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Dialogue on Electoral Reforms in India

There is a dearth of alternative policies and current political and economic system is in deep crisis in absence of new alternatives. We are in dire need of new policies and reforms in various fields like judiciary, police, administration and most importantly politics. People For Nation (PFN) is of firm belief that electoral reforms is a gateway for all other necessary reforms and is a progenitor when it comes to political reforms.

In a representative democracy like India, political process is the medium through which people individually and collectively assess, negotiate and select suitable persons for entrusting certain responsibilities, along with appropriate powers and through which they continue to monitor and assess the ability, intent and performance of those persons in order to decide whether to continue to entrust them with the responsibilities and the power or seek alternatives. The political process of Indian democracy is facing acute crisis today. Criminalization and corporatization had badly affected the political process in last two decades. Money, mafia and muscle power have become the dominant precondition in the selection of candidates. Although Election Commission and efforts of other non-state actors through PILs have made some impact and tried to make conduct of elections in a free and fair manner, there is still a long way to go.

The electoral reforms are extremely important in a vibrant democracy as ours. The Tarkunde Committee report of 1975, the Goswami Committee report of 1990, the Election Commission’s Recommendation in 1998 and Indrajit Gupta Committee report of 1998 produced a comprehensive set of proposals regarding electoral reforms. The Election Commission has also started a number of new initiatives to cleanse the electoral process in India. It is a process to strengthen and improve the working of democracy through free and fair elections.

Complete over-hauling of the electoral processes for the largest democracy of the world, in order to bring transparency and accountability into the political system will be a gradual evolutionary progression, but there are certain immediate measures that can be taken to mark first successful step towards an attempt to cleanse our electoral system even if a little at a time. Some of the areas calling for urgent redressal within the election system are de-criminalisation of politics, political party’s reforms, state-funding of elections, and adoption of certain ingenious methods like ‘no-vote’ option.

There has been a vigorous debate on criminalization of politics and illegitimate use of excessive and unaccounted money power in elections. The Election Commission, the Law Commission, and various committees have studied these issues. There is no dearth of solutions. But all efforts at reform have been stymied for want of parliamentary action and political will. The political parties and successive governments are guilty of inaction in the face of a mounting crisis of legitimacy of the political process on account of criminalization and use of unaccounted money power.

After six decades of independence, it’s high time for a paradigm shift in electoral arena. Electoral Reform is a wide term and various organizations are working on the different aspects of the electoral reforms. Our effort would be to coordinate with these organisations to create a synergy in this direction. To begin with, we want to confine ourselves to some issues of electoral reforms which are:

• Minimum qualification of candidates

• Funding of political parties and candidates

• Criteria for national and regional parties

• Relevance of independent candidates

• Increasing voter’s participation

• Internal party democracy

At present we are going through studies, research documents and other materials available on issues mentioned above and anything on electoral reforms.

We are trying to mobilise people from different walks of life to shape public opinion by organizing brainstorming sessions with activists and experts working on these issues.

We are also preparing to organize a National Seminar on electoral reforms on 21st April, 2012.