Election Reforms in India and Challenges before the Election Commission

Introduction

India is often referred as a vibrant and vigorous democracy. But just because we have elections regularly, or rather far too often, does not necessarily mean that we have an effective democracy. Election can be defined as a system by which voters or electors, select their representatives by casting of votes. It is a cardinal necessity of every democracy and Right to Vote is a Constitutional right of its citizens. The Constitution of India provides for an Election Commission of India which is responsible for superintendence direction and control of all elections. It is responsible for conducting elections to both the Houses of Parliament and State Legislatures and for the offices of President and Vice-President.

Inconsistencies in the Election System in India

India has experienced an epoch of elections for innumerable times and has undergone great transition crossing several upheavals, engrossed with numerous discrepancies. The way our legislature and State assemblies function, does not make us proud. One of the major causes for the unruly and unproductive functioning of the legislatures is the quality of people who find their way into the legislatures. The birth of scourges like communalism, corruption, under-development, poverty, etc. can be attributed to the unethical practices, our leaders indulge in.

There persists a big swarm of burning issues hampering the democratic piousness and productive representation in our Indian society. The rampant issues bulging out as a handicap to election process are-

The elections today more or less have become an ambitious investment venture, where everyone wants to try their hand at. Therefore each and every step of election process is packed with loads of inaptness as discussed below.

History of Election Reforms in India

The journey of corruption in election process did not befall all of a sudden but gradually in a time span of several decades. Initially the requirement of money was felt for campaigning and since the majority voters were illiterate masses so, electioneering was required to be on a large scale. The candidates fetched support, aid and finances from criminals and muscle men. Generation and accumulation of money requires a robust support from the bureaucracy and these tend to encompass the bureaucracy too in the political web. After a while the criminals involved in non- bail able and cognizable offences themselves started participating in politics since they could easily win the elections by threats and coercion. The battle of ballot became battle of bullets. And when these kinds of people aspire to become the part of our honorary legislature, what better reforms can we expect from our government?

Election commissionTaking cognizance of these serious shortcomings several commissions came up with the proposal for reformation of Electoral process in India including Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms 1990, Vohra Committee Report 1993, Indrajit Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections 1998, Law Commission Report on the Electoral Laws 1999, National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution 2001, Election Commission of India with Proposed Electoral Reforms, 2004 and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission 2008. These committees first outlined the alarming divergence and irregularities of the Election process and then made recommendations for its implementation.

Challenges before the Election Commission and the Steps taken

Taking into consideration the major contentions pertaining to the unruly conditions of electoral system, several issues were highlighted.

Criminalisation of Politics

Criminalisation of politics has many forms, but perhaps the most alarming among them is the significant number of elected representatives with criminal charges pending against them.  In 2005 elections of Bihar, out of 385 candidates 213 were found to be alleged of non- bail able and cognizable offences. Obscuring of the facts and criminal records acts an as an impediment to the fair election process. In order to combat the said anomaly, the Vohra Committee Report on Criminalisation of Politics was constituted to spot the degree of the politician-criminal nexus and suggest conduct to combat the menace. It stated “The nexus between the criminal gangs, police, bureaucracy and politicians has come out clearly in various parts of the country and some political leaders become the leaders of these gangs/armed senas and over the years get themselves elected to local bodies, State assemblies, and national parliament.” The election commission projected that any attempt to obscure the antecedent illegal evidence under Rule 4A of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 was to be punishable with imprisonment for two years or more, in a pending case in which charges have been framed by the Court. The cases where the accused was convicted for an offence other than any of the offences mentioned in Section 8 of Representation of the People Act, 1951, and sentenced to imprisonment for one year or more, led to imposition of penalty under section 125A of the Representative of People Act, 1951 to provide for more severe punishment for two years imprisonment or imposition of fine.

The National Election Commission proposed that candidates alleged of serious crimes whose punishment exceeded 5 years shall be disqualified by the Court of law. And where the year of imprisonment was six years under Sec. 8 of R.P. Act, 1951 an inhibition of 6 years from contesting elections. During the 13th Lok Sabha elections candidates having criminal cases against them numbered 12 in Bihar and 17 in Uttar Pradesh. Although, whatever may be done to prevent a criminal from contending elections no single step is taken to put a restraint on the representatives who have already been elected, having a criminal record. Therefore, the law breakers are sitting in the parliament as law makers.

Financing of election exceeding the legal limit

The issue of financing of election exceeding the legal limit has adverse repercussion creating compulsion for corruption in public arena. The instance of “Hawala Scam” which unleashed several high profile politicians involved in the perpetrating booth capturing, rigging of elections and aiding dreaded criminals and muscle men. In order to tackle this issue the national election commission proposed the legal limit or ceiling of the election expenditure to be fixed at a reasonable rate taking into cognizance the present economic scenario concomitant with disclosure of assets and state funding too. Other than that, the EC appoints expenditure observers to keep an eye on the individual financial records of election outlays made by contestants, during election campaign. In pursuance of an order of the Supreme Court judgment, in the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties & another vs. Union of India [(1997) 1 SCC 301] case, the EC apprehended for electoral office to submit mandatorily, an affidavit disclosing his assets and liabilities. The 2004 report of the Election Commission acknowledged that political parties were required to make public their financial statement. Therefore, refinement of elections is the imperative itinerary by which corruption and maladministration can be cramped. It would not be wrong to say that the whole superstructure stands on the infrastructure of corruption.

Booth Capturing

The issue haunting the electioneering process is Booth capturing, by which the parties patrons try to manipulate and the number votes in their votes. The tampering of electoral rolls in the elections is done on large scale. To curb such activities the election commission has laid down guidelines to ensure if any booth capturing is going on the returning officer is to notify it to the election commissioner and apt decisions would be taken to declare the polling in that area to null and void.

Buying Votes

The practise of enticing the voters by distribution of stuffs in cash and kind to the masses are done since they form the major chunk of the voter bank. To the extent they are also served with liquor and drugs to gather votes, thanks to the slothful and sluggish people. And if these tricks don’t fetch votes then intimidation and coercion serves as the last resort. By manipulating, tampering of electoral rolls or by use of force, intimidation and coercion the process of rigging of election has been quite successful down the line of several decades. The National Election commission directed the returning officer, civil society and any person to intimate about booth capturing or any kind of rigging to the commission to take strong action against the perpetrator of anarchy under section 58 A of Representation of people Act, 1951.

Abuse of Caste and Religion

The question of abuse of caste and religion is of greater magnitude. The political parties tend to allow only those candidates to fight elections who can muster the minority groups and castes to their favour. Communal loyalties are used at the time of election campaigning to attract the minority voters. And it is very well observed that the electorates too cast their vote taking into consideration the case and religious prejudices. The National Election Commission also commended about the paradigm of ‘Neutral Voting.’ This concept states that if the voter does not find any candidate suitable, he may get the ‘Right to Reject’ also with the management of every EVM’s (electronic voting machine) having option in the end as ‘None of the above.’ The basic notion behind this paradigm is to bring transparency in the election process but it has not been implemented yet due to various issues involved (Read further on Right to Reject)

First –Past- the- Post- System: Legacy of Colonialism

One of the basic reasons for these many inconsistencies is the structural defect in the procedure of election. The process followed in our country is first –past- the- post- system. The ideal principle of election is the ‘majority rules principle’, whichever party gets more than 50 % votes emerge out to be victorious in the polling. But the principal followed in our country i.e., the First-past –the-post-system is based on irrational ground. Since, according to this principle a person can win elections even if the margin is less than 100 votes and the party which gets just 30% – 35% votes will count to emerge victorious in the elections. Hence he or she cannot be the choice of majority. The National Election commission therefore, proposed to replace this system with two staged election. If no candidate gets majority more than 50% then second round will take place consisting of top two candidates and whoever gets more than 51% shall be deemed elected.

Initiatives by the Election Commission

Other than dealing with challenges faced in the election process, the Election commission lays down the model of Code of conduct, since it is the custodian of fair and free elections. But the harsh reality is that political parties never obey the code of conduct.

The predicament is not lack of laws, but want of any strict execution. In order to squash out this iniquitous inclination, there is a need to reinforce the hands of the EC and to give it more officially authorized and institutional powers. The EC must be delegated with powers to penalize the wayward politicians who go astray and disobey the electoral laws.

The Commission has taken numerous new initiatives in the recent past. Prominent among these are, a scheme for Electronic Media as a medium for broadcast by Political parties, checking criminalization of politics, computerization of electoral rolls, providing electors with Identity Cards, un-complicating the formula for maintenance of financial records and filling of the same by candidates. A multiplicity of channel for stern compliance of Model Code of Conduct provided a level for contestants during the elections. And this is the rationale why the EC has been operational for the renovation of the election process since it came into motion. It is apparent from the varying electoral system is full of upheavals but the demand of time is to preserve and strengthen the Democracy.

Conclusion

Reform is not single time effort but a continuous process. The accomplishment of the modification would depend upon the operational compliance of the coordination of electoral machinery, the political parties, the candidates and electorate at all levels. Over the years, the Election Commission has handled a number of issues and accomplished commendable electoral reforms to fortify democracy and augment the even-handedness of elections. These alterations are ample and venerable. Undeniably, the election machinery, under the sponsorship of the EC, justifies its credibility for organising elections in a free and fair method. Nevertheless, our system is still overwhelmed with many vices and these can be combated by the tripartite support of the candidates, electorates and the Election Commission of India.

Article by-

Sia Shruti

Student, Chanakya National Law University, Patna

REFREENCES:

1)      National Seminar on Electoral Reforms, Calcutta, 17th Nov, 2000

2)      J, Balaji, “EC keen on poll reform to decriminalize politics: Quraishi”, The Hindu, New Delhi, Nov 19, 2011

3)      “Criminals can be kept away from legislature: Qurashi”, New Global Indians™

4)      Jagdeep S. Chhokar, “The Citizens Right to Know Electoral Reforms: key to Effective Democracy”, The citizen

5)      Raja, CPI Leader, “Right to reject”, The economics times, Times of India.

6)      patricia mukhim, “The statesmen Electoral reforms and democracy”, 19 June 2011

7)      http://lawmin.nic.in/ncrwc/finalreport/v2b1-9.htm

8)     Background paper on Electoral Reforms, Legislative department , Ministry of Law and Justice, Govt. of India, Dec, 2010

9)  Vivek Ramkumar, “Beyond Democratic Rights and Electoral Reform Campaigns: Challenges facing Non Party Political Movements”

10)   S.K. Rakesh, “Challenges in the Management of Electoral Rolls, C.E.O., Bihar

Picture Courtesy: rediff.com

By Sia Shruti on March 23, 2012 · Posted in Governance and Democracy

11 Comments | Post Comment

Prachi says:

very well written article Sia… “Right to Reject” is the need of the hour but in the nation like ours I doubt it will ever see the light of the day … !!!

Posted on April 1st, 2012

sia shruti says:

Thanks Prachi, your conviction about the paradigm of ‘right to reject’ is not altogether wrong. but surely we have a hope or two to annihilate this apprehension. Only if we could have politically aware masses realizing the importance of the venerated tool they have in their hands, can we dream of a better future concomitant with appropriate responsible and responsive authorities. !

Posted on April 4th, 2012

krishna kumar patel says:

thank u so much sia for providing us such an excellent material, actually i was looking for the information about the initiatives taken to reform electoral system of india and the problems which indian electoral system is facing now a days.

Posted on April 8th, 2012

sia shruti says:

thanks krishna kumar patel for such a worthy acknowledgment.!

Posted on April 11th, 2012

yatharth says:

Thats really a good article… enjoyed reading it…. the big thing is that u have been clear about what u want to explain…

Posted on April 24th, 2012

sia shruti says:

Thanks Yatharth for such a sporting and encouraging appreciation.

Posted on April 27th, 2012

Ram Prabhu says:

Wonderful article.Very detailed and articulate.Having author’s such as yourself augurs well for the nation…Jai Hind.

Posted on October 4th, 2012

hemen parekh says:

VotesApp

Here is a suggestion to IIT-Bombay , to develop a voting app , to be called VotesApp. Highlights of VotesApp :

 An Android app which can be downloaded from Google Play / Android Zoom / GetJar and the official web site of Election Commission of India

 It will be pre-loaded on 220 million Aakash tablets which Govt of India plans to distribute to students

 It will also be pre-loaded on those Smart phones ( to be called, “ Dharati “ ? ), which Govt of India plans to distribute free to 400 million “ poor “ Indians , before 2014 National elections

 All tablet / smart phone manufacturers will be encouraged to pre-load VotesApp

 Using this app , a voter can register at Election Commission web site, where he will enter the same data which he has submitted for his Aadhar card, including Aadhar card number (Unique Identification No)

 All of these details will be verified by Aadhar database

 Obviously , those who have not obtained their Aadhar card , will not be able to use VotesApp . They will need to visit nearest polling booth

 Upon correct verification , Aadhar Database will permanently link the person’s Aadhar number with the mobile number from which registration is done, and issue a Password

 An under aged person will not be allowed to register

 A person will be able to vote only from that mobile number

 After login on first screen, user will be asked to select one option from > Panchayat Election > Municipal Election > State Assembly Election > Lok-Sabha Election

 Upon selection, user will be presented with the list of candidates contesting , from which , he can select only one by ticking a checkbox. There will be also a choice , labeled “ None “

 A long press on a candidate’s name will display details of his declared assets as also his criminal record

 After ticking / selecting a candidate, voter will click on “ VOTE “ button, whereupon his vote gets registered and VotesApp gets inactivated

 Once a voter registers on Election Commission web site , he cannot go to a poling booth and vote physically

 In less than one year , Govt of India will recover the cost of 220 million Aakash tablets and 400 million” Dharati “ smart phones , through this customized / personalized / shrinking of EVMs ( Electronic Voting Machines ) to a hand-held device. And imagine the millions of man-hours saved !

 And the beauty is , no one can capture this booth , or conduct exit polls ! What will “ experts “ discuss on TV channels ?

 What next ? Election Commission “ licensing “ VotesApp to other countries ?

With regards
hemen parekh
http://www.CustomizeResume.com
Jobs for All = Peace on Earth

Posted on December 21st, 2012

RUCHI GUPTA says:

Your idea is really gud but many problen can be had like politics. its such a nice idea to save our time

Posted on August 12th, 2013

hemen parekh says:

Whose Bapu ?

There was a time
When you were our Bapu,
A Mahatma ;

For a life-time long
A tortured Atma ;

To wash away the sins of your children
You died a martyr’s death ;

Now those very children
Have opened-up a shop
To sell ” Gandhi-ism ” ;

They are even maintaining
Two separate books of accounts,
One for income from ” Unknown Sources “,
Strictly as required by the law !

Even out of curiosity
Do not venture
Anywhere near ;

No one will recognize you
Without your NSG / Z+ bodyguards !

And children from city slums
Will chase you , shouting ,
” Ben Kingsley , Ben Kingsley “,

And when they ask you for your autograph ,
Do not sign,
” Mo Ka Gandhi ” !

Just pretend that you are Ben Kingsley,
TV cameras , Reporters , Anchors
Will follow in your footsteps ;

Just forget that
You were our Bapu !

————————————————————————————-
Free translation from my Gujarati poem , dated 30, Jan 1984
————————————————————————————-

* hemen parekh ( 13 Nov 2013 )

Posted on November 13th, 2013

manoranjan shukla says:

please check the information , right to vote is not a constitutional right, its a statutory right…
good effort

Posted on April 7th, 2014