October 05, 2013

JAI HO DEMOCRACY!


WILL THE TWO HISTORIC JUDGMENTS USHER IN ELECTORAL REFORMS?


In 1950, as our founding fathers choose a democratic form of government, many observers in the West were skeptical of this decision; they believed that a nation as diverse as ours which had been drained of its wealth by colonist for over four centuries and had not yet recovered from the scars of a bloody partition, would fall apart in case a strong, centralized regime is not put into place. Sixty three years down the line, with a population of over 1.2 billion, we are the biggest democracy in the world. More importantly, unlike several other Afro-Asian countries which got their freedom post the Second World War, we have always decided who our leaders will be; so what if many of our elected netas have gone back on their promises or used their power for personal gains. Although the manner in which we have stuck to our federal democratic principles even in testing times is truly appreciable, there are still several lacunae in our style of functioning. In recent time, widespread corruption and dearth of moral values amongst our leaders, right from the Panchayat level to the corridors of power in New Delhi has led to the public losing its faith in the political establishment. Any attempt to curtail their powers or reform the existing system has been thwarted with politicians cutting across party lines, refusing to budge and ignoring the sentiments of the very electorate that voted them to power. However, the apex court of the court seems to have taken notice of this. In the last month, two historic verdicts of the Supreme Court has given a big blow to political parties, thereby sparking off a massive debate; the calls for a revamp of our entire electoral system (which has been long overdue) are getting louder.

On 11 th July, a bench consisting of judges Patnaik and Mukhopadhaya delivered a judgement that came as a shock for our babus. The Section 8(4) of Representation of People's Act which allowed convicted MPs/MLAs up to three months time to file appeal in higher courts and thus prevent disqualification of their membership, was struck down as 'unconstitutional'. Hence forth, any member of the Parliament or the State Legislatures who has been found guilty of a crime which attracts a punishment of two years or more will not only be disqualified but will also be debarred from contesting elections for the next six years. Of course, the government, under pressure form parties across the political spectrum did file a review petition which, not so surprisingly, was dismissed on September 4. The Manmohan regime tried to bring in an ordinance to bail out its friends - the Lalus and the Mulayums. Unfortunately, this too was struck down - not after BJP's protests or Rahul Baba's drama but after public opinion started growing against it. The implication of this verdict is massive, considering that over 30 per cent of our elected politicians are having pending criminal cases against them. In a number game that our Rajneeti has been reduced to in recent times, parties decide their candidates based on win-ability, even if it means that they have to give to tickets to people with criminal background. And may a times, they tainted nominees make the cut using money and flexing their muscles. However, after the land mark judgement, things will definitely change. In fact, within days of this verdict, Lalu Yadav - the once powerful CM of Bihar who was slowly sinking into the oblivion in both state and national politics, became the first politician to lose his membership of Parliament after being indicted in the Fodder scam. It is expected that all parties will think twice before choosing a criminal to contest as it will only lead to embarrassment once the judiciary finally nails them.

The second judgment which was delivered by a three member bench headed by Chief Justice S Sathasivam on the 27 th of last month, has given the voter the right to negative voting. With the Election Commission agreeing to implement this at the earliest, from now on, every Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) will have a None of the Above as a last option. As such, if one doesn't find any candidate in the fray, whether contesting independently or representing a party, good enough to represent him or her, then he or she can press this option. While there is no clarity over what happens if majority in a constituency select this option, like in the first case, we can expect this verdict to have far reaching affects on our electoral processes in the future. Firstly, in the past, many of us have refrained from exercising our biggest fundamental right because we feel those in the fray are not worthy to lead us. Now that the 'No vote' option is given to the public, people who think this way will also come out and vote. As such participation will increase, thereby further strengthening our democracy. Thus, it gives the masses an opportunity to register their protest while making sure that they do not end up supporting any of the undeserving candidates. Secondly, it will put tremendous pressure on political parties as they have to choose 'good people' to fight elections under their banner. It is no secret that large amount of money is traded and lots of lobbying goes on before any political outfit decides on its nominee. Now that the people have the power to reject all candidates, they will have to be sure that they place good options before the electorate.

The two historic verdicts that have come out of the Supreme Court an year before the big 2014 General Elections is great news for we Indians. Over the years, politicians and parties had used the many loopholes in our system to their advantage. The two judgments have raised hopes that things will start changing very soon. While the parties are trying to keep themselves out of the RTI ambit by bringing in an Amendment and over ruling an earlier court judgment in this regard, they will at least have to think twice before finalizing their candidates in the upcoming elections. There is a two-layered fire wall to prevent crooks and thugs from entering the House of Representatives now. If parties put up bad candidates, then the we have the power to reject them and in case criminals do make the cut, then they will be disqualified immediately on conviction. There is still a long way to go. The right to recall and strict monitoring of funds spent in election campaigning are probably the next steps. I hope that key reforms are ushered in at the earliest, not only in the electoral system but also in other areas like judiciary and police where too they are long pending.


SOURCES 

(1) The Hindu: MPs, MLAs to be disqualified on the date of conviction (Link)

(2) Zee News: SC stands by its order on disqualifying convicted MPs, MLAs (Link)

(3) DNA: Voter has a right to negative voting: Supreme Court (Link)