Below are my notes of Mr Lyngdoh’s lecture on ‘Electoral Reforms in India’. Mr Lyngdoh gives a good insight into the working system and most of his recommendations are noteworthy and would do a great good if implemented. Please watch out for the one- on- one interview of The Social Blog with Mr. Lyngdoh coming soon on the Blog.

Sixth Shri Gutta Rama Rao Lecture

10th Jan 2009

JM Lyngdoh on ‘Electoral Reforms in India’

We are a nation of sorts; created out of the fundamentalist and acrimonious partition of the   continent’ Against this backdrop, India chose a democracy and have everyone participate in governance.

In the last 60 years, the constitution has had remarkable success. Significant is the involvement of the underprivileged in politics.

Off late, the middle class that won India’s independence has abdicated electoral politics considering it rough and dirty. It is not the politics of the upper class but the middle class that has to participate. Too much education weakens a stomach for politics and legislatice business.

We need reforms that would secure socially responsible and ethical parties. Electoral reforms normally refer to the laws made by the EC such as the Goswami and Inderjit Gupta committees. The recommendations and reforms that I propose to address are;

–          Debarring until cleared by the court, persons charge sheeted for offences of 5 years or more

–          Restronign sec 77 of the rep of people act, 1971 so as to disallow the extent of the expenditure spent by the candidate

–          – auditing of accounts of political parties

–          Defections

–          Regulating by law the process of democratization in the internal working of political parites

–          Surrogate advertisements after elections have been announced

–          Restrictions on opinion polls so as to prevent an influence in voting

–          50% of votes + 1 to be made a requirement to declare a candidate a winner

a) In 2004 elections, 18% of the winners to the lok sabha carried a criminal law. In the 2006 bihar and 2007 UP elections the figures go upwards of 39%. To disqualify a person, he or she has to be convicted which is very rare. The disqualification does not apply to anyone who is already a sitting MP and allows him to file an appeal or a revision petition and will not apply unless it has travelled through all the levels of the courts and all remedies are exhausted. This is wrong as the MO then gets a life time of reprieve. The mockery of the law by the politicians has been expressed by the media by people like Pappu Yadav running campaigns from Jail and then winning the elections.

The EC is now trying to make is difficult for the candidate to suppress information by asking him to disclose all his assets and charges so as to inform the general public of his misdeeds and misgivings. Even now though, some politicians show assets of merely thousands even though they own crores of rupees. The assumption is that the voter would now not vote for a candidate with a dubious record but the patterns in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh do not bear any such assumption.

b) The Expenditure limit for a candidate for the Lok Sabha is now 25 lakhs but we know that each of them spends crores on their elections. It is becoming tough to track down these expenditures and I confess that the measures to keep track of them haven’t been that effective.

The EC has also decided to keep the candidate’s expeditures records with itself and even put it up on the web. One may ask as to why we emphasise on this when Obama and the US spends millions of dollars. (No answer given to that)

In Britain, the Electoral Commission has nothing to do with running elections like we do; it only monitors the donations made to political parties. Here in India, we do not do anything like that and even allow tax exemptions on donations made to political parties.

The Representation of People Act needs to be amended to allow the EC to question the paries and candidates on their expenses and to take action on the deregistration of a party/ candidate when any mismanagement or violation is found.

c) It is imperative to have the EC and not the Speaker of the House to decide on the consequence of defections. The law on defections is still in the grey area and the movement of a leader from one party to the other is still allowed. What is allowed is the formation of a new party by a split. The Law needs to the amended to address the former concern too.

The Election Commission cannot withdraw the registration or deregister a party by virtue of previous performance or mal practices. The EC then passed an order that allowed it to do so. However the irony is that the moment a party is deregistered, it can reregister itself the next day. I propose that the order be amended so as to allow the EC to declare a time period during which that party can be barred from contesting in the elections.

d) As regards surrogate advertisements and government sponsored advertisements, the EC has its own code of conduct to regulate such acts. This also includes exit and opinion polls and we do take measures so as to take note that they do not influence the voters.

e) Proportional Representation and the idea of Majority voting

the bane of the present system, is that even if he has secured one more vote than his rival, gets elected. The rivals and voters go unrepresented. The idea of proportional representation would then ensure representation to important groups and factions. This would then benefit a pluralist society such as ours. It is to be noted that Nepal has actually achieved success in this manner. By proposing for more than 50% of the votes plus one, this requirement would then forever through vote back politics out of India.

It is in the practice of democracy that everybody must be given a chance to participate in the system of governance. By allowing for proportional representation, this practice may be secured. It is a wonder that this country is still holding on to itself, despite religious, ethnic and communal strife. This change would contribute to making the political parties better human beings.

The Constitution and Rep of People’s Act (Section 29A) till 1989 did not recognize the existence of a political party. One cannot think of a democracy without them and the EC stepped in to bring in this change and frame rules in this regard.

(Mr Lyngdoh also took at dig at Mr. TN Seshan on his idea of reforms and the need for the bringing in of military forces in the conduct of elections. I couldn’t get the exact statement of what he said; would try to get the transcript)

f) Technological innovations; The EC now brought in electronic voting machines that are the most effective in the world and now has done away with the mass amounts of paper that are used in elections.

Voter identity cards: the voter identity cards are a revolutionary concept in order to check the practice of illegal voting.

–          End of lecture

Questions

1) Is the present model code of conduct sufficient to control the idea of vote bank politics. Examples; the idea of social engineering as perpetrated by Mayawati ?

– Mayawati’s party today is very similar to the components of the Congress party at one time. There is still a representation of all the castes and im not so sure is the caste politics that you talk of is evident in the party structure now.

2) How agreeable are you to the fact that the Supreme Court is interfering in the working of the election commission considering that the Constitution mandates it to be an independent working body. Two instances: the SC ruling on the right to information of a voter in 2002 and the background of the candidate two years ago

– These reforms are good reforms and it must be understood that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter in the Country and its law is the law of the land. The election commission is welcome to any suggestions and mandate of the Supreme Court.

3) Re: Anti-defection law. Collective defections seem to be legitimate today. What is the solution ?

– It is the decision of the speaker today and I propose that the election commission and the president or the governor should make the final decision based on the recommendation of the election commission.

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