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Mix of money & mafia power

Since Independence Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar never missed to cast his vote at Sadashivnagar in Bangalore.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2006 00:06 IST
Saikat Neogi
Saikat Neogi

Since Independence Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar never missed to cast his vote at Sadashivnagar in Bangalore. But in 2004 he was shocked to find his and his family members names missing from the list of voters. In the small polling booth, 30 other families had suffered the same fate.

An error free electoral roll is vital for conducting free and fair elections but names of people long dead, duplicate entries and spelling errors are common. Recently, while revising the electoral roll for the Assembly elections in Bihar, the Election Commission discovered 18 lakh duplicate names in the state. The Association of Democratic Reforms, a non-political group working for electoral reforms, found that in the entire country about 20 per cent of rural and 30 per cent of urban electoral rolls are defective, giving rise to bogus voting.

Further, troubles in getting new names registered and two set of electoral rolls—one for Lok Sabha/state assemblies and the other for local body elections — create confusion among voters. To address the mess, various electoral reform panels have suggested a common electoral roll to cut duplication of efforts and expenditure besides designating the post office as the nodal agency for voter registration.

If roll discrepancy leads to bogus voting, then excessive and illegal expenditure in campaigning feeds into the vicious cycle of political corruption. Aspiring candidates often buy their ticket and spend ten times more than the legal limit of campaign expenditure. Hyderabad-based Lok Satta, a non-governmental organisation campaigning against corruption, analysed that the high risk involved in election, the long gestation period required for aspiring ministers, and the high cost of future elections means that for every one rupee of expenditure for candidates, fifty to hundred rupees have to be recovered to sustain the system.

The organisation calculates that every one rupee spent on election expenditure normally leads to at least a five-fold return to politicians. It says to share five rupees with the political class, the rent seeking bureaucracy has to recover about Rs 50. And the ways and means of doing that is to delay permits and licenses, bribes, and harassment worth Rs 500. Similarly, Transparency International estimated that out the total of Rs 100,000 crore worth of black money in the country, over Rs 60,000 crore alone are spent on illegal political process.

Political parties often prefer to give tickets to the rich and influential who can garner their own source of funding. A CSDS study says that over 67 per cent of candidates contesting elections are very rich with large business interest or land holdings.

Former Union home secretary N.N.Vohra observed in a report that a network of mafias is virtually running a parallel government. The report was tabled and hailed in Parliament but the number of tainted MPs rose to 119 in the present Lok Sabha from 40 in the previous house. The condition of the states is even more alarming. The Election Commission in 1999 estimated that 700 out of 4072 legislators in various states are either history-sheeters or have been charge sheeted in criminal case, and the numbers are growing.

Analysing the phenomenon of corruption and Indian elections, Professor Robert Wade of London School of Economics wrote that the vicious chain of corruption has created a class of political and bureaucratic ‘entrepreneurs’ who treat public office as big business and are desperate to win through any means.

The winner often gets hardly 20-30 per cent of the total valid votes and as a result broad based public support is not recognized. Further, the question of electoral mandate has become complex with infinite fissionability of political parties resulting in fragmentation of the electorate mandate through the current system of first-past-the-post (FPTP) system in which the candidate with more votes wins, regardless of the share of the electorate that voted for him. To make the Lok Sabha more representative, the Law Commission in 1999 recommended replacing the FPTP method with a Proportionate Representation system.

Though political parties are an integral part in any democracy, a larger part of our systemic inertia lies in the lack of internal party democracy. Party positions are retained by the power of patronage rather than support of members and untainted talented people prefer to stay away from politics.

Recently when Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yen exhorted Infosys chief N.R. Narayana Murthy to enter politics and refashion it just as he had shaped his company, the IT czar said with a smile that managing a homogenous corporation is different from managing a diverse country like India. Democratisation of political parties will definitely enable people like Mr Murthy to participate actively in the political process.

It’s an irony, as the next story points out, that since 1951 no substantial legislation on electoral reforms has been passed despite many recommendations by several commissions.

First Published: Apr 07, 2006 00:06 IST