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Report of Panel Discussion on Political Corruption and Electoral Reforms

A panel discussion was organized on the topic Political Corruption and Electoral Reforms on 1st April, 2012 in Noida. Swadesh introduced the subject of political corruption in India and electoral reforms and briefed about the objective and activities of the organization. The guest speakers invited for this talk were as follows:

Manish Kumar, Editor (Coordination) Chauthi Duniya

Narendra Nath: Special Correspondent, Nav Bharat Times (Election Commission beat)

Ashutosh Mishra, Transparency International

Manish Kumar
Manish was a little apprehensive about the awareness campaign among people with regard to electoral reform and thereby advocated for a complete change in the system. He opined that India is unique in terms of its culture, religion and spiritual being. Therefore for any system to work in this setting, it has to emanate from within this peculiar setting. However the system followed by us (structurally and in terms of the laws formulated) is not in consonance with the way of our living or thinking. He tried to locate most of the problems faced by us in this major issue.

He said that by merely making laws we are just treating symptoms rather than the problem. The reason for their incorrigibility lied in their utter disrespect towards the institutions and the usage of structural machinery (which was primarily designed for exploitation) for their vested interests.

Towards the end of the program there was a brief but engaging interactive session of the speakers and the audience and many valuable suggestions were received from them.

Narendra Nath
Narendra Nath started with the example of the Election Commission’s recommendation of cancellation of recent Rajya Sabha election for a seat in Jharkhand. Horse trading is not a secret anymore in Rajya Sabha elections. However, the most shocking thing in this whole incident according to him was unity of all the political parties against the cancellation of these elections. They were arguing that these kinds of incidents happen every time and why the cancellation was being done only this time. Narendra Nath opined that this is the greatest hurdle in the way of electoral reforms that parties are not agreed to reform an ongoing practice just because in past it was never done.

To reflect more on the issue he cited example of the assembly elections held recently in the 5 states. According to him only those parties or people are perturbed by the EC’s actions that are in power, be it Badal or Mayawati. Both of them were very vocal against the EC and openly challenged its authority.

He held that for years now electoral reform bill has been pending in the parliament and every year promises of getting it passed are not fulfilled. He urged the guests present to think over the reasons for this delay.

Proceeding further Narendra Nath raised the serious issue of ‘multi-dimensional approach of corruption’. He expressed his concern that political corruption is not only limited to parties (in terms of paying money to get ticket) or to giving money to the voters to get their votes. A new alarming phenomenon is very prevalent nowadays wherein voters are induced with things other than money. To prove his point he quoted the example of Punjab wherein liquor and drugs worth Rs.40 crores where seized during elections recently concluded. Further he also gave details as to how political parties can flout existing laws of EC. He pointed our attention towards the fact that campaigning in elections start nowadays well before the elections are even announced. Large amount of money is spent in this process which cannot be accounted in election expenditure since it was done before EC could come up with notification in this regard. He therefore concluded that mere framing of laws would not suffice until we adopt a pragmatic approach towards this problem.

Suggesting possible solutions he said that first we need to accept that reforms cannot be done at once. It is not a 45 days process, rather it is a dynamic and continuous process and we must take our strides in that direction incessantly. He also talked about the urgency of making people aware about the electoral reforms and how it may benefit them. He observed that right now we are away from public and are busy only in making laws to tackle the problem. This was half baked solution according to him. He strongly advocated for taking a non-partisan approach towards this problem and reaffirming public trust in the process of reform. He ended by suggesting that we also need to get pragmatic when it comes to the spending pattern of the parties. We can even allow them to spend whatever they wish, provided they give us the account for the source of money and the places where it was spent.

Ashutosh Mishra
Ashutosh started with saying that political corruption as a phenomenon can be seen across the world. However, when it comes to India there is a difference. In countries like Canada where black money originated from majorly three sectors i.e. defense, mining and real estate, in India almost all sectors where generating black money. He added to this a research result arrived at Transparency International that wherever socio-economic indicators are low, rate of political corruption is high.

According to him the major emerging concern was the financing of political parties by business houses in an increasing manner. He said that this was affecting both the party and the policies made by them.

Voter awareness was the need of time according to him. He asked us to introspect whether governance was an issue or not. He observed that there was general prevalence of voter apathy towards the system and their faith in system is going down day by day. He suggested that rather than bashing of political parties, we must concentrate on making governance as an issue among the voters and letting political parties respond to it. In an acute observation he said that very few NGOs as of now are making governance as their central agenda as compared to the number of NGOs talking about RTI.

In the same line of argument he also opined that when we talk of electoral reforms we must also take into account our socio-economic indicators and work accordingly.

Another major concern expressed by him was the nefarious nexus of media and business houses. They are influencing the politics of this country more and more powerfully to accomplish their vested interests. He revealed that a large amount of black money is being generated from here.
He concluded by saying that the most important thing to do was the empowerment of the voter and faith generation at the grassroots level. According to him constructive role of media and NGOs in this regard is need of the day.