Too many committees but too little implementation so far
We, in India have been aware of the anomalies in our electoral processes. Since the seventies at least seven committees have recommended comprehensive roadmaps for reforms. But not a single report has been implemented so far. However, most of the changes are due to the civil society initiatives and increased public awareness.india Updated: Apr 07, 2006 00:06 IST
Government is a broker in a pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods.” American journalist Henry Louis Mencken could easily have been referring to the corruption in the Indian electoral system.
We, in India have been aware of the anomalies in our electoral processes. Since the seventies at least seven committees have recommended comprehensive roadmaps for reforms. But not a single report has been implemented so far. However, most of the changes are due to the civil society initiatives and increased public awareness. A 1999 PIL filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms culminated in an amendment to the Representation of People Act, 1951 (RPA) in 2002, making it compulsory for candidates to disclose their criminal antecedents, if any. To make the provision more effective, the EC has suggested a minimum of two years imprisonment for concealment of information.
Some committees noted that since electoral funding lacks transparency, mandatory disclosure of assets and auditing of accounts pushes expenditures underground. Therefore, the Indrajit Gupta Committee had recom mended partial state funding, in kind, to prevent the predominance of money power.
It is common knowledge that opaque electoral financing props unholy associations with wide consequences. To encourage transparency, corporate conglomerates like Aditya Birla group and the Tatas have set up electoral trusts for political funding. Since there is an inherent reluctance on the part of individuals and corporates to disclose the recipients, there is a strong case for making such measures mandatory.
To restrict the entry of criminals into politics, the Law Commission has suggested disqualification of offend ers following the framing of serious charges by a court, in addition to a pending trial or conviction. Here, only cases filed six months before an election were finally made the basis for disqualification. Another anomaly exists under the RPA, which permits a maximum six-year disqualification, allowing a criminal serving a 10-year sentence the freedom to contest elections from prison while serving his last four years! The lack of integrity and transparency at the party level leads to opaque governance. The Constitution has no section dealing with political parties unlike in Germany where parties are subject to guidelines enshrined in the “Law on Political Parties”. The Law Commission has called for similar provisions in India to institutionalise election of party functionaries, resolution of disputes, auditing of finances and selection of candidates.
Fragile majorities and coalition politics encourage defections, splits and horse-trading leading to proliferation and splintering of political parties. The Law Commission has suggested disallowing “splits” as per the 10th Schedule, and the NCRWC suggests repealing the anti-defection law that has only helped to legalise and institutionalise group defections. To prevent political rewards for defectors, it also recommended a bar on ministries larger than 10 per cent of the house.
Electoral malpractices mostly occur with the collusion of government officials. Clause 7 of Section 123 of the RPA lists seeking assistance from certain government officials as a corrupt practice. The EC has recommended expansion of this list to include all electoral officials, with a ban on their transfer once an election has been declared.
Crucial modifications have helped improve the electoral process but more of these proposals need to be implemented for better fairness and transparency. A reasonable debate and timely action plan for effective execution of these can do away with the need for more.