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Sunday, November 24, 2002
Books

Combating the pitfalls of Indian electoral system
V. Eshwar Anand

National Resurgence Through Electoral Reforms
edited by Subhash C. Kashyap. Shipra Publications, Delhi. Pages 298. Rs 550.

National Resurgence Through Electoral ReformsELECTIONS can be defined as a process, politischer willensbildung, i.e. as a means through which the political opinion of the people is shaped. They play a vital role in helping the people to crystallise their interest and to give expression to them. An election is the contrivance through which a modern state creates amongst its citizens a sense of involvement and participation in public affairs.

In developing countries like India, elections are particularly conspicuous and revealing aspects of the contemporary political system. They highlight and dramatise the political system bringing its nature into sharp relief and providing insights into other aspects of the system and the basic nature and actual functioning of the system as a whole.

Unlike the situations in many developing countries, in India, elections have always been central and not peripheral to the system. True, they have been shaped and conditioned by the prevailing politico-socio-economic factors. But they have also acted as the connecting link between the citizens and the government, between the society and the polity, between the elites and the masses, and between the traditional and modern aspects of Indian life and behaviour.

The pitfalls of the Indian electoral system come to the fore after every election. The ever-increasing role of money power has made elections a virtually unequal contest, diluting the concept of democracy. The seat-vote distortion, the misuse of power by the ruling party (or coalition) and rigging are some of the drawbacks of elections. The first-past-the-post system ensures that a person with a vote bank of around 25-30 per cent could be sure of victory. Communal and casteist considerations further reinforced the corrupt system. The character and record of the candidate have become irrelevant after criminalisation of politics started playing a major role in elections.

 


Against this background, the Supreme Courtís ruling of May 2, 2002, and the Election Commissionís subsequent directive of June 28 were watershed developments in the annals of the Indian electoral system. Both the institutions sought to cleanse the polity of systemic ills and set the pace for genuine electoral reforms. Unfortunately, however, the euphoria generated by the two developments was shortlived. The Representation of the People (Amendment) Ordinance, 2002, promulgated on August 25, 2002, was a great betrayal.

The Ordinance, said to be the result of an "all-party consensus," is a watered-down version of all that the Supreme Court wanted our representatives to follow. For instance, how would a winning candidateís submission of the statement of his/her assets and liabilities to the Speaker, that too, after the elections, help cleanse the system? Worse, the Ordinance is silent about the educational qualifications of the candidates. Sadly, the political class did not pay heed even to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalamís queries on some of these vital points, when he returned the Ordinance to the Union Cabinet for its reconsideration.

The book under review is, no doubt, expected to make a significant contribution to the study of electoral reforms. It contains scholarly articles by noted and well-informed contributors. The book is a compilation of papers presented by contributors at various workshops and seminars, which were jointly organised by the Government of Indiaís Department of Culture and New Delhiís Rashtriya Jagriti Sansthan. These seminars were aimed at promoting a healthy debate among thinkers and scholars on the much-needed reforms for "a resurgent India." The title of the book succinctly explains the quintessence of the theme.

Dr Subhash C. Kashyap, who edited the book, is a well-known commentator. Over the years, he has been writing widely on electoral reforms and this book does contain the stamp of his long experience in the Lok Sabha. The only drawback of the publication is that it does not cover the most important developments in the last six months. Obviously, the editor had to race against the deadline in processing the contributions and sticking to the printing schedule.

Nonetheless, this in no way dilutes the importance of the book. Some of the articles have a specialised touch as the contributors, having drawn leaves from their experience, devoted themselves to specific areas of electoral reform. The article by Dr Jayaprakash Narayan, who quit the Indian Administrative Service (Andhra Pradesh cadre) to work as Campaign Coordinator for Lok Satta, an NGO, is particularly illuminating. Equally interesting are the articles by Mr Shivraj Patil, Deputy Leader of Opposition, Lok Sabha, Mr P.A. Sangma, former Lok Sabha Speaker, Mr Uday Chand Agarwal, former Central Vigilance Commissioner, Mr P.R. Dubhashi, former Vice-Chancellor of Goa University, and Professor S.R. Maheshwari.

In its present form, the book has got tremendous reference value for researchers, journalists, political scientists, politicians and administrators. However, it needs to be revised and updated in view of the current developments.