Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Let us think and Act with an open mind to
Develop a Vibrant Democracy – Article 4
Introduction: I have identified thirty obstacles which cause a distorted and ineffective democracy and possible solutions for these. Because very few people have time / inclination to read long articles, these are presented in separate brief articles for pointed attention and easier assimilation. I hope this will lead to spreading of awareness and facilitating point by point debate on each of these for saving our sinking democracy.
(Please keep these articles within easy reach for referring back till the series is completed.)
Election Commission: Under the Constitution, it is the duty of the Election Commission (EC) to carry out free and fair elections to pick up true representatives of the people as members of various legislative bodies in the country. Preceding Articles 1 to 3 has shown that the main aim of electing true representatives of the people has not been achieved because, on an average, the vast majority of the electorate (estimated as more than 65% in Article 2) did not support the elected persons resulting in low levels of representation. For example, 78% of MPs elected in 2009 had the approval of only less than half of the electorate (Times of India dated 23-03-14). In addition, even these low levels of representation were of dubious nature because many had blindly voted in droves due to caste or other considerations or sold their votes. (Refer to earlier articles for details and research findings.) Moreover, the candidates for election and the political parties who sponsored them were eager to spend enormous amounts on election (often even secretly exceeding the limits fixed by EC) mainly because of two reasons: (1) money is one of the “sure-fire qualifications to ensure a victory in the elections” (DNA dated 30-07-13 quoting study by Association of Democratic Rights – refer Article 2); “being treated to a party at a dhaba or getting Rs.200 or a Rs.500 note influences voting.” (The Hindu dated 18-03-14 quoting Anna Hazare – Article 1) and (2) the system gives elected persons unfair opportunities to amass wealth. These reasons attracted criminal mafia also to get elected, or get their stooges elected, by using money power and / or intimidation. Thus, the election system not only failed to elect representatives having support of majority of people, despite wasting huge amounts of public money, but also is the root cause of unlimited corruption and control by mafia. Conducting election in two stages as suggested in Article 2 could have removed one of these anomalies by ensuring that the elected representatives had majority support.
Article 3 had also shown that election is a costly gamble using huge amounts of public money and emphasized the need to seriously think out of the box for a better method for giving voice to the people, not just once in five years as an ineffective ritual (as at present), but more frequently and effectively.
Elections are to be conducted according to the constitutional provisions, supplemented by laws made by Parliament. Election laws are to be based on the basic values of constitutional democracy. In order to protect these values from legislative and executive influence, the Constitution had incorporated these values as constitutional provisions. The Supreme Court (SC) has held that where the enacted laws are silent or make insufficient provision to deal with a given situation in the conduct of elections, EC has the residuary powers under the Constitution to act in an appropriate manner. SC has further clarified that the jurisdiction of EC is wide enough to include all powers necessary for smooth conduct of elections.
According to the spirit of the Constitution, the sole purpose of election was to give voice to the people. Sad to say, even when the election system repeatedly failed to give voice to majority of people, EC overlooked the fact that the present election system cannot achieve this purpose. The main reason seems to be hesitation or omission on the part of EC to think out of the box to exercise the powers vested on it by the Constitution to give voice to the people, even though EC had the residuary powers to act in an appropriate manner, which is insulated from political pressure and executive influence.
This failure to think out of the box is probably because EC became too complacent after receiving kudos for conducting the herculean task of organizing elections on a massive scale. It is also possible that the Election Commissioners felt a soft corner or obligation to the government for appointing them to this coveted post without undergoing a rigorous system of selection.
All these show that EC has not applied its mind to develop an apt system to ensure democracy by giving effective voice to majority of the people at minimum cost.
This is the fourth and very serious obstacle which resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.
The functions of EC also include looking after all the problems connected with elections besides conducting elections. This function has not been satisfactorily executed as shown by the following examples:
1. As pointed out earlier in this Article and in Articles 1 to 3 in more detail, the election system has failed miserably to elect true representatives of people with majority support. But EC continued to focus on this faulty system and did not apply its mind to develop a better method for giving voice to the people, in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution, that too not just once in five years as an ineffective ritual as at present, but more frequently and effectively. EC had also not applied its mind to the fact that it is empowered to adopt any better method which fully supports the spirit of the Constitution for giving voice to people, despite a SC judgment stating that where the enacted laws are silent or make insufficient provision to deal with a given situation, EC has the residuary powers under the Constitution to act in an appropriate manner.
2. When violations of the mode of conduct occurred, EC did not give any serious punishment to the violators and violations continued unabated because of this soft approach of barking but not biting.
3. Only after repeated criticism, EC expressed concern about criminalization of politics (in stead of acting to prevent it by using its constitutional powers). For example, as the statutory custodian of democracy (not for conducting elections alone), it could have forcefully demanded suitable amendments to the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951. It is not clear what had prevented EC from being more assertive in taking suitable actions against criminalization of politics by exercising its wide powers in stead of expressing concern or making recommendations.
4. EC had recommended (not ordered using its powers) the inclusion of “none of the above” (NOTA) as an option for voters. SC has recently allowed NOTA but has not agreed to carry out fresh elections even if those using NOTA form the largest group. If the largest number of voters have rejected all candidates it is a clear indication that fresh election is the will of the people. EC has been silent about this and did not appeal against this anti-people decision by SC. EC has also not protested against SC interfering with its powers as the Statutory Authority for conducting elections.
5. EC had proposed to the government that its administration should be a “charge” on the Consolidated Fund of India like for other constitutional authorities. A bill for this purpose which was introduced in 1994 is still pending. EC did not forcefully demand restoration of this need as for other constitutional authorities (not as a special case) but only meekly reiterated this need from time to time, for the last 20 years!!
6. The government has been sitting for more than 9 years on poll reforms suggested by EC. There may also be more administrative and financial bottlenecks which EC had to face. This step motherly attitude of a democratic government towards EC, which is the statutory body set up to ensure democracy, is against the Constitution and deserves to be condemned outright. But EC is silent about these, in stead of using its residuary powers under the constitution to act in an appropriate manner.
All these show that EC has been acting like a modest advisor to the government instead of a statutory authority with wide powers, despite the strong support from SC judgments!! Whereas SC (another statutory authority) has been passing strictures against government whenever called for, EC has closed its eyes when government put spokes in its functioning as a statutory body, which is essential for democracy,
These aspects depict the fifth and very serious obstacle which resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.
The manner of functioning of Parliament and Assemblies has clearly shown that the political party system may be more a hindrance than help to democracy. It is surprising that EC, the statutory custodian of democracy (not for conducting elections alone), had closed its eyes to the fact that the political parties had repeatedly stalled democratic functioning of governance or distorted it to serve their interests. It has not cared to apply its mind to retrieve the situation e.g., by warning the political parties about disqualifying them for undemocratic and undisciplined behavior. Sad to say, it did not even react against such undemocratic and undisciplined acts by political parties. Neither has it insisted that political parties should have effective internal democracy which is essential for true democracy.
This is the sixth and very serious obstacle which resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.
To overcome all these serious drawbacks, it is essential to have an EC which thinks out of the box whenever necessary and constantly applies its mind and powers to ensure a truly vibrant democracy and passes necessary orders for the sustenance and growth of democracy, which are binding on the government and political parties, similar to orders passed by SC.
As pointed out earlier, EC has been acting like a modest advisor instead of a statutory authority with wide powers, despite the strong support from some SC judgments. To safeguard against its recurrence, suitable qualifications and experience (including demonstrated capacity for innovation and taking strong decisions when needed) should be prescribed for Election Commissioners, and the field should be thrown open and not effectively restricted to civil service officers alone. Appointments should be made directly by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of Lok Sabha Speaker, Minister of parliamentary affairs, Chief Justice of India, Chairpersons of Human Rights Commission and UPSC, two eminent social activists and representatives of two outstanding NGOs providing welfare services to the people.
An independent reviewing body has to be set up immediately to ascertain the reasons for EC not functioning as a constitutional authority but as a modest advisor (as at present) and to recommend directly to the President steps which are essential to ensure that EC exercises the powers vested on it by the Constitution.
Meanwhile, EC ought to do the following immediately, keeping in mind that (1) the functions of EC include looking after all the problems connected with elections besides conducting elections and (2) according to a SC judgment, where the enacted laws are silent or make insufficient provision to deal with a given situation, EC has the residuary powers under the Constitution to act in an appropriate manner.
1. Instruct all political parties to carry out elections using secret ballot to restore internal democracy at various levels within a fixed period (may be about three months), failing which their registration should be cancelled.
2. Develop a system for assessment of the functioning of MPs and MLAs and conduct such annual assessments, starting with immediate effect, followed by further actions as suggested in Article 3 to reduce frequency of elections.
3. Prescribe qualifications and experience required for MPs and MLAs to be enforced after a prescribed gap for acquiring these.
Lastly, no amount of praise is adequate to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of EC in conducting such large scale elections without any serious anomalies. However, sad to say, because of the faulty system of election these laudable efforts could not produce the desired results. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party which won majority of seats did not have the support of the vast majority (69%) of the electorate and questions its representativeness. Moreover, among the elected MPs as many as 53 had criminal cases against them. This unhappy situation may be comparable to an active shopping spree in which a clever and enthusiastic man bought lot of things at bargain prices but when he reached home he was told that these were not the items which were really needed and included many defective and unsuitable items.
Comments (especially those which point out errors or deficiencies, if any, in this article and thereby help to improve it) and other suggestions to overcome these very serious obstacles are welcome. Please send these to StartRemovingBlocks@gmail.com. I shall make use of all befitting suggestions to prepare the last two articles of this series – Articled 23 will spell out the basic principles which will guide formulation of the revised system of democracy and Article 24 will outline the revised system of democracy for public debate to arrive at a consensus.
You can help to save democracy by making as many people as possible aware of these obstacles and possible solutions, through e-mail and social media like face book and twitter so that we can have healthy debates and arrive at some innovative ideas to save our sinking democracy.