To strengthen democracy, the onus lies on every voter

Sh. Joginder Singh ji
(Former Director – C.B.I.)

Finally the schedule for the General Elections to be conducted from April 16 to May 13 was announced. Voting will be held in five phases. Nearly 2,100,000 security personnel will be deployed across the country during the elections. There will be 40 days of campaigning. Apart from the security forces, 4,000,000 civilian officers will man over 800,000 polling booths. Counting will start on May 16 and thereafter the results will be announced. Over 71 crore voters will exercise their franchise for 543 seats in the country.

Of the 543 Member of Parliaments, the Lok Sabha 2004 had 120 MPs with criminal records. Among the major parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had 29 MPs with a criminal record, the Indian National Congress 24, the Samajwadi Party (SP) 11, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) eight, Communist Part of India (Marxist) seven, Bahujan Samaj Party seven, National Congress Party (NCP) five and Communist Party of India (CPI-M) two and Independents 27. Six MPs won while in prison. Most parties, or I should say, none had any manifesto. The only manifesto or criterion for selection of a candidate is winnability.

In the General Elections of 1996, the Election Commission seized illegal arms which included 2,000 guns, 11,000 cartridges, 175 explosives and 57,000 bombs. Of the 13,952 candidates who contested, nearly 1,500 had criminal records, almost 700 MLAs out of 4,722 in the country were involved in criminal cases and trial was pending against them. This issue figured prominently during the special session of Parliament held in August 1997 and it was unanimously agreed to carry out meaningful electoral reforms. But the situation has remained unchanged. Unfortunately, you cannot call any political party an honourable exception in the fight against the criminalisation of politics. In deed the rejects of one political party are welcomed by others as long as they can win the election by love or money or by using the caste card. Elections now are all about how much money one can spend.

According to a conservative estimate, Rs 10,000 crores will be spent in conducting the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, a big chunk of which will go unaccounted. In the last Karnataka state Assembly election, the Election Commission had seized Rs 45.5 crores worth of liquor and other goodies.

The tendency to purchase votes by doling out money to voters is on the rise as many instances of the same have been videotaped and telecast. It is worthwhile to examine the trends of the Assembly elections held in 2008.

Of 69 MLAs (total is 70) elected to the Delhi Assembly, 46 are millionaires with assets of more than Rs 1 crore. In Delhi, out of 42 candidates with over Rs 5 crores of declared assets, 13 candidates have managed to get elected. However, of 198 candidates with assets less than Rs 5 lakh, not one could make it to the Assembly. Of 91 tainted candidates who contested elections in Delhi, 27 are now legislators.

In the present 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly there are just six newly-elected MLAs with declared assets of less than Rs 5 lakh. In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram, the number of MLAs in this category is five, six and zero respectively.

The single-most powerful factor in politics today is privilege and corruption. The lure of office of MP and MLA provides immunity from the law and that’s why convicted criminals, which include a film actor and half-a-dozen others, including some MPs, who have been convicted, are keen to join the election fray. The hurdle in their way to the Lok Sabha is Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People’s Act of 1951 that stipulates that any person convicted for a crime and sentenced to more than two years’ of jail term is not eligible to contest elections till six years after completion of his sentence.

This can be overcome by approaching the Supreme Court if the conviction was by an anti-terror court or by a high court in other cases. With criminalisation, the principle of sticking to one’s party have taken a backseat in Uttar Pradesh wherein the only criteria for handing out the party ticket is the assurance of winnability. All the turncoats and deserters from other parties have been accommodated, apart from some well-known history sheeters. The list has as many as 40 persons out of the 80, who have some criminal case against them. There is no doubt that other political parties might turn out to be no different though they may vary in degrees. Probably, others would put up matching candidates and, if possible, people with bigger criminal records. In this situation, people are left with no option except to refrain or cast vote for one of the history sheeters, sponsored by the political parties contesting the elections or go for their caste man irrespective of suitability or acceptability. It happened recently when some villagers went to the residence of the most important political leader of a Right-wing party, protesting the denial of ticket to their caste man. Of course, all such protests are sponsored or managed. Opportunism has shaken the confidence of most of the people in democracy. Winston Churchill once said, “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. The point is that the onus lies on each voter to make democracy as bad rulers are elected by good citizens who do not vote. There can be no strong democracy without the strong and interested citizen. After all, we must remember that the ballot in the long run proves stronger than bullet (read the last J&K elections). We must always remember that election is a device which ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve.