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Summary of Interactive Session with Prof. Jagdeep Chhoker, Founding Trustee, ADR

(17th March 2012, Aravali Lounge, Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Prof. Jagdeep Chhoker preferred to have an all throughout interactive session with the people present in JNU. He started by analyzing the political situation of the day and the policies of the government for reforms in the election system. The various responses to the questions posed in the hour long interactive session were answered by Prof. Chhoker bringing in the issues of inner party democracy and financing of the political parties. Following is the summary of the responses and discussion that took place:

Prof. Chhoker pointed out that the ordinance regarding curbing the participation of criminals in the political system has come with hard struggle but it has failed to resolve the issue of criminalization in politics. Even after getting some laws in place the intended objective of decriminalizing politics in India could not be achieved. He observed that today more and more people with criminal records are entering into politics. Prof. Chhoker disapproved of government by saying that it is not government which brought these existing laws on electoral reforms but it was through the efforts of other agencies like election commission and Supreme Court that they came into being. In reality the [in]actions of government prove that it is not serious or not interested in bringing proper legislations which would help in curbing criminalization in politics.

He said that political parties have total control on deciding as to who will be their candidates. The freedom of choice of a voter is predetermined therefore and the choices of voter are constrained due to decision taken by the political parties. Therefore no citizen in reality has any choice or say in terms of deciding for whom to vote. He pointed out that historically if we examine elections from 1951 onwards the number of independent candidates is going down progressively. To day to get elected as an independent candidate unless a person is as affluent as some of the people elected in UP (he mentioned some of the names) in recently concluded elections, his/her chances are minimal. He also mentioned a very disappointing fact and a hard reality as to how political parties were demanding large sums in lieu of giving party tickets to candidates in elections. He further said that even if a normal activist any how gets a party ticket in the elections, his chances of winning were not so bright.

Prof. Chhoker also pointed towards an irony wherein if a candidate is able to win elections using rampant malpractices like liquor distribution or money distribution or by offering any other inducements, it remains a mystery that how such elected person would be able to vote against those same malpractices if a bill is tabled in assembly to eliminate them.

He further mentioned about a major concern plaguing our polity. According to him, not only the choice of voters is controlled by party, it also controls the representatives who are elected and who are forced to work according to the whims of the people who are at the top of the political party. The idea of ‘party supremo’ who is in total control of the party is in stark contrast with the just demand of internal party democracy. He raised a serious question when he asked that where is democracy in the institutions which themselves contest for democratic representation.

Prof. Chhoker presented a very grim view of our democracy when he said that our democracy is not as vibrant as we celebrate it when we proudly proclaim that we are the biggest democracy in the world. It has many serious flaws and they are evident at all the levels be it Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha or Panchayati Raj. He advocated that only when the political parties implement and practice democracy in their internal system, the principles of real democracy would be realized in our country. He recommended that the candidature should not be decided by party high command but by the voter of that constituency.

He said that democracy is not the panacea in itself. To elaborate further on this he cited the case of Hitler who was elected democratically in Germany and to that effect he also took certain decisions which could be said to be democratic. However, the consequences of those decisions were very dangerous and many people suffered because of them. Citing the example of Anna Hazare movement he said that it is not the parliament as a system which is corrupt, but it is the parliamentarians who are corrupt.

Prof. Chhoker said that at present almost 160 parliamentarians have criminal cases registered against them. This shows us as to where the problem of democracy lies. We can very well see that the representatives in the parliament have a full choice over voter, and the voter is helpless.

Moving further he questioned the finance of the political parties by asking some pertinent questions about the source of money received by the political parties. “Who gives it and where and how this money gets spent?” He suggested that if transparency about the financing of political parties could be ensured then it would be a great effort on the path of nailing corruption in the political parties. He said that right now transparency in the funding of political parties is totally blurred. A major area of concern expressed by him was that political parties are not willing to give the information regarding their income even if we want to know it through RTI.

He also took the issue of corporate funding and even the news of how money from gulf countries was being used in Uttar Pradesh elections. He explained that when global politics, national politics and regional politics are intricately linked, it becomes all the more necessary to take the issue of corporate funding seriously. This becomes important in the wake of corporate influence on the economic policies made by these parties which may not be in the best interests of common man.

He ended this interactive session by saying that for better politics in this country and for proper electoral reforms to take place, there is no alternative other than bringing transparency in the finances of the political parties and inculcating the principle of inner party democracy in their organizational structure.