An overview of the forty-seven years of electoral experience has brought to light and exposed to the public view the actual and potential deficiencies, flaws and loopholes in the existing electoral system. This has necessitated the need for electoral reforms since as early as 1960s. In fact the electoral reform has been written about since the first general election based on adult franchise under the Constitution.
Under the Constitution of India, it is the Election Commission which has the authority of supervision, direction and control of elections to Parliament, State Legislatures and offices of President and Vice-President. It has, therefore, been making recommendations from time to time on various aspects of electoral reforms in the country. But despite the fact that almost unanimous recommendations on electoral reforms by an All Party Committee presided over by Dinesh Goswami, the then Minister of Law & Justice in 1990, no follow-up action has yet been contemplated by the powers - that - be since then.
Nothing short of a very powerful people's movement would compel the government and Parliament to forthwith implement the various recommendations of the bodies like Jagannath Rao Committee, Dinesh Gosami Committee and Justice Krishna Aiyar Committee along with various suggestions for electoral reforms offered by different election commissions from time to time.
That (as of Feb. 15, 1997) there were as many as 621 parties registered with the Election Commission of India, including eight national and 39 State level recognized parties, speaks of the proliferation of nonserious and spurious political parties; and even more, the need to tighten the processes of registration and recognition It is strange that even the minimum number of persons who may join to form a political party is not presented under Section 29A of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951.
Such unprincipled, personality-oriented proliferation of parties has directly contributed to post election opportunistic coalitions and unstable Governments. Political parties have to be statutorily recognised, and made accountable for internal democracy.
Generally speaking the country has lived under what is called "20%" governments. Because roughly 60% of the electorate has voted and any party securing at least 30-35% of the votes has enjoyed the privilege of forming the government on its own or with marginal support from outside. This implies that 18-21% of the electorate has voted the government into power. This is not democracy in the real sense of the term.
Introduction of proportional representation in the legislature can solve this problem. The main argument against the proposal has been that it will snap the linkage between the electorate and the legislator.
Recently Justice Jeevan Reddy had come up with an excellent suggestion, which would also eliminate the personal stake and the resultant corruption. He has suggested limiting electoral contest to parties, assigning the constituencies to parties which win them and then letting them nominate legislators against the constituencies which they win out a prepublished list of party nominees. Naturally, the parties will generally keep in view local and social factors while assigning nominees to their constituencies.
In any case, the electorate of each constituency will know who represents it in the Lok Sabha/Assembly and demand care from him. But perhaps, for various reasons, people are not yet ready for the proportional system.
However, the discrepancy between the electoral support and legislative power can be partly corrected by the stipulation that a candidate securing more than 50% of votes polled should be declared deleted. If no candidate secures that kind of support, immediately within a week's time, polls should be held again to ascertain who gets the requisite number of votes.This condition would also reduce the possibility of weak candidate getting elected and the role of caste and religious feelings.
Legislature is, above all, the main arena for political discourse, informed discussion and policy-making. Therefore, the law should prescribe minimum educational qualification for candidates; perhaps a university degree.
If more than one member is elected from each constituency, the scope for using the feelings of caste and religion may be reduced. Parties putting up candidates belonging to different castes and religions are likely to get better support which reduce the influence of caste and religions in the elections.
If an elected member resigns or dies, no by-election should be held. In such eventuality, the candidate polling the next highest votes should be sent to the legislature as the elected candidate. This would reduce the election expenditure and compensate the cost of holding the elections to see that only the candidates getting more than 50% of votes polled should be declared elected..
The election disputes should be decided expenditiously. Special courts may be constituted for this purpose. The Chief Election Commissioner has suggested imposition of Governor's rule in the State once the electoral process has begun. Logically, the President should take over the central government. The constitutional propriety of both has to be considered in depth.
But it is suggested that to begin with, routine appointment of the DM as the R.O. should be abandoned and instead of deputing an observer, the Election Commission should appoint an R.O. for the duration of the election from the date of filing of nomination to the announcement of results. The R.O. shall function under the direct command of the E.C. and the CEO of the State and organise the deployment of the magistracy as well as of the Central and State forces on election duty.
Regarding funding of elections, the monetary limit on electoral expenditure has become meaningless. The Election Commission knows it that even with its army of observers and video cameras, it cannot control the expenditure, particularly the invisible expenditure in the form of advances and payments to local managers or brokers and workers for block votes. State funding is also meaningless as it will only augment the resources available to the heavy spenders. However, to help the poor and honest candidates, state funding proportionate to the votes polled in the last election should be made available to the recognised parties in the form of cloth for banners and flags, paper for posters, voter slips and leaflets, fuel for the vehicles etc.
The state should also provide common facilities in every district and block headquarters for holding public meeting. Tax-exempt and tax deductible donation by companies should be legitimised so long as they distribute their donation pro rat a to all recognised parties and do not patronise a party or parties or candidates of their choice.
Coming to the ever-increasing menace of bogus voting, the only feasible remedy is introduction of identity cards and voting machines. Electronic voting will facilitate the recording and publication of booth/station-wise poll results, immediately after the polling is over.
The present system unduly prolongs the elections. It should be possible to transfer the forces from one constituency to contiguous constituency after a day's rest. The elections may then be held in two and a maximum of three dates — D, D+3 and D+5. The constituency wide results may be tabulated electronically and announced on D+7. This would also take care of the re-runs, which, if necessary, can be held on D+1, D+4 and D+6. Thus the final results should be available within a week.
The revision of the electoral roll not received as much attention as it should have had. The rolls have considerable overlap; many dead electors continue to live; many live voters may not officially exist. Without systematic crosscheck, an elector may figure in two rolls, when he changes residence. Revision, summary or intensive, is subject to the bias and prejudice and even goodwill and favour of the enumerator, because it is not a transparent operation. The draft roll should be available in several public places - not only at the polling station which may be deserted e.g. in primary schools, panchayat bhawans, police stations and outposts and block offices.
objection should be dealt with within a week and the corrected roll should be similarly published. In the process of revision, the Supreme court ruling of 1995, laying down the procedure, should be meticulously followed; the name of a living elector cannot be deleted on grounds of citizenship unless he has been found to be a foreigner and the burden of proof lies on the administration; the name of new claimant cannot be included unless he has been proved to be a citizen, or a voter elsewhere, and the burden of proof lies on the claimant.
Delimitation of constituencies is overdue with wide disparities within the same State/UT and in the country as a whole. What is important is to realise that in micro and mini constituencies the elector enjoys as weightage which militates against the democratic principle. The House of the People or the Legislative Assembly represents the people of the country and of the State as a whole. The parliamentary and Assembly constituencies should have as far as possible equal electorate, within a margin of say, 5%. But this implies that some State/UT boundaries may have to be disregarded for the Lok Sabha.
Similarly district boundaries may be disregarded for the Vidhan Sabha. Our national endeavour to create small States (but also if possible to combine micro State/UTs) and small districts should be dovetailed into fresh delimitation, which should be based on the principle of equality of representation and administrative convenience, and fix the area of a Lok sabha constituency as one or more adjacent districts plus or minus contiguous blocks, Tehsils and Talukas. Similarly, Vidhan Sabha constituency should cover one or more Blocks/Tehsils, Talukas plus or minus contiguous Panchayats.
An important aspect of electoral management is the recognition of political parties as national or State. The present system is simply full of inequities. Simpler rules should be evolved. A recognised party should have the status of a national party throughout the country if it secures 10% of the national votes in a parliamentary election. Similarly a State party should be one which secures at least 10% of the votes in a State in the parliamentary or assembly election. The existing provision of the minimum number of State/UTs has been rendered meaningless with several parties qualifying as national parties on the basis of the qualifying percentage of votes or number of seats in mini and micro States/UTs.
To eliminate the 'menace' of independents, only registered political parties should be permitted to contest elections. And the list of registered parties should be updated after every parliamentary or assembly election to eliminate those which do not secure at least 10% of the national or State votes, as the case may be.
The reform must also go into the system of registration of parties. It is essential that the Election Commission should have the statutory authority to deregister parties for undemocratic and immoral conduct, such as, not acting in violating the ideological commitments, they were required to make at the time of registration, to democracy and secularism, to rule of law and peaceful methods. The decision of the Election Commission may however be subject to review by the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court.
The Chief Election Commissioner has suggested open voting for the Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils. This suggestion merits serious consideration in the interest of electoral discipline and political integrity.
But what is more essential is to relate Rajya Sabha membership firmly to domicile in the State. The phenomenon of Gujral being elected from Bihar, Jethmalani from Karnataka and Shiv Shankar from Gujarat, must not be permitted to become the norm. Unless a person has lived and worked in a state for at least 5 years, he should not be permitted to be a candidate for the Rajya Sabha from that State. And why shouldn't one-third of the members of the Rajya Sabha be elected by the members of the Lok Sabha just as one-third of the MLC's are elected by the MLA's?
The present system of nomination by the president to the Rajya Sabha/Legislative Councils by the government needs to be reviewed. This power of nomination has been misused, more often than not, to favour friends, to fulfil political, nay, party purpose, to rehabilitate rootless debts. The nomination should be transparent; the government should place the proposed names in the public domain, let the public react, and then finalise the nomination. Also the vacancies should not be permitted to pile up. A vacancy should be required to be filled, within 3 months of its occurrence.
The Rajya Sabha's traditional role be enhanced by instituting additional ex-officio nominations of a former President of the Republic, a former Prime Minister, a former Cabinet Justice, a former Service Chief, a former Cabinet Secretary, a former Foreign Secretary as well as the pro tem Presidents of nationally representative organisations in the field of law, medicine, science, eduction, commerce and industry etc.
The Election Commission has done well to prescribe an affidavit on pending criminal cases to be filed along with the nomination paper. But it needs a legislative backing. Moreover, as proposed by the Commission, anyone involved in a criminal case, of which judicial cognizance has been taken and in which the Court has framed charges, should be debarred, even without waiting for the first judgement in the case. This would effectively bar the entry of the criminal elements.
It should be prescribed that anyone standing for a public office should file an affidavit giving the particulars of the movable and immovable assets owned by him or the dependent members of his family and those gifted by him to the other blood relations. This affidavit should remain confidential to begin with but would come into the public domain, when his nomination as a candidate is accepted by the R.O. This will be an effective way of dealing with corrupt elements and particularly with those whose real objective in entering the legislature is to make money through proximity to and influence over the power structure.
To break the ever-increasing nexus between defection and corruption, the anti-defection law needs to be amended—first, to define 'split' as an event and not as a process and to require the splitters to approach the Speaker within 24 hours of the split and the Speaker to take cognizance of the vent with the next 24 hours and second, to make it mandatory for any defector who within 3 months of defection, becomes a member of the Council of Ministers or undertaking or assumes any office of profit to resign his seat and seek fresh election. This would decisively deal with the phenomenon "Aya Rams" and "Gaya Rams", to the extent it is powered by the lust for money.
It has also become essential to relate reservation for the SC and the ST to all constituencies with more than 30% SC or ST population, in addition to other constituencies with 20% or more SC or ST population, by rotation, for every general election. Today other social groups inhabiting the reserved constituencies suffer a sense of permanent deprivation.
At the village, taluka and district levels, 30 percent of seats are reserved for women. Women are 20 percent of voters in the country. Yet, hardly 8 to 12 per cent of the candidates elected are women. This imbalance should be rectified. In the Union and State Legislature also, at least 30 per cent seats should be reserved for women.
The Election Commission should be given the full authority to conduct, control, direct and supervise the elections. It should be strengthened to discharge the duties entrusted to it. It should have all the modern gadgets and means of transport and communication, publication, etc., to function efficiently. The Election Commission should be allowed to function independently and efficiently. There should also be provisions in law to bring about the necessary cooperation and coordination between the authorities and wings empowered to hold and assist in the elections.
The Election Commission is entrusted with the task of organizing elections has witnessed two phases in its evolution to where it is now, the two phases being (a) single member, and (b) multi member. An overview of five decades of the Election Commission, while establishing the positive role it played in consolidating the democratic process, also reveals that it is not a single member or a multi-member (debated ad nauseum), that matters, but the flaws in the design of the organization (the structure, the systems and the styles) which is entrusted with very critical and complex if not conflicting mix of executive (operational), regulatory (umpiring) and judicial (adjudicator) functions, apart from the norms and procedures for the appointment of members. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's observations are resonant: "there is no use making the tenure of the Election Commissioner a fixed and secure tenure if there is no provision in the Constitution to prevent either a fool or knave or a person who is likely to be under the thumb of the executive. The Drafting Committee has paid considerable attention and as a via media it was though - (of an) Instrument of Instructions to President." The idea did not fructify.
The poor design, draftsmanship and the haste with which the October 1993 ordinance was promulgated converting the Commission from single member to a multi-member organisation, even if justifiable on other grounds, proved the apprehensions of the founding fathers, and reinforced the need for an Instrument of Instructions.
A fine-tuned Election Commission, supported by adequate and appropriate legislative and administrative measure alone can tackle the problem and arrest the criminalisation of electoral process, through measures such as derecognition, deregistration of parties and disqualification of candidates. All the constitutional umpires, all the election commissioners and all the institutions of judiciary cannot cleanse the electoral process and uphold the purity of constitutional democracy in India unless