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Electoral Reforms in India

- Subhash Kashyap, Constitution Expert

In representative democracy, common masses are ruled by people elected by them. In such a set up the election process assumes prime importance. It should be ensured that through elections capable candidates get elected and work selflessly in public interest. There are several problems that bother our electoral system but I think representational legitimacy is the foremost. Today, more votes are polled against a winning candidate. In this Lok Sabha there are 78% MP who got less vote than their opponents put together. We cannot call them true representatives because a majority of electorate voted against them. The problem lies in our electoral process. In my view a candidate should be considered elected if and only if he gets more than 50% votes of total votes polled. It has happened many times that the winning candidate got merely 15 to 20% votes. If a candidate secures 15% votes and wins elections why will he care for remaining 75% population? Political parties are also increasing rapidly. There are 1,350 political parties registered with the Election Commission of India.

The second major problem facing electoral process is financing of elections. Political system and electoral processes need a lot of funds to contest elections or to run day to day party activities. At the time of Independence and after, there were businessmen and industrial houses that funded the political parties. But now the situation has changed. Businessmen fund the parties only when the return on their investment is good. So there is a deal of give and take among them. They fund the parties so that they get easy access to license and contracts. They not only fund one party but all the major parties to maintain cordial relations. In today’s time, the day-to-day activities of political parties run into several crores, excluding the cost of elections. Payments are made to get tickets, to fight elections and even to garner votes. In a survey it was found that 34% people of a region took money to cast their votes. While the cost of elections has increased on one hand the financers are not ready to invest as much in each candidate or constituency. Their strategy is to offer finance for a project whosoever wins the elections. Consequently, candidates turn to other sources like local mafias, arms dealers, drug dealers etc for funding. These people fund elections since they are involved in illegal activities and live in fear of legal action. The money they put in elections works as insurance as the leaders are in turn expected to shield them from law. Earlier, people involved in illegal activities gave money and muscle support to political leaders. When money and muscle (bahubal and dhanbal) gained importance, people from criminal backgrounds started contesting elections themselves. There are 153-175 MPs in the current Lok Sabha who indirectly or directly have a criminal background.

Our electoral system also allows one to divide the community and reap political benefits from it. Politicization of caste is playing an important role in electoral politics today. In our country we strongly believe in diminishing the unity of the society on basis of caste and religion to get votes. It is difficult to find an Indian but very easy to find someone from Jat, Bhumihar, Rajput, Kurmi community.

People choose their representatives to “rule” over them so it is paramount that the right and responsible representatives get elected. Today, if one candidate has the support of 15-20% electorate, through money or muscle, then there is a 90% chance of winning. One can even garner votes by bribing people. The more divided the electorate is, the greater are the chances for a candidate to win.

Importantly, there is no lack of knowledge. There is a plethora of reports, suggestions and commissions working on the issue of electoral reforms. Yet those who have risen by exploiting weaknesses of the present political system and continue to benefit from it will never pitch for reformative measures. If we talk about women reservation there is no political party that wants inclusion of women. Some are vocal others are not but all are male-dominated and want to stay that way. If parties earnestly support reservation of women why don’t they increase women membership in their executive or why don’t they give tickets to women to contest elections.

Election of able candidates depends on what type of electorate is casting vote. An increase in the voting percentage will have only a marginal change. If any party secures 5% votes in more than half of the states they should be declared national party and if any party in state gets 5% votes it should be declared state party.

Voting should be a fundamental duty. There should be incentives attached to voting. For example you would get a certificate that would be needed to apply for passport if you vote. Such steps would bring about a drastic increase in voting percentage.

(This speech was delivered by Shri Subhash Kashyap on 3rd March, 2012 in a program organized by People For Nation)