Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] The unfinished agenda of electoral reforms


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: Not much

Mains level: The newscard briefly discusses some important transparency issues related to the Finance Bill 2018.


Main issue related to the Finance Bill 2018

  1. In 2014, the Delhi high court found both the BJP and the Congress guilty of having accepted donations from a foreign company, in breach of FCRA 2010
  2. So, last year, the Finance Bill sought to modify the definition of a “foreign company”, which potentially renders the guilty verdict as null and void
  3. But that still left open the possibility of a breach of the older law, which was in force till 2010
  4. So, to eliminate any culpability on that count, Finance Bill 2018 simply backdated the amendment to 5 August 1976
  5. This is classic retrospective amendment trickery, which the present government had forsworn

No action on suggestions given by the Chief Election Commissioners (CEC)

  1. The CEC wrote a letter with details of desirable electoral reforms to the then prime minister in July 2004
  2. That had a list of 22 actionable items which required parliamentary action
  3. But no action resulted
  4. Again in December 2016, the CEC compiled another list, incorporating the old one, and requested Parliament to enact reforms

Institutional issues

  1. Clean politics requires clean funding, and clean candidates
  2. This cannot be ensured by the EC alone
  3. Even the expenditure limits for candidates are prescribed by Parliament, and not by the EC
  4. The data for past several elections, both national and state-level, shows that candidates barely spend 50% of the permissible limit
  5. But clearly a lot of money does flow during elections, and if it not reported, it is illegal and unaccountable by definition

India is not the only country facing the same issues

  1. The issue of cleaning up of campaign finance is global and almost every democracy is struggling with it
  2. But India is far behind global benchmarks, imperfect as they may be
  3. For instance, parties in India so far have even resisted coming under the ambit of Right to Information law

The way forward

  1. With the Finance Bill retrospective amendment, even foreigners may be able to fund politics in India, who knows
  2. Just when the US is grappling with allegations of foreigners “hacking” their presidential elections, India seems to have enabled this
  3. Therefore, we should seriously consider the issues discussed above
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