Synopsis: India is the biggest democracy in the world. Since independence there have been 11 Lok Sabha and a number of elections to the State Assemblies. Elections are controlled and supervised by the Election Commission. But there are many ills and distortions in the process of election and they need immediate remedy. Because of lack of political consensus a wide package of reforms has been pending. The misuse of money power and criminalization are two major evils from which our elections suffer. State funding of elections has been suggested to eradicate the use of money power and its evil influences. The large number of political parties has further increased the confusion. Besides electoral reforms what is most needed is a political culture, ethos and change of the hearts of the leaders of the parties.
India is the biggest democracy in the world and has completed 50 years. Free, fair peaceful and regular elections based on universal adult franchise are the main foundation of a democracy. The first general election in the country was held in 1952. Since then there have been eleven general elections to the Lok Sabha and a number of elections to the Legislative Assemblies of the State. Before independence elections were held on the basis of limited electorate in constituencies formed chiefly on communal basis. Since the adoption of the Indian Constitution on 26th January, 1950, elections are being held on the basis of universal adult suffrage. General Elections are normally held every 5 years but mid-term elections are often held as the circumstances demand. Elections are controlled and supervised by the Election Commission. The main duties of the Election Commission include to superintend, direct, control and conduct elections; to lay down general rules for elections; to determine constituencies and to prepare electoral rolls; to give recognition to political parties and give them election symbols; and to appoint election tribunals to decide disputes related with elections to Parliament and State Legislatures.
Every adult citizen of the country who has attained the age of 18 years is eligible to cast a vote in election irrespective of one’s race, sex, religion, caste or social status. In the recently held General Election to the 11th Parliament in April-May 1996 over 59 crore Indian electorate exercised their power to vote. But with the passage of time many distortions and evil practices have crept into the whole electoral process and procedure and need to be addressed urgently. The main ills from which our elections suffer are the use of money and muscle power to affect the election results, criminalization of politics, misuse of government machinery by the political parties in power, rigging, booth capturing, etc.
Electrol and poll reforms have been in the air for a long time and a few positive steps have also been taken but the full and desired reforms have not been affected for want of political will and consensus. The various political parties have failed time and again to agree on a package of wide-ranging poll reforms. They have failed to evolve a broad and effective consensus on various reforms proposals. However the first positive step towards electrol reform was taken n 1985 when the anti-defection law was passed. The anti-defection law imposes a ban on legislators and MPs defecting from the party to another. Thus, it eliminates the evil of political defections after elections, but there are no disqualifications after splits and mergers. If there is a dispute as to whether an MLA and MP has become subject to disqualification, the matter is to be referred to the Chairman or Speaker of the House as the case may be, and his decision would be final. Another major step taken towards electoral reform was when two bills were passed in Parliament in 1988. One lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 years and the other provided of deterrent penal punishment for booth capturing and rigging along with the provision for debarring an offender from contesting elections. The offenders include smugglers, persons convicted of crime against women and terrorists.
The Misuse of money power in elections is an establishment facet. The legislative changes effected in 1956 and 974 in relation to election expenses have further aggravated the situation. Now the period of accounting of election expenses has been limited between the date of filing nomination paper and the date of declaration of results as against the earlier unlimited period when expenses incurred before affidavit accompanying the return of election expenses has been done away with. The candidates are not required to account for expenses incurred by their political parties, friends, relatives or well-wishers. These amendments have made the law relating to election expenses farcical. However, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgement in 1996, took note of these changes and has tried to eradicate this evil.
Contributions by corporate houses, firms, business groups, multinational companies, contractors and such other persons and agencies also affect the free and fair elections. The party in power can manipulate things in favour of the big donors to have access large election funds from such sources. There should be specific limits to such donation but law allows them to contribute on the percentage basis of the profits of a company which may run to a very huge amont reaches the personal pockets of political leaders. It is proposed that there should be State funding and assistance should be only the recognized political parties and that too in kind and not in cash. It would also attract more good and honest people who are now averse to contesting elections in such a corrupt and foul political atmosphere.
It is statutory obligation for all political parties to file a return of income in regard to each assessment year but they do not file such returns for years together in violation of the statutory provision. And yet there is no action against these parties. These regulations should be strictly enforced and action taken against defaulting political parties. If a political party does not maintain audited and authenticated accounts and fails to file return each assessment year should be derecognized. It is very essential that some urgent and effective steps are taken to check the role of money power in elections. Until it is done there cannot be any fair, free and impartial elections. The political parties show themselves as the champion of democracy but do not practice it as far as their internal matters are concerned. They do not follow their party constitutions and do not hold organizational elections in time. Here too, the money and muscle power play their dirty role.
There are a large number of political parties which include national, regional and other parties. This further adds to the confusion and chaos. The number of parties should be limited and recognition should not be given indiscriminately. The Elections Commission should see that only genuine parties with good following and members are recognized. It is suggested that every Income Tax payer, above certain level, should indicate in his income tax returns the contribution he intends to make in the case of elections to the Lok Sabha and in the case of elections to the State Assembly. The amount thus collected should be under the control and disposal of the Election Commission Santhanam Committee favoured contributions from the public. It contributed for the political purpose one rupee only every year, the amount collected would be sufficient for distribution among the recognized parties.
There are laws and regulations to curb the money power and corrupt practices during the elections but unfortunately they are not strictly observed and enforced. Consequently, there are bribes, illegal, gratification, undue influence, intimidation and such other illegal activities during the elections. Parties indulge in communalism, casteism, and regionalism or appeal the voters on religious grounds. Attacks and character assassination of rival candidates has become a common feature of Indian elections. There are several deaths at the time of elections because of violence and shooting. In rural and far-flung areas booth-capturing is also not uncommon. The Election Commission should be made more powerful and effective to check these election-ills. The status of the Election Commission should be made more powerful and effective to check these election-ills. The status of the Election Commission should be improved. Provision should also be made following which the process of removal of CEC and the two election commissioners becomes similar. At present an Election commissioner can be removed on recommendation of CEC whereas the grounds for removal of CEC are similar to those of a Supreme Court Judge. There should be an independent secretariat for the commission on the lines of the secretariat for the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha and the registries of the Supreme Court and high courts.
Criminalisation of politics and influence of money power are the two main evils to be tackled immediately to make elections fairly free and fair. The expenditure incurred by political parties should be included in the account of election expenses of the candidates. It should be made obligatory on the part of public undertakings of the Central and State governments, statutory bodies and government agencies to make available staff for election duty. The question of delimitation of constituencies and the system of rotation of constituencies for reserved seats also deserve consideration. The elimination of non-serious candidates by further increasing the security deposits is another point which deserves serious consideration. The use of electronic voting machines (EVM) instead of ballot papers and issues of photo identity cards are other useful suggestions. Switching over to proportional representation or list system from the present electoral system should also be given due consideration as is the practice in many European countries.
Besides these electoral reforms, we need to develop a political culture and ethos which believes in honesty, integrity and social obligations and not personal and party gains. There should be internal as well as external discipline among the parties so that democratic norms are followed both in letter and spirit. No law or reform, however, judiciously enacted will be fruitful and effective unless there is a change of hearts and attitudes of the political leaders and parties.
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Electoral Reforms in India UPSC/Electoral reforms in India essay/recent electoral reforms in India/Election reforms in India
Why in News-
- Bringing Political parties under the ambit of RTI act.
- Conducting elections for Union and state legislatures at the same time.
- Law Commission of India’s Report on Electoral Reforms headed by-A.P. Shah.
- Time and again debated over the print and electronic media
India is the largest Democracy in the World. Elections are the most important and integral part of politics in a democratic system of governance .Democracy can function only upon this faith that elections are free and fair and not manipulated and rigged. But for certain reasons, system of Democracy is not working properly and common man feels that there is something wrong in the Electoral process.
While the first three general elections (1952-62) in our country were accepted by and large free and fair, a decline in standards began with the fourth general election in 1967. Over the years, Indian electoral system suffered from serious maladies’. Thus, the election process in our country is considered as the basis of political corruption.
The ideal conditions require that an honest, and upright person who is public spirited and wants to serve the people, should be able to contest and get elected as people’s representatives. But in actual fact, such a person has no chance of either contesting or in any case winning the election
MAIN ISSUES INELECTORAL POLITICS OF INDIA –
The elections at present are not being held in ideal conditions because of the enormous amount of money power and muscle power needed for winning the elections. In addition there are many other factors on the basis of which election is fought like poverty, casteism, communalism, criminalization of politics, poll violence, booth capturing, non-serious independent candidates, unemployment, etc
Money power– In each constituency, a prospective candidate has to spend millions of rupees towards campaigning, transport, publicity etc .The gap between the expenses incurred and legally permitted is increasing over the years.
Muscle Power– use of Violence, pre-election intimidation, booth capturing are mainly the products of muscle power and are prevalent in many parts of the country like Bihar, Western UP etc. and is slowly spreading to south India.
Criminalisation of politics and politicization of criminals– are like two sides of the same coin and are mainly responsible for the manifestation of muscle power at elections.
Politicization of criminals: criminals enter into politics to gain influence and ensure that cases against them are dropped or not proceeded with. Also, The political parties field criminals in elections for fund and in return provide them with political patronage and protection
Misuse of Government Machinery: It is generally complained that the government in power at the time of election misuse official machinery to improve their candidates election prospects . The misuse of official machinery takes different forms, such as use of government vehicles for canvassing ,advertisements at the cost of government and public exchequer highlighting their achievements, disbursements out of the discretionary funds at the disposal of the ministers, etc. which gives an unfair advantage to the ruling party at the time of elections.
Non serious Independent candidates -.Non-serious candidates are largely floated by serious candidates either to cut sizeable portion of votes of rival candidates or to split the votes on caste lines or to have additional physical force at polling station and counting centers
Casteism: there are cases of certain castes lending strong support to particular political parties. Thus political parties make offers to win different caste groups in their favor and caste groups also try to pressurize parties to give tickets for its members elections, . Caste based politics are eroding the „unity‟ principle in the name of regional autonomy. Thus caste as become a prime factor in winning elections and Candidates are selected not in terms of accomplishments, ability and merit but on the appendages of caste, creed and community
Communalism: the politics of communalism and religious fundamentalism during post independence has led to a number of separate movements in various states and regions of the country. Communal polarization has posed a serious threat to the Indian political ethos of pluralism, parliamentarianism, secularism and federalism.
Lack of Moral Values in Politics: Gandhian values of selflessness service to the people and self sacrifice have been destroyed systematically over the years and both the politicians and political parties have lost their credibility,.
According to Seetharam Yechury(MP) the 4 C’s in Indian politics, -Corruption, Crime, Communalism and casteism
It is crime which manifests itself in all the other factors)
a. Corruption is a crime,
b. dividing people along communal lines and spreading hatred in society is a crime,
c. Suppressing members of the lower caste is also a crime.
Therefore crime is the common factor among all these C’s.
Some major reforms taken –broadly classified as pre-2000 and post- 2000
The reports of various election reform commissions and a number of formal and informal group discussions at various forums and by individuals, have categorically pointed out the defects in the electoral system and came out with some useful suggestions. Yet the problems remaining to be as critical and challenging as ever.
However, government has accepted recommendations of many commission reports only partially. some of the important committees are-the Dinesh Goswami Committee on electoral reforms1990, committee on criminalization of politics by vohra ,committee on state funding of elections by Indrajith gupta , subsequent reports by the law commission, election commission, national commission to review the constitution headed by the M N Venkatachaliaha, second ARC on ethics in governance headed by Veerapa Moily, law commission report headed by A P Shaw 2015.
Reforms pre 2000
- Lowering of Voting Age: The Constitution (Sixty-first Amendment) Act, 1988 reduced the voting age from 21 years to 18 years for the Loksabha (house of the people) and state assembly elections. This has given the youth of the country an opportunity to participate and express their feeling in political processes.
- Deputation to Election Commission: officers or staff engaged in preparation, revision and correction of electoral rolls for elections shall be deemed to be on deputation of Election Commission for the period of such employment .and these personnel during that period, would be under the control, superintendence and discipline of the Election Commission.
- Increase in Number of proposers: Number of electors required to sign as proposers in nomination papers for elections to Council of States (Rajyasabha) and State Legislative Council has been increased to 10% of the electors of the constituency or ten such electors, whichever is less mainly to prevent frivolous candidates.
- Electronic Voting Machine: Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were first used in 1998 during the State elections of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. EVMs have been widely used in the sixteen Loksabha Elections in 2015.as they are-fool proof, efficient and eco-friendly (limited use of papers)
- Booth Capturing: EC May either declare the poll of the particular polling station as void and may appoint a date for fresh poll or countermand election in that constituency because of booth capturing. Booth capturing has been defined in Section 135 A of the RPA 1951.as seizure of a polling station and making polling authorities surrender ballot papers or voting machines, seizure of the polling place, threatening and preventing voters, taking possession of polling stations etc Election Commission on such report may
- Disqualification on Conviction for Insulting the National Honors Act, 1971: shall lead to disqualification for contesting elections to Parliament and State Legislatures for a period of six years from the date of such conviction
- Increase in Security Deposits and Number of Proposers: The amount of security deposit which a candidate needs to deposit at an election to the Loksabha or a State Legislative Assembly has been enhanced to check the multiplicity of non-serious candidates. In the case of an election to the Loksabha, the security deposit has been increased to Rs. 10,000 for the general candidate and to Rs. 5,000 for a candidate who is a member of a Scheduled cast/tribe.
In the case of elections to a State Legislative Assembly, the candidates will have to make a deposit of Rs. 5,000 if they are general candidates and Rs. 2,500 if they belong to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe respectively.
Proposers-The amended law further provides that the nomination of a candidate in a Parliamentary or Assembly constituency should be subscribed by 10 electors of the constituency as prospers and if the candidate has not been set up by a recognised National or State Party.
The number of proposers and seconders for contesting election to the office of the President of India has been increased to 50 each from 10 and; number of electors as proposers and seconders for contesting Vice-Presidential election has increased to 20 from 5. The security deposit has been increased to Rs. 15,000 from Rs. 2,500 for contesting election to the offices of President and Vice- President to discourage frivolous candidates.
- Restriction on Contesting Election from More than Two Constituencies: A candidate is eligible to contest election from not more than two Assembly or parliamentary constituencies at a general election or at the bye-elections which are held simultaneously. Similar restrictions will apply for biennial-elections and bye-elections to the Council of States (Rajyasabha) and State legislative councils.
- Death of a contesting Candidate: Previously, the election was countermanded on the death of a contesting candidate. In future, no election will be countermanded on the death of a contesting candidate and If the deceased candidate, however, was set up by a recognized national or State party, then the party concerned will be given an option to nominate another candidate within seven days of the issue of a notice to that effect to the party concerned by the Election Commission.
- Prohibition with respect to Going Armed to or Near a Polling Station: is a cognizable offence punishable with imprisonment up to two years or with fine or with both.
- Paid Holiday to Employees on the Poll day: violation of this amounts to a fine up to 500rs
- Prohibition on Sale of Liquor-: No liquor or other intoxicants shall be sold or given or distributed at any shop, eating place, or any other place, whether private or public, within a polling area during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of poll. The violation of this rule is punished with imprisonment up to 6 months or fine up to Rs 2000 or both
- Time Limit for Bye-elections: Bye-elections to any House of Parliament or a State Legislature will now be held within six months of occurrence of the vacancy in that House. but, this stipulation will not apply in two cases- where the remainder of the term of the member whose vacancy is to be filled is less than one year or where the Election Commission, in consultation with the Central Government, certifies that it is difficult to hold the bye-election within the said period.
- The effective campaigning period –has been reduced. The gap between the last date for with drawl of nomination and the polling date has been reduced from 20days to 14 days
Reforms since 2000
Restriction on exit polls-exit poll is an opinion survey regarding how electors have voted etc Thus conducting exist polls and publishing results of exit polls during the election to the Loksabha and state legislative assemblies during the period notified by the election commission shall be punishable with imprisonment up to 2 years and with fine or both.
Ceiling on election expenditure– ceiling on election expenditure for a Loksabha seat has been increased to 40 lakhs in bigger states and it varies between16 to40lakhs in other states and union territories. Similarly, ceiling on election expenditure has been increased in assembly elections to 16 lakhs in bigger states and it varies between 8 to16 lakhs in other states and union territories.