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April 2019

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] The Lack of a Legal Status for the Model Code of Conduct Leaves Room for Ambiguity


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MCC

Mains level : Election commission has been less powerful in controlling misconduct in 2019 General Elections.


For the past few months, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has been brought under increasing scrutiny for its diffidence and deference to the ruling regime. The Election Commission is ceding space to the ruling party instead of innovatively enhancing the residuary powers bestowed upon it by Article 324 of the constitution.

Incidents of concession from ECI

  • Deferral of announcement of dates for the state assembly elections –  The ECI’s deferral of announcement of dates for the state assembly elections in five states in October last year, was largely construed as giving time to the prime minister to complete his public address in Ajmer, before the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) kicked in.
  • EVMs– More recently, the charges of EVM malfunctions and the ECI’s reluctance to check a more substantial proportion of VVPATs.
  • Not restraining political parties – and what appears to be its helplessness in restraining political parties – especially the ruling BJP – from violating the MCC, have diminished the stature of the ECI.

Model code of conduct

  • The MCC is an important mode through which procedural certainty and deliberative content of elections are assured.
  • A ‘firmed up’ MCC authorised by the ECI came into force in 1979.
  • Importance of MCC
    • Despite the fact that it emerged as a moral code for voluntary adherence, over the years the MCC has acquired ‘supplementary legality’
    • Since the MCC itself does not have the force of law, it is enforced through executive decision-making.
    • It remains, therefore, ambiguous and uneven as far as the modality of implementation and certainty of execution, are concerned.
    • Since 1991, the Model Code has come to be seen as an integral part of elections.
    • It was also during this period that the MCC experienced its passage from an ‘agreed set of dos and don’ts’ among political parties, to a measure directed at restraining the party in power.
    • James Lyngdoh, the CEC of India from 2001 to 2004, describes this transition as ‘pitching into the party in power’.

History of bureaucratic neutrality in Elections

  • Amidst allegations of misuse of official machinery by the ruling party, Nehru reminded all political parties to adopt the right means, in order to ensure fairness in electoral outcome. Speaking in Akola, in Maharashtra, Nehru reminded public servants to stay neutral.
  • The Bharatiya Jana Sangha addressed itself to the party in power, through the idiom of civil liberties. Speaking at the All India Civil Liberties Conference in Nagpur on 25th August 1951, Syama Prasad Mookerjee claimed that the protection of civil liberties was a component of free and fair elections.

ECI’s Role in present Elections

  • No legal sanction to MCC – The ECI has remained averse to giving the MCC a statutory character, preferring the advantage of ‘quick’ executive action and also to retain Article 324 as the source of its authority rather than re-assign it to a pre-existing parliamentary statute.
  • Political parties’ disregard –  MCC compliance deficit being witnessed in the 2019 elections reflects the political parties’ disregard towards the MCC, as well as the inability of the ECI to retain its constitutional advantage through constant vigilance and stern action.


  • In the past, successive ECIs have elicited compliance by public censure and invoking sections of the IPC and the Representation of the Peoples Act.
  • Elections have become the site of unprecedented display of money, muscle and technology as power.
  • Its concentration in any party gives it extraordinary and unfair advantage in electoral competition.
  • The ECI must guard against ceding the space which it has extracted and affirmed by innovatively enhancing the residuary powers given to it in Article 324 of the Constitution of India.





Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] The legacy of Ambedkar


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fundamental Rights

Mains level : Need for upholding Ambedkar's idea of Social Justice


Ambedkar believed that unless the moral values of a constitution are upheld, the grandiloquent words in it will not protect the freedom and democratic values of the people.

Ambedkar’s thoughts

  • Ambedkar attached great importance to constitutional morality in the working of the Constitution.
  • He explained this — by referring to Grote, the Greek historian — as paramount reverence for the forms of the Constitution, enforcing obedience to authority acting under and within these forms yet combined with the habit of open speech, of action subject only to definite legal control.
  • Question of whether the President was bound by ministerial advice and could act independently?
    • Ambedkar was of the opinion that the president was bound by ministerial advice, and, Rajendra Prasad, the chairperson of the constituent assembly, had protracted exchanges with Ambedkar on this issue.
    • Ambedkar was of the firm view that “the President could not act and will not act except on the advice of the Ministers.
    • These passages are reproduced in the landmark judgment of our Supreme Court in Shamsher Singh’s case, in which the Court accepted Ambedkar’s view.
    • Fundamental rights
      • Ambedkar was also passionate about the guarantees of fundamental rights being appropriately incorporated in the Constitution.
      • Guarantees of fundamental rights remain ornamental promises unless they can be judicially enforced: With that objective in mind, the draft Constitution provided that a person can move the Supreme Court directly for the enforcement of his or her fundamental rights without going through the high court.
    • On Democracy
      • On the concluding day of the deliberations of the constituent assembly, Ambedkar expressed his misgivings about the successful functioning of democracy in our country.
      • If we wish to maintain democracy the first thing in my judgment we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives.
      • It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha.
      • These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.
    • On Hero Worship -Ambedkar warned that Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.

Social Justice

  • Social justice was Ambedkar’s mission. He fervently believed that mere equality on paper was not sufficient.
  • What was needed was de facto equality, real equality of opportunity for the millions who had been denied it.
  • In ringing tones, on the last day of the constituent assembly, he pointed out the perils of a “life of contradictions”:
  • Cautions against inequality-
    • “How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.
    • We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of democracy which this Constituent Assembly has so laboriously built up.”

Way Forward

  • The anguished questions posed by Ambedkar continue to haunt us.
  • Social justice, the signature tune of our Constitution, still eludes us.
  • The struggle for social justice must continue with determination and its achievement would be the best tribute we can pay to one of the greatest sons of India.





Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] The ethical act of voting


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Understanding importance of voting


Voting is the duty of having to act not for individual benefit, but for the benefit of the larger society.

Human Nature

  • There is a puzzling trait that is pervasive and human.
  • It is that we often judge others with a different yardstick than with which we judge ourselves.
  • This is also part of a deeper human malaise: we think others are wrong and we are right in our beliefs and opinions. Elections exemplify these tendencies very well.

Sentiments during Elections

  • In the time of elections, we repeatedly hear these sentiments about other voters.
  •  Upper classes  – The upper classes will tell you that poorer citizens vote only to get benefits such as cash, clothes, television sets and other consumer goods.
  •  Majority group – The majority group will say that the minorities vote as a bloc since they have all been told whom to vote for.
  • These are seen as examples of voters not doing their duty of voting for the best person, namely, the best political representative who will govern well.
  • Ideological Approach – Those who support a particular party will say something similar about those who are voting for another party.
  • It is as if when people vote for money or as a vote bank, they are not doing what they should. But then it could also be argued that a person who blindly votes for one ideology or another is pretty much doing the same thing.

Getting paid for voting

1.Practice of gettin paid for voting

  • This practice is not only endemic across States but is also done quite brazenly in some places.
  • Party members go house to house and distribute money and other goods. This is done in the open and is a performance in itself.

2.Against Democracy

  • In the case of taking money or goods, voters see elections as a transaction.
  • This goes against a fundamental principle of democratic voting, which is that voting is not a transaction.
  • When we do a job for someone we don’t know, and which benefits that person, we generally expect to get paid for that act.
  • Voting is not a job – Voting is not a job in that sense. It is not a job which is eligible for some compensation.

3.Questions regarding voting

  • Are we voting for our own sake or for the benefit of others?
  • Does voting improve our well-being or that of others, the elected politicians?
  • Or is it that the ultimate purpose of an individual’s vote is to improve the well-being of the larger society?


  • If a person wins because of our votes, then he or she derives enormous benefit from being a member of the legislature.
  • The logic for getting Paid
    • Why can’t the voter who is enabling opportunity for another person’s wealth ask for a share in that wealth? If voters do so, then they are behaving rationally.
    • Giving money to voters is thus like an investment. The amount of payment to voters is really a measure of how much elected representatives hope to make during their tenure!
    • When we vote based on our ideology, we are following the same logic as those taking money.
    • When a group of rich people vote for a person who supports lower taxes, they are doing exactly the same as the poor, since voting is used as a transaction to get something they desire.

Way Forward

  • Voting is not a transaction – The fundamental problem lies in viewing voting as a transaction, the aim of which is to get some benefit for an individual or a group.
  • But we have to recognise that voting is not like any other transaction.
  • Voting is an ethical duty – The duty that is inherent in the act of voting is an ethical duty, not just a constitutional one.
  • It is the duty of having to act not for individual benefit, such as money or ideology, but for the benefit of the larger society.
  • For benefit of the larger society – Such benefit for the larger society will include others benefiting as much as each one of us does through each of our votes.
  • Beyond Self Interest – It is also a recognition that a democratic action like voting is primarily for the good of something larger than one’s self interests.





Electoral Reforms In India

Explained: What Supreme Court said on petition to disqualify tainted candidates


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Electoral Reforms: Prospects and Challenges


  • A famous religious head who has been chargesheeted in a bomb blast case is contesting the elections.
  • This has raised concerns amongst various section of society including Politicians as well
  • The legal bar on contesting applies only to individuals who have been convicted by a court.

Criminalization of politics

  • It is a political buzzword in the democracies used in the media, by commentators, bloggers as well as by defenders of high-ranking government officials who have been indicted or have faced criminal or ethical investigations.

Judicial Limitations over the matter

  • Though criminalization in politics is a bitter manifest truth, which is a termite to the citadel of democracy, be that as it may, the Court cannot make the law.
  • In Sept 2018, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court said that it was not within its powers to disqualify politicians facing criminal cases from contesting elections.
  • The Courts directions to the EC are of the nature as sought in the case at hand, may in an idealist world seem to be at a cursory glance, an antidote to the malignancy of criminalization in politics but such directions.
  • However on closer scrutiny, it clearly reveals that it is not constitutionally permissible.

What courts can do to prevent Criminalization?

  • The Court may Parliament to bring out a strong law whereby it is mandatory for the political parties to revoke membership of persons against whom charges are framed in heinous and grievous offences.
  • This, “in our attentive and plausible view”, the court said, “would go a long way in achieving decriminalization of politics and usher in an era of immaculate, spotless, unsullied and virtuous constitutional democracy”.

What about innocent accused?

  • It is one thing to take cover under the presumption of innocence of the accused.
  • It is true that false cases are foisted on prospective candidates, but the same can be addressed by the Parliament through appropriate legislation.
  • It is equally imperative that persons who enter public life and participate in law making should be above any kind of serious criminal allegation.

Way Forward

  • A time has come that the Parliament must make a law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter into the political stream.
  • The nation eagerly waits for such legislation, for the society has a legitimate expectation to be governed by proper constitutional governance.
  • The voters cry for systematic sustenance of constitutionalism should not be at the peril of lack of political will.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-APEC

External Affairs Ministry sets up Indo-Pacific Wing


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Significance of Indo-Pacific Region

  • India has just set up an Indo-Pacific division in the foreign office.
  • MEA’s territorial divisions are crucial for policy making, so the creation of an Indo-Pacific division is a big step by the government.

India-Pacific Wing

  • The brainchild of foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, the new division is intended to give a coherent architecture to the policy, which was articulated in the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2018.
  • The division will integrate the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), ASEAN region and the Quad to the Indo-Pacific table.
  • It is not clear whether the different trilateral groupings in the Indo-Pacific theatre, like the India-Japan-US, India-Australia-Indonesia and India-Australia-Japan would be part of this division’s responsibility.
  • The division will be headed for the moment by joint secretary for whom it will be an additional charge apart from Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Why such move?

  • The US recently renamed its Pacific Command to the Indo-Pacific Command as it seeks to give teeth to its Indo-Pacific policy.
  • In India, the policy will be run by the MEA, though it is expected that as it moves along, it will work with the defence ministry which runs its own Indo-Pacific policy.
  • For instance, Indian ships are currently touring Vietnam on a goodwill visit en route to China, while others are in Mozambique to provide relief.
  • While South Asia is wary of China, it is equally wary of the US and its allies, preferring to keep the region outside great power politics.
  • It is this that India wants to address and engage with.

Maintaining the regional spirit

  • India is planning to put greater energy to the IORA because the heart of its Indo-Pacific policy is rooted in the Indian Ocean.
  • This integrates the blue economy part of the Indian policy with the security part — a trilateral security mechanism between India, Sri Lanka and Maldives.
  • In its Indo-Pacific diplomacy, India has repeatedly placed Asean at the centre of its policy.
  • Singapore, Vietnam and now Indonesia are key partners in the region for India. This will also involve the Quad and taking this new grouping to the region.

Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

Proposed amendment to Indian Forest Act would deepen injustice


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Forest Rights Act

Mains level : Issues over Tribal Rights

  • Recently the Supreme Court, hearing a petition filed by wildlife conservationists and former forest department officials, directed state governments to evict “encroachers” or the “illegal” forest dwellers.
  • India’s forest dwellers were left undefended as the threat of an eviction from their habitation hovered over them.

Indian Forest Act, 1927 (IFA)

  1. The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was largely based on the British made Indian Forest Act of 1878.
  2. Both the 1878 act and the 1927 one sought to consolidate and reserve the areas having forest cover, or significant wildlife, to regulate movement and transit of forest produce, and duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.
  3. It also defines the procedure to be followed for declaring an area to be a Reserved Forest, a Protected Forest or a Village Forest.
  4. It defines what is a forest offence, what are the acts prohibited inside a Reserved Forest, and penalties leviable on violation of the provisions of the Act.
  5. Reserved Forest is an area mass of land duly notified under the provisions of India Forest Act or the State Forest Acts having full degree of protection. In Reserved Forests, all activities are prohibited unless permitted.

Ambiguity over Encroacher

  • As per the new draft, forest officials have been given the absolute authority to shoot tribals for “violation of laws”.
  • If a forest guard kills an “offender”, the move will invite no prosecution by the state governments without first initiating an inquiry into the matter under an executive magistrate.
  • Under the new amendment, forest departments can also declare any forest as reserved and alienate the forest-dwelling communities from their ancestral lands.
  • This will have a terrible effect on the tribal population, who are struggling to make both ends meet.

Democratic governance of Forests in India

  • During the 1980s and 1990s, at least the Centre showed some kind of sympathy for the tribals, as a result of which important legislations like FRA and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, or PESA, were enacted.
  • In India, forest governance has turned significantly democratic in the past few years.
  • Back in 1976, the National Commission on Agriculture recommended that the tribals should be chased out. On the basis of that, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 came into being.
  • However, through the National Forest Policy of 1988, the Centre recognised the symbiotic relationship between tribals and forests for the first time.
  • This was then consolidated with the passage of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, when the Centre agreed that historical injustice had been committed and tried to undo the wrong.
  • But with the proposed amendment, the injustice will be deeper.

History- Important places, persons in news

World Heritage Day 2019: Significance and this year’s theme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Rural Landscapes

Mains level : Not Much

World Heritage Day

  • The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in 1982 had decided to celebrate April 18 as as the International Day for Monuments and Sites or World Heritage Day.
  • Approved by UNESCO in 1983 during its 22nd General Conference, the day is dedicated to recognising sites of historical importance, raising awareness regarding them, and stressing on the need to restore and preserve them.
  • The day promotes cultural importance, while also highlighting the many impediments in doing so.
  • Every year, a theme is proposed for the day which guides the celebrations and the many activities that ICOMOS National and International Scientific Committees and by other bodies organise.
  • The theme for this year’s celebrations is ‘Rural Landscapes’, which is related to the theme of the 2019 ICOMOS Scientific Symposium on Rural heritage that will take place in Marrakesh, Morocco in October.

Rural Landscapes

  • ICOMOS defines rural landscape as, “Principles concerning rural landscapes as heritage”, adopted by the ICOMOS General Assembly in 2017.
  • Rural landscapes are defined as “terrestrial and aquatic areas co-produced by human-nature interaction used for the production of food and other renewable natural resources, via agriculture, animal husbandry and pastoralism, fishing and aquaculture, forestry, wild food gathering, hunting, and extraction of other resources, such as salt. Rural landscapes are multifunctional resources.
  • At the same time, all rural areas have cultural meanings attributed to them by people and communities: all rural areas are landscapes.
  • Rural landscape has been a site of both tangible and intangible heritage and has also helped in maintaining a balance between the environment and human activities.