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Elections in India, is it a waste of money?

April 7, 2009

Times since independence, general elections in India have come a long way, but throughout this post-independence era they have truly reflected the federal nature of the Indian polity. When in the neighboring countries of India, still ballot-paper polling is still in practice, Indian voting system has moved onto electronic voting machines. Certainly, this has eased up and fast-tracked the polling process but still there is a lot of scope for improvements. Main aim of conducting elections in any region is to act as a filter to prevent the ‘rouge’ elements from entering in the legislative process and at the same time reflect the true voice of the poorest of the poor man. Unfortunately, elections in India still have a long way to go in this respect.

Past few decades have seen dramatic tectonic shifts on the Indian mainland, not in terms of physical but in terms of cultural, political and economic. India which was predominantly an agriculture dependent country where its most of the populations resided in the villages itself during British regime, is accelerating towards manufacturing and services sector. This has led to mass movement of population from villages towards cities and when this migrated class tries to apply for renewal in its voter ids thus becomes a victim of red tape and gets secluded from the poll process. If India aims to reach a 100% voting mark, it will have to solve this problem sooner or later. Election Commission can start e-voting for the people who can cast their votes sitting miles away from their homeland and at the same time issue e-voter id cards to the working class. With the advent of 3G and broadband, this would be no big deal for the IT giants of the country. At the same time it would not only open new sources of employment for the IT professionals in times of recession but at the same time bring down the election budget.

, there is an urgent need for reforms in the election process of the country. Recently, there was a storm of cases being registered and notices being served to some of the prominent faces of Indian politics for violating the ‘model code of conduct’ which comes into action once the election dates are announced. Time and being, candidates have been caught on camera making inflammatory speeches, distributing money and conferring other special benefits to the uneducated poor mass of the country in search of votes. Money power is being increasingly used to woo the BPL voters. It would be an irony only that our country still doesn’t have legal provisions disqualifying a person from contesting elections or vote in an election for spreading hate among communities or making illegal use of the public property. Rising election budget is another area for concern and that too when a major chunk of the budget goes into policing of the candidates who sometimes don’t even refrain from using public domain for their own selfish motives. As reflected by one of the prominent surveys of the country, the average age of the Indian Cabinet is 62 years. Election process has failed to bring enough youth representation in the Parliament and in the state legislatures. An upper age limit has been fixed for the executive in the constitution but not for the legislature. This legislature has failed to live up to needs of the common man and this is the main reason why era of coalition politics has started. No one would be shocked if the 15th General Lok Sabha elections witness a hung Parliament and hence an unstable government. Such a government would definitely give a priority to hold its vote bank and satisfy its allies rather than taking some bold actions and frame some stricter norms for the upliftment of the gloomy condition of the economy. If such a situation continues for another 5 or 10 years, time is not far when then commission which boasts an average of 60% polling will record a mere 20 or 30% polling. It’s not that that our constitution doesn’t have sufficient measures for such situations. Section 49(O) of the Conduct of Election rules, 1961 has laid down the procedure for ‘negative voting’ Under this procedure a voter who doesn’t want to vote for any candidate can register with the polling officer and register his signature for the same. But in this sense he exposes his privacy and becomes vulnerable for any kind of threats from the contesting parties. Instead the election commission should provide a separate button for the negative voting in the voting machines itself. This would require a great deal of effort on part of the commission to make people aware of such a provision.

Election commission should bring in a feedback mechanism based on the manifesto of the contesting candidates and make them responsible for the promises they have made to the people during elections. The manifestos should be made legal documents and should be published in the local dailies as well as official gazettes. An independent body should review the progress made by the constituency and the promises made by the candidate yearly. This would create more sense of awareness among the people and prevent polls from becoming a onetime event. Rallies which disrupt the traffic and pose a grave threat to the security of the region as well as to the social fabric should be taken on with an iron hand. Limitations should be imposed at the district level though district collectors on the use of plastics, cloth material or means of transport which lead to waste of limited resources of the country and do harm to the environment and in turn parties should be compelled to make campaigns more tech-savvy. If such changes are not introduced in our system soon, election process would reduce to a mere formality and would reduce down to a liability rather than an asset of our great constitutional framework.

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