Electoral Reforms : Towards a Continuously Evolving Democracy

Kuppuswamy Raja Rajan

A technologist by qualification (IIT Chennai), a farmer by option and Gandhian activist by conviction. Practicing consultant in Design of Material Handling and Mineral Processing Equipments and Plants. Having a horticultural farm near Chennai. Trying to create awareness by writing articles and books on matters of public interest and welfare.
President – Gandhian Initiative for Social Transformation
Member – ‘Nermai Ani’ – Honesty Brigade

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Holding elections for Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies together is being touted as the next big announcement from the PM after demonetization. Even the President has favored it.

‘Holding elections together will cut down expenses heavily, almost to half only and repeated paralyzing of the administration during election period can be avoided’, are said to be the two main reasons for this move.

Right to reject having become a reality with the introduction of NOTA – toothless though – Right to recall and Referendum are to be addressed still.

Mr. Varun Sanjai [no Gandhi by any means] wants to introduce a bill for recall of elected members. It is his version of Demonetization to eliminate corruption – impracticable to say the least.

Holding elections separately for the 3 tiers of administration as at present serves a major purpose. As the public memory is said to be short, it gives an opportunity for the people to show the approval or otherwise for the acts of the government [including at the levels other than the one for which election is being conducted then] during the intervening period and indirectly curbs the tendency of the elected chiefs to go autocratic/ berserk. In fact it will be desirable to have elections more often than once in 5 years for each of the levels, to improve the referendum effect.

Mr. P.V.Narasimha Rao, after getting elected professing to pursue the policies of Congress party and carrying on the party’s legacy, betrayed the people by his somersault in 1991 by introducing ‘LPG (Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization) regime’ la ‘crony capitalism’ – an ‘economic suicide – harakiri’. Though many elites are singing the glory of PVN, the aam adhmi – common people – could see through his design. They threw his government out and the congress party in to oblivion at the earliest opportunity in 1996. Again in 2004 also for the same reason, people threw out BJP. Thus ‘Manmohonomics’ was thrown out twice by the electorate. Thank fully those were not 2016 (TN assembly elections). The elections were still basically and largely fair. But the damage had been done in the 5 years then and been continuing till date. If we have had a ‘right to recall’, this disaster could have been averted. A referendum too could have come in handy.

AIADMK government raised milk price, electricity tariff and bus fair steeply all within a short period and not only continued for 4 years but got back to power, as people of Tamil Nadu have short memory. The average Indian voter remembered for 4 years and voted out PVN but not the voters of TN. Whether the election results announced is the verdict of the people or doctored/ pre programmed is a different issue. A right to recall and referendum could definitely have averted the disaster.

But ‘Right to recall’ and ‘Referendum’ are not as easy as adding another button as for NOTA.  Given the size of electorate/ population, these are basically not practicable in a direct form, though very much desirable.

Let us consider this option:

Conduct elections to Lok Sabha, Assemblies and local bodies for 20% of the vacancies every year like that for Rajya Sabha (1/3rd replaced every 2 years). For this, for example for Lok Sabha, the 540 odd constituencies should be grouped in to 110 groups of 5 (some only 4) contiguous constituencies and election held for one constituency from each group every year. The mood (approval/ disapproval) of the people for the acts of the ruling dispensation will be reflected in the 20% going for election every year. This will give a quick enough feedback to the elected rulers who betray the voters as also for those who actually serve the people well. The same can be extended to assemblies and local bodies too.

This amendment will serve the purpose of ‘Right to recall’ and ‘Referendum’ rolled in to one. The yearly election will virtually become a right to recall unruly governments (not individuals right away) as well as serve the purpose of referendum for the proposed policies of the parties. PVN and congress could have been packed off in 1992 and ADMK in 2012 itself. Babri Masjith demolition or Gujrath riots, the perpetrators could not have escaped the axe for long. The perpetrator of the ‘demon’ of demonetization cannot escape the axe for long either.

The EC will have more even load of work and expenses and they can have their own staff to man the whole exercise of elections including police force. They don’t have to depend on state government staff for anything – even for enumeration. Only the polling booths may have to be located at some state government premises.

Some changes to the concepts of ‘code of conduct’ period ban on governments from declaring welfare policies/ measures etc. will have to be worked out though, as yearly elections will put a break on governance too often.

The expenses will not reduce from present level. But the benefit will outweigh the cost by a steep margin making the cost worthwhile.

This change will revolutionize the way we are governed and lead to a continuously evolving democracy. It will be a game changer. Along with introduction of a combination of first past post and proportional representation, the above phased out elections will almost be a Sakala Roga Nivarani – a Cure All – for most of, if not all the ills of the electoral system. There will be a quantum jump in governance.

Thus instead of holding elections together for the 2 tiers of governance, it will be desirable to split the election for each tier into 5 parts and conduct elections.


Symbols for candidates

One of the main proposals of IAC for electoral reforms is to remove symbols for candidates from the ballot paper/ EVM, to ensure voters elect the persons and not the parties, and ensure level playing field for all candidates.

Though literacy level has improved very significantly in the past 70 years, we still can’t call the masses educated. Voters in India still do not vote based on specific knowledge about the candidates. They go by the few leaders – often only one person – of the party and more so their charisma built assiduously by the propaganda machinery of the parties. It is unfortunate but this is the reality. Even educated ones often are forced to go only by the symbols to even reject the candidates of major undesirable parties. Hence elimination of symbols, instead of providing level playing field, will only end in messing up the elections, at present. The time for the removal of symbols has not arrived. It will take another decade at least to become feasible.

Presently symbols are allotted to the candidates of non recognized [established] parties and independents just about 10 days before the election. This leaves them not even a week to publicize their symbols. Not allowing posters and writings on the walls has made it virtually impossible for non established party and independent candidates to reach the voters to any significant extent. To achieve level playing field, the symbols for all candidates including established parties’, should be allotted only during the elections but not at the last moment. All candidates must be provided a clear one month’s time for canvassing with symbols. Symbol for recognized parties should be not repeated – a symbol allotted for one poll should be not allotted again for that party.

Further, since posters, banners and wall writings were prohibited during elections, it has become impossible/ very difficult for the electorates to know who are all in the fray. Everyone is not E literate and does not have access to websites. Though done with good intension, it has rendered the election meaningless. Voters go to the booth almost like blind persons and simply punch somewhere, as they really do not know the choices available in advance to decide.

Hence, posters, banners and wall writings must be allowed, but with regulations. Earmarked areas must be allotted to all candidates by lot. Equal space must be allotted to every candidate so that the electorates know in advance who are all in the fray.


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