask officers of my office to spare time for casting their vote," said Mulayam.
Rajnath warned that the practice of bureaucrats contesting elections immediately after retirement wasn't a good one. "I think the election commission should not allow bureaucrats to contest elections for at least five years after their retirement," he said.
Rajnath suggested checking the mushroom growth of political parties, a point, with which, Punia, who also wanted a check on independent candidates, was in agreement. With UP elections round the corner, SK Mendiratta, legal advisor to the election commission said: "The commission would ensure a level playing field."
(HT conclave presented by Ansal API)