By S Paul
The next five yearly test of our democratic system is impending. We are all aware of the degeneration that has taken place in the process of electioneering before, during and after the vote for preference has been cast. Many renowned thinkers and theorists of our nation have been desiring electoral reforms but no one has yet challenged the system except a part of it called the EVM (Electronic Voting Machines) now being used along with VVPAT (Voter verifiable paper audit trail); that too by those who lose the contest. This could be the natural reaction of any loser to find fault in the system be it of any kind.
However, it is not only the method of voting but the procedure, rules and ethics of electioneering that are needed to be rectified if we are to become the ideal democracy of the world. From time to time many have brought out various aspects of the electioneering which they felt needs reconsideration. I too had published some points in this exclusive journal published on 24 December 2018. The extract of which is as below:
1. The tenure of any minister in any government should not be more than 10 years or two terms. After this the politician may be kept in the party, only as party official/worker/adviser but should not hold any portfolio in any government. Surely, in a nation of 1.3 billion there is no lack of talented leaders.
2. While the politician is holding office in a government and as long as he/she is active in politics, none of his/her kin should be allowed to join or become politically active, lest it becomes a ‘family’ occupation of power.
3. Before any politician is made to enter the sanctum-sanctorum, he/she should undergo a strictly conducted course on parliamentary etiquette and behavior inside the House when in session.
4. Our parliamentarians must be made to wear some kind of respectable and sober uniform before entering parliament. All kinds of dresses in the name of national or religious garb should not be allowed. None other than the Sikhs and Muslims may be permitted to sport beards. No scrubby unkempt member should be permitted to enter.
5. Talking out of turn without the permission of the chair, raising one’s voice, walking down towards the Well of the House, carrying and holding any banner or placard inside the parliament should be very strictly banned. Any one breaking this code should be unceremoniously manhandled by the marshals and taken out of the House or suspended by the Speaker.
6. Second time defaulters of the decorum of parliament should be banned for the entire session. If such a parliamentarian persists in defaulting, he/she should be banned from entering parliament for life.
7. If a party or a group of ministers behave like this, their elected status should be revoked and fresh elections for their vacant posts should be ordered by the CEC only when due in normal course.
8. Independent candidates for any elections mean a very obvious business gamble. A successful independent candidate has a lot of bargaining power with the party which needs his/her support. Only those with wealth can fight elections independently. If this is allowed to prevail, soon the government would be full of independently elected cum rich businessmen or industrialists or mobsters or smugglers and the common junta would be enslaved under their autocratic authority.
9. It is paradoxical that a minister with no knowledge or experience of a particular ministry is made in charge and put as a boss to professional bureaucrats/technocrats. Take railways, defence, health, education, agriculture and science & technology ministries. Are there no suitably qualified politicians? Is it because none of our knowledgeable citizens ever try to get into politics? If they DO, they are NEVER given the charge of these portfolios. Why? This trend must change. Most established and advanced nations have this system so that the bureaucrats do not prevail and take advantage of their ignorance.
10. No citizen howsoever eloquent or able to lead a mass of people by his/her muscle and money power, but having a criminal record and who has been subject to a penalty under the law, should be allowed to stand for elections ever.
11. How come that flouting black cat Commandos as guards has become a status symbol with our ministers? Are they all targets of terrorists? I feel they have this excuse only to protect themselves against those they rubbed the wrong way when they were street fighters and fledgling politicians. Or are they afraid of dying or getting injured for the sake of the nation and being martyred? Their mantle of such protection only makes them more inaccessible to the same people who put them there. Thus isolated they tend to lose touch with the needs of the common people. This practice should cease. VIP culture in governance should be eradicated. How come the Janata-ke-Sevak are allowed to become Janata-ke-Maalik?
12. Is it utterly necessary for us to have students unions? They are students, to acquire education NOT political expertise. For our young ones to taste the headiness of politics, their participation should be confined only at post graduate levels. At the tender impressionable age their exposure to the kind of politician backed unionism only pollutes them and makes them arrogant, assertive without control and evokes rowdyism. Some of them leave their education to become fulltime politicians.
13. We, the electorate, get confused in voting for the right candidate at the time of elections. The confusion is caused not only by the ‘quality’ of the candidates but more due to the ‘quantity’ of candidates fighting the elections. Over the years, only quantity has increased not the quality. The quality as of truly exemplary leaders who are unselfish, knowledgeable, of unblemished character and intense social workers has been diminishing and money-muscle wielding (dadas) have increased. I feel this has been aggravated due to the fact that any person with a following of 5000 supporters can start a new party as per our election norms. Having so many parties in the field also upsets the mathematics of governments to be effective. Coalition type of governance has caused so much corruption and mayhem at the centre and at state levels. Consequently, the malady of ‘scams’ has come to beset such coalition governance. Therefore, the time has come for us, the electorate, to put our foot down and ask for banning of all parties except, as per the political ethos, one party of the Right, one of the Left and one the moderates and only one more as the local party at the state level. All others must join the right or left or the moderates.
14. It was generally assumed that the President and his team of Governors and Lt Governors was a parallel governing system available under the constitution in case of collapse of elected governments. Hence, the President and Governors were to be from the administrative or scholarly back grounds not having any political leanings. We had our famous Presidents like Dr S Radhakrishnan and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, etc., and a number of Governors from retired IAS-IPS or Defence Services or Technocrats or Scholars. But we have now seen that increasingly a Politician loyal to a party is made to fill up these posts. This trend should be banned because the parallel system should be apolitical when the political systems fail. The bureaucrats and others are capable of running the nation expertly till a new political government is formed.
15. Digitalisation of our voting system has not made it tamper proof or invulnerable to hacking. The simple logic is that if an EVM can be opened and reset for a batch of candidates then it can be made to favour a particular one, too. The only way is to make disposable EVMs for each election; the setting of which can be done in front of the representatives (electronically qualified) of the candidates and sealed permanently. The expense of creating such a system would exceed that of using paper ballots. EVMs attached to VVPAT (Voter verifiable paper audit trail) are also capable of being doctored. Therefore, even though our governments boast of this most modern electioneering technique, most other nations have not adopted it. Those who did have gone back to paper balloting. Hence, after experimenting with this method even those political parties who had introduced this are demanding return to paper ballots only. The used ballot papers can be recycled as any other waste paper. Recycling of disposable or disused EVMs would be more hazardous and expensive.
16. Corruption in politics has gone deep into the system by which even manipulating the voters list has started. Those who are eligible do not find their names but the list has voters who are even minors or are no more alive. The voter’s card now linked with Aadhar Card has failed to get rid of this menace because there is likelihood of bungling at the source that is the election commission’s office, where these lists are printed. A joke is being circulated in the social media about an old man turning up to vote when the official in the booth who recognises the voter looking at his list asks, “Uncle you did not come with Auntie, she has already voted and gone?” The old man replies, “That is the tragedy of my life. She died 15 years ago but even now when she comes and votes I am unable to meet her.”
17. It is a very irksome practice in our democratic set up that there are too frequent elections at many levels of governance. The diversion of government’s machinery, stoppage of routine works ( including teaching in schools), processions, ‘horse-trading’, noise pollution and citizens’ time spent in standing in queue and voting; all this at great national expense, is not a sign of a healthy disciplined democracy.
18. We do not lack citizens aiming to come and rise in politics. And the election is the only means that helps them to come into active participation. But it is seen that our senior and older politicians, in order to make sure that they win another time, manage to get tickets from 2 or even 3 constituencies. If they win from all these constituencies the politician then chooses which to retain and which one to ‘dump’. The latter lot then is cheated of their choice and a re-election is ordered costing the tax payer and making a mockery of the electorate. This trickery must be banned. Instead, younger talented qualified individuals should be picked up by the political parties and fielded for elections and used for cleaner governance.
I would like to add another very basic issue that of ‘Financing an Election’. Both the Public as well as Private financing must be considered. The national exchequer bears the expenses of organising the process of voting. More frequent elections at state and national level does tax the effort which invariably translates into expenses which drain the national treasury. There is the frequent increase in the allowances of the MPs and MLAs and then their pensions (as if being elected is a regular government job). Then we have additional expenses of providing the status symbol of having government paid body guards to each one of them according to their security category. Is it not a sign of a failed democracy in which the peoples’ representatives are cut off from the same people by a mantle of security?
There is no check and audit of the funds that the politicians and parties accumulate; except voluntary declaration at the time of elections. What are the sources of such funds? Drugs and extortion? Smuggling? Corporate donation? Donations by vendors of foreign made equipments being imported? All these are vested interests which the politician or party in power would have to oblige to remain in power. Can’t there be some system of politicians and parties generating clean funds which are accountable and taxable? Input on this is needed from knowledgeable citizens.
Please think and start now a peoples’ movement to demand suitable reforms in our election system and our governance lest we become a failed democracy ruled by a few self made elites. Till that is done we have an option available to us use our constitutional right to vote None Of The Above (NOTA).