Electoral Reforms In India

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Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Electoral Bonds

Mains level: The newscard briefly discusses the issue of party(political) funding. It also discusses some important court cases regarding electoral reforms.


News

Electoral reforms through the Supreme Court

  1. The Supreme Court has readily stepped in to introduce electoral reforms
  2. However, most of these interventions are directed at candidates, and rarely at the parties
    Lok Prahari v. Union of India:
  3. The Supreme Court’s recent decision on information disclosure paves a way for future constitutional interventions in India’s party funding regime, including the scheme of electoral bonds
    Association for Democratic Reforms v. Union of India (ADR):
  4. In 2002, the Supreme Court mandated the disclosure of information relating to criminal antecedents, educational qualification, and personal assets of a candidate contesting elections
  5. Now, the court has extended the disclosure obligation to further include information relating to sources of income of candidates and their “associates”

Voters’ right to know about their candidate

  1. The principled basis of the court’s decision is that voters’ right to know about their candidate is an extension of their freedom of expression
  2. Voters cannot be said to have freely expressed themselves (by voting) without having appropriate information about the candidates

Information on party funding

  1. Indian voter is deprived of information related to party funding
  2. The provision of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 exempts political parties from disclosing the source of any contribution below Rs. 20,000
  3. This gives political parties a convenient loophole to hide their funding sources by breaking contributions into smaller sums, even Rs. 19,999 each
  4. As a result, a vast majority of donations to political parties come from sources unknown to voters

Is the information about party funding relevant for a voter in choosing a candidate?

  1. Upholding the constitutionality of disclosure requirements for funding sources in Buckley v. Valeo , the U.S. Supreme Court held, “The sources of a candidate’s financial support also alert the voter to the interests to which a candidate is most likely to be responsive”

However, even if one assumes that parties do not fund their candidates, there is another rationale for disclosure of party-funding sources

  1. Parties occupy a special space in India when it comes to agenda setting
  2. By virtue of a strong anti-defection law in India, all elected legislators are bound by their party agenda
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