Blue Flower


 

During the past years, number of seminars have been held: various aspects of electoral reforms have been discussed threadbare. Issues and solutions which have been identified; they have been published in the form of articles and books. But those in power did not show the least inclination to take any action in this field. Their inner feeling appears to have been that the system that had brought them to power was a good one; they forgot that the same system might in the succeeding wave drag them out of power. Another reason working in their mind is that they know the tactics to be adopted in the present system and that they will be at a loss in another system. That reason does not deserve any consideration. Fortunately our present law minister has realised that electoral reforms were essential for a better democratic life of the country and seems keen to achieve fundamental reforms in this vital political field.

The first preoccupation of the minister seems to put an end to the criminalisation of politics; this is the most welcome step. I would like to put forth some suggestions towards that end. The Supreme Court which had to delve upon this important aspect of the question has given a very valuable solution. Unfortunately the then government diluted the essence of that decision. The  Supreme Court decided that the  very fact of charge being framed by a court should be sufficient to disqualify a candidate from contesting an election. The government made the Parliament decide that a conviction was necessary.

Of course at first sight it appears proper to debar only those who have been convicted.  Is not a person presumed innocent until he is convicted?. That is the principle and that is a sound one. But we cannot ignore the realities all together. One fourth of the elected lot has criminal antecedents. Those charged with serious offences succeed in protracting the proceedings and get elected several times and maintain the charge inoperative till their death. When in power they harass those who have done their duty in initiate prosecution proceedings against them. Some step is indispensable to put an end to their impunity.

We are thus confronted with two conflicting imperatives of equal importance. In such cases one has to yield to the other; we have only to ensure that the other is affected in the least possible way. In normal circumstances the principle of innocence till conviction will prevail without hesitation. For the application of that golden principle the working of the criminal justice administration should be normal. When that administration is paralysed, the principle, which forms part of that administration, becomes necessarily not applicable. It under such circumstance that the Supreme Court who is the ultimate guardian of human rights, after deep consideration, has decided that the charge framed by the court is sufficient.

The principle of presumption of innocence loses its pre-eminence. Is it sufficiently protected for the solution to be accepted is the question which immediately arises? The charge framed by the court is different from the draft charge-sheet filed by the police along with its report of investigation. The charge is framed by the court after hearing the accused and his counsel.  It is a judicial act. It is open to the accused to get the charge quashed quickly through a proceeding before the High Court in case of frivolous charge. If he is innocent he may also ask for a speedy trial and get acquitted. There is no chance of an innocent candidate being debarred to contest elections. So deciding that a charge framed by the court three months before the date of filing nominations is good enough to constitute a bar does not infringe upon the presumption of innocence..

In conclusion when conviction and charge as the bar to stand for election are compared, if the insistence on conviction appears better in principle, it renders the safeguard to the society nugatory in the prevailing circumstances. The adoption of the charge by the court as the bar does not make any inroad in the rights of the candidate. The Election commission who is fully aware of the ground realities also advocate strongly the charge framed by the court being adopted for debarring the candidates. The adoption of such a course will go a long way in keeping at bay the criminals and bring down the criminalisation of politics.

The second important step towards curbing the muscle power is to change the mode of elections. it is evident that the present mode  trigger criminal activities. The fight is not really between two ideologies, or two policies but between two individuals. This fight between two candidates for a coveted office becomes ferocious and leads them to all extreme steps. It takes the shape of cock-fight by proxy. Poor people lose their life simply for the sake of some drinks. In their propaganda candidates cannot go on praising themselves. That will have no takers. To attract people to their side they are led to indulge in mud-slinging and to portray the adversary in the worst aspects. This abrasive exchange of words culminates in violent outbursts. The first-past- the- post system which is the root cause of this turn of events deserves to be given up. That by itself will bring down the violence in the election period.

Nurturing violence is not the only evil effects of that system. For the Lok Sabha election each constituency has 13 crore electors.  There is no possibility for them to know their candidates. Once elected, the MP is hardly available to the electorate to listen to their aspirations or to apprise then of the steps being taken by the government. Their election is thus a one day marriage. The system adopted in a country like India with huge Lok Sabha constituencies cannot be said to be conducive to democratic governance.

For the first-past-the-post system to work properly, the country should have a two party system. With the multiplicity of parties now prevalent in India it leads to abnormal results. 12% of people go unrepresented though they have taken the pain of casting their votes. One can get elected with just 15% of votes polled, that is to say with 9% of voters on the rolls. It has been noticed that a party gets the majority of seats with just 30% of votes polled, that to say with the support of 18% of the electors on the rolls. It has also been noticed that a party having secured less votes on the whole has obtained a higher number of seats and formed the government. One can easily understand that a government with such a thin support base lacks legitimacy and authority and yields easily to the judiciary, the bureaucracy and to vested interests. In many ways the first-past- the- post system in the present day conditions of India is making a travesty of democracy. In fact that is a rudimentary and simplistic form of democratic governance which may suit for small constituencies and a two party system. Even in England from which we borrowed the system they want to drop it. It is high time that we consider an alternative system.

Why not opt for the proportionate system at least for the Lok Sabha elections. The whole population will get represented, giving all shades of opinions occasion to find expression in the House. The    majority or the coalition which forms the government will be based on 50% of votes and will be definitely stronger than the present day government based on 30% of votes.

The proportionate system will bring in a greater number of women in the political fold because they will not have to fight alone the election battle; they will be included in the list of each party. Parties and leaders will gain more weight. There will be greater discipline inside the party and lesser defection because the elected person will be aware that he owes his seat to the party and that he cannot conquer it by himself. Votes will be more on policy issues and will no longer be blank cheques to unknown individuals. This system will thus contribute to the advancement of democracy. As there will be no personal interest for candidates there will be less money distributed and by way of consequence less violence unleashed.

One may think that the proportionate system may not allow a majority to emerge. If that is the reason to discard that system the same reason should prompt  to reject as well the present system which does not gives majority to any party. The time of one party getting two thirds of seats in the Lok Sabha is bygone. Now it has become clear that no party can secure the majority in the Lok Sabha. A semblance of majority is realised through the device of alliance of parties, finalised just before elections with the sole aim of securing the largest number of seats. That device may not be available in the days ahead. With the multiplicity of alliances none of them may emerge with a majority of seats. So the present system is not in any way better than the proportionate system in respect of stability of government

Further the value of the government of the majority artificially realised by way of alliance is a question mark. Alliance partners may part company at any time. The major party is thus bound to yield to the continuous demands of the partners to keep them in its fold. The Prime minister himself has recently, on the occasion of scams, ventilated publicly the difficulties to rein the alliance members of the government. The alliance does not lead to a government with collective responsibility.

The only real drawback of the proportionate system is that it is likely to increase the rate of abstentions at the beginning period. The money which now draws some people to the booths not being distributed that category may abstain. Can we not take the risk of losing those tainted votes? On the other hand, all parties being present in all booths those who now abstain, since they do not find parties of their preference on account of the coalition, may join the band of voters. In the long run the proportionate system will force the parties to shape their propaganda more on policies and nurture the interest of people on politics which will draw them to the polling booths. So there is no need to fear an increase of abstentions in the long run. Everything considered, the proportionate system is far better and may be adopted advantageously for the Lok Sabha elections.

To sum up, barring all candidates charged by the court for a serious offence from contesting elections and the adoption of the proportionate system will bring down considerably the violence in elections and keep criminal elements away from the corridors of power.

 

David Annoussamy

Former High Court Judge

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