PM Modi recently advocated for simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. This has set off the debate over the long pending electoral reforms in the country.
Let’s see the historical background of Electoral Reforms
Over the last 6 decades, the Election Commission (EC) had managed to make the world’s largest democratic process free and fair.
It is more often the case in India that the executive had not shown much interest on this very subject, which created space for judiciary to intervene. Experts argue that electoral reforms in India are driven more by judicial pronouncements.
Let’s see some of them –
- In 2002, SC directed that all the contesting candidates will have to furnish all personal information, including the criminal record at the time of filing nomination papers
- In 2013, SC held that under Sec 8(4) of RPA, 1951 – A legislator shall be disqualified automatically from being a member of the house, if he is convicted and sentenced for 2 or more years of imprisonment in a court of law < Appeal to higher court will not provide relief to legislator, which was the case earlier >
- In another judgment in 2013, SC gave the citizens – ‘Right to negative vote‘ during elections, which came to be known as NOTA ( None of the above)
- In 2014, SC directed the trial court to dispose off the criminal cases involving MPs and MLAs/MLCs within 1 year, after the charges are framed by court of law
So, let’s revisit the recent issues related to electoral reforms, which were making headlines in the country in the recent past:
State Funding of Elections
It basically means that govt. extending financial assistance (cash/kind) to political parties (partly/fully) for contesting elections. The objective is to control and eliminate outside pressure over govt. policies and functioning by vested interests.
It will also help in controlling the flow of unaccounted money and muscle power during elections and control the levels of corruption in public life.
The voting in elections to Lok Sabha and Assembly are optional in India, but it is compulsory in 33 countries of the world including Brazil, Australia, Egypt, etc
The Gujarat Local Authorities Law ( Amendment) Act 2009, has made voting compulsory in local bodies election.
Bringing Political Party under RTI Act
In 2013, Central Information Commission (CIC) held that National Political Parties (NPP) are public authorities within the meaning of Sec 2(h) of RTI Act and directed them to appoint public information officer to provide necessary information as required by the citizens.
However, all the 6 NPP had defied the direction of CIC on the ground that they are not public authorities within the meaning of RTI Act.
Financial Restriction on Spending
The basic rationale behind imposing the official limits on expenditure is to provide a level playing field. This is criticized as the resources are limited, candidates are not able to convey their message and thus voters are not able to make informed choice.
The bigger problem is that candidates rely almost completely on unaccounted cash from undisclosed donors. This also negates the transparency initiatives of the EC.
Voting Rights for Prisoner’s
According to a SC judgment, prisoner’s are second-class citizens and therefore it is necessary to exclude their polluting influence from the sanctity of democratic process. It is criticized on the account that there is no-offence/ sentence based classification. It does not distinguish between prisoners, under-trials and those in lawful custody.
Use of Aadhaar
The Aadhaar no. has the potential to resolve the issue of migration and thus avoiding duplication < It makes possible to enrol a person in one polling station and simultaneously remove his name from a different polling station. Currently, this process is very cumbersome, giving rise to multiple voter cards for a single person>
It will also facilitate easy incorporation of minors in the electoral rolls, once they turn 18 < Aadhaar is also issued to Minors>
It is basically the commercialization of news content for revenue generation by print/electronic media. It is essentially a advertisement which is disguised as professional news and published in media with the purpose of misleading the general public.
EC wants the paid news to be made electoral offence with not less than 2 years of imprisonment so that such individuals are disqualified from contesting elections.
Now, let’s come to recent issue of simultaneous elections
Debate on Simultaneous Elections?
Current System: The current system of election increases accountability as representatives are worried about fighting elections and winning it. It also gives boost to the economy, creating work opportunities for people at different levels, especially the grassroots section.
Need : Administrative issues arising out of frequent and successive elections such as the provision of Model Code of Conduct comes into play. The cost of election has also gone up along with issues such as communalism, caste conflicts, crony capitalism, etc.
Challenge: Constitutionally, it will be impossible to implement this mandate as issues like this come up, where central govt. falls, then entire state assemblies have to be dissolved too or vice versa.
Published with inputs from Pushpendra