Thursday, January 18, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

PM for fixed tenure of Parliament
Deny ticket to criminals: President
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Jan 17 — The Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, today strongly advocated a fixed tenure of Parliament and state legislatures to enable the democratic system to become mature and deliver good governance.

“I strongly believe that a fixed tenure for our Parliament and state legislatures is essential for our democratic system to become mature and deliver good governance,” Mr Vajpayee said at the golden jubilee celebrations of the Election Commission here at Vigyan Bhavan.

Expressing happiness over the initiation of a public debate on this important issue by the Constitution Review Commission, the Prime Minister stressed that “it has now become necessary to take a holistic view of reforms and implement them urgently.”

“I am happy that the Constitution Review Commission has initiated a public debate on this important issue,” he said in the presence of the President, Mr K.R. Narayanan, the Lok Sabha Speaker, Mr G.M.C. Balayogi, and the Leader of the Opposition, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, among others on the dais.

Terming as “malignant” the trend of corruption and criminalisation of the electoral process, Mr Vajpayee said, “It is high time that all political parties evolve a consensus on how to check the menace.”

“When elections become more contentious and confrontational it is also natural for criminal and anti-social elements to find a foothold in the electoral process,” he said, adding, “This erodes people’s confidence in free and fair elections, which are the heart of a democracy.”

Regretting that the growing menace of money and muscle power was posing “the greatest challenge” to India’s democracy, the Prime Minister said elections were becoming “prohibitively costly. So much so, that ordinary political activists in spite of having an extraordinary record of public service find it difficult even to dream of contesting elections.”

“Even established political parties are finding it harder to garner requisite resources. This situation increases the dependence of both candidates and parties on moneybags, with all the attendant negative influences on the polity,” he observed.

On the Women’s Reservation Bill which has been eluding a consensus among all political parties, Mr Vajpayee referred to the Election Commission’s “constructive suggestion” to provide reservation to women within parties and said the government had an “open mind” to consider any constructive proposal.

Emphasising that the drawbacks in the democracy were not because of the Election Commission but because they had been created and sustained by the system as a whole, Mr Vajpayee said it was systematic change that the country needed to address.

On the state funding of elections on the basis of a transparent formula, he said this and many other reforms had been debated for long by several committees besides the Law Commission recommendations and felt the time had come to take a holistic view.

On Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill’s remarks that political parties should draw a “lakshman rekha” of self-restraint, Mr Vajpayee said in a lighter vein, “Lakshman hamare paas hai. Aap rekha kheench deejiye. Hum usko manenge” (We have Lakshman. You draw a line, we will observe it)”.

The President asked political parties to refrain from giving the ticket to individuals with a criminal background to deal effectively with the menace of criminalisation of politics.

“If the organised political parties, who are not obliged to field anyone as a candidate, refrain from giving the ticket to individuals with a criminal background it would be possible to deal effectively with the problem of criminals in politics,” Mr Narayanan said in his address.

Similarly, he pointed out that for adequate representation of women in the legislatures and Parliament the political parties had it in their power to give sufficient number of ticket to women. “Is this too much to ask for from the political parties,” he asked.

On the commission’s recommendations that amendments should be brought about in the Representation of People Act so that bad characters are prevented from entering the election fray and the legislatures, the President said, “Legislation may not be the solution to this problem.”

Referring to the ongoing panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Naryanan said holding of these elections was the “greatest tribute to the faith of the people in Indian democracy”.

Stating that the EC was already overburdened with work, the President said, “But with understanding and a little bit of help from the government and the political parties, it will be possible for it not only to run the colossal election process in our country but to help get rid of many malpractices that are plaguing elections and distorting the will of the voter.”

Mrs Sonia Gandhi took the opportunity to have a dig at “communal forces” and the setting up of the Constitution Review Commission.

“The danger (to our culture) is from within. It comes from those forces that claim to speak on behalf of our culture but who distort the essence and meaning of that culture,” the Congress president said. In an apparent reference to the setting up of Constitution Review Committee, Mrs Gandhi said, “The danger (to culture and democracy) is from those who are uncomfortable with our Constitution and who doubt the very basis of the social character and secular sacrament that was put together by some of the finest minds and the noblest souls the country has ever assembled.”

On electoral reforms, she stressed the need for reducing the cost of elections, making the system of funding of not just elections but also of running political parties more transparent and accountable, curbing the menace of defections that is discrediting our polity, ensuring that public life is not sullied by unwholesome elements whose commitment to probity and integrity is suspect or dubious and giving adequate representation to women in Parliament and assemblies like panchayats and nagarpalikas.

Lauding the functioning of the Election Commission, she said, “I recall with some amusement that during the political crisis that gripped the USA a few weeks back suggestions had been made by many that if only the world’s richest democracy had followed systems adopted in the world’s most populous democracy the Florida mix-up would not have happened. That is yet another tribute to our Election Commission.”

The Chief Election Commissioner, Dr M.S. Gill, in his welcome address asked the government and political parties to effectively check the menace of money and use of muscle power during elections and demanded that a quick solution be found to provide fair gender representation at all levels.

“We in the commission and the people of the country do worry that money and muscle power must be effectively checked to maintain the true spirit of democracy,” he said.

Regretting that temperatures in the electoral arena had risen, sometimes to the level of actual violence, Dr Gill said, “We need immediately and collectively to bring it down.”

“I would, therefore, plead with all parties to sometimes sit in quiet conclave and draw a ‘lakshman rekha’ of self-restraint around themselves. The people are anxious for a calm atmosphere,” he said.

Among the august gathering were Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah.Back

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