Elections: The dance of democracy or...
by P M Ravindran on 31 Mar 2019 2 Comments

It’s another election season in the country. I have heard it being described as the dance of democracy. But the reality is far from it. It is my belief that party-based democracy has failed in this country. Can the Presidential system, as in the US, work in our context? No guarantee, there. But can’t we think afresh, keeping in mind the lessons we have learnt from our own experiences in the past fifty years? Shouldn’t we tailor our solutions to suit our problems?


Here is one suggestion: Our government should function at three levels. Villages should form the units of administration. Villages should be linked through computer networks to the next level of governance, that is, the State. States should be linked to the government at the Centre. Polls should be conducted to elect representatives to an Electoral College (EC). These representatives, Members of Electoral College (MEC), can be one per 500 or 1000 of the population, but should necessarily be one among them. MECs from the village will function as the Village Panchayat (VP), which will send a representative to the State Legislature (SL) on need basis. This need will be decided by the agenda before the Legislature and the competence of the MEC to address the issues in the agenda. The agenda, of course, will be circulated by the State Secretariat well in advance so that the issues are discussed thoroughly at the Village Panchayat and every VP can send its best spokesperson for the occasion to the State Legislature.


A similar exercise can follow for issues at the national level taken up for consideration in the Parliament. Of necessity, the discussions should start at the Panchayat level, ensuring the best democratic process at work always. And there shall never be defections and toppling of governments for the five years for which each Electoral College shall function!



Utopian or flight of fancy? You are free to decide. The change will be painful, I am sure it is workable.


No one can deny that our electoral process is riddled with problems. But more than the problems at execution level, there are grossly illogical and wayward policies that dominate our electoral process. We can call them genetic defects. A Whatsapp message, attributed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, begins with the observation ‘while even under trials in prison cannot vote, convicts in prison can contest elections’.


In our context, conviction implies ultimate conviction by the apex court, which can take the life of one generation. Even then the law is explicit that even those convicted, with less than 2 years imprisonment as punishment, can stake claim to be law maker! As if there is dearth of citizens with unblemished records.


The next obvious defect is the lack of any prescribed qualifications, qualities or experience for being a law maker. Another defect is the questionable provision for a candidate to contest from more than one constituency at a time. A related issue is of candidates being thrust on constituencies where they are not ordinarily resident. This is obviously a basic flaw with party-based democracy whereby the candidates who win remain beholden to the party leadership and not to those who elected them. There is no reason why a resident of a constituency cannot be put up to represent them. It should be made legally mandatory for a candidate to be a resident of the constituency from where he is contesting elections - at least five years for state assemblies and 10 years for Parliament.


The next objectionable issue is the back door entry of politicians into Parliament - the Rajya Sabha route. The Upper House is actually conceived as a body of specialists, professionals and others who have proved their worth in different spheres of activities and whose expertise would add to the overall performance of Parliament. But except film stars and may be a cricketer or two, this body has been hijacked by politicians.


Election manifestoes are not worth the paper they are printed on. I initiated an online petition demanding that manifestoes must be legally binding on the parties presenting them.



The basic issues are:

-        The promises made in the manifesto should be listed priority-wise for implementation: must do, should do, could do. While all promises under ‘must do’ have to be fulfilled, it could be 90 per cent for ‘should do’ and 80 per cent for ‘could do’. The phased program of implementation should be specified and should not go beyond five years. For every percentage shortfall there should be penalties at deterrent rates for the three categories.

-        The resources required for implementing should be specific.

-        The means by which resources will be mobilised should be specified in detail.

-        There should be no freebies for anybody.


Among the seemingly proactive changes introduced by the Election Commission, goaded by the judiciary, is the need for candidates to file affidavits about their wealth and that of their relations. Also to be filed are details about convictions in criminal cases and involvement in ongoing criminal cases. Unfortunately, this has remained just a scarecrow. Firstly, this information is not made available to voters to help them make informed choices. An NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms, has been making valiant efforts to compile some of this pertinent information and disseminate it, but that is the tip of the proverbial iceberg of information that needs to be disseminated.


In a conclave of judges of the higher judiciary at Bhopal some years ago, the then Chief Justice of India reportedly asked the Chief Election Commissioner what action has ever been taken on such data, and the reply was none. Just to reduce the shock, it was added that the CEC had no resources to scrutinize the voluminous data available and they only look into complaints made by affected parties.


This time a new mandate has been issued: candidates have to file their income tax returns for the last five years. Obviously sitting MPs contesting now may expose how much their wealth has grown in the last five years. But to what extent this information will be known to the public and how it will impact their choices remains to be seen. Strictly speaking, there is no reason why returning officers should not be made responsible for compiling and disseminating this information at least one week before the date of polling.


While these are policy-related shortcomings that need to be taken care of, there are plenty of defects and deficiencies in the implementing stage. The updating of electoral rolls is a major area that needs attention. During my first effort to get my name registered in the electoral rolls two decades ago, I was bluntly told that the revision of electoral rolls would be done shortly before the next elections. Then, just 10 days after I got my Voter I-Card, I found my name removed from the electoral roll when I went to cast my first vote. I complained to the observer then and there and on his advice lodged a written complaint with the District Electoral Officer (District Collector). No marks for guessing what happened to that complaint. Worse, in one case some voters actually approached the High Court claiming that their fundamental right as a citizen had been violated. But the court dismissed the petition with the remark that even if those petitioners had voted it would not have affected the results.


Errors in the electoral rolls are a matter of serious concern. I once helped two candidates for local body elections with the verification of the electoral rolls. From names to gender, age and address, there was not one area without serious errors. The simplest example is of husbands shown as female and wife as male. Non-intimation of change of address is a problem of the voter’s creation.


Aadhaar has not been linked to the Voter I-Card and electoral rolls.  Isn’t it time this was done and remote voting enabled through electronic means? I also favour networking EVMs on constituency basis so that the results get updated in real time and the confidentiality of booth-wise preference of the electorate is protected.


When elections were announced on March 10, 2019 the Chief Electoral Officer lost no time in declaring that he meant business and the Model Code of Conduct would be enforced strictly. Brave words. But what happens on the ground? Here are some facts disclosed under the RTI Act in the context of the General Elections 2014.


Among the information sought was:

The details of cases of defacement acted upon by the teams*, in para 4**, since their deployment till two days prior to the date of providing information. The details should include the date, time, location, type/nature of defacement, party/candidate involved, action taken by the ADS(like movable boards removed and deposited at (location where deposited); defacement of walls whitewashed etc; removing and whitewashing done by ......@ cost of Rs.....; whether payment made or not, amount raised against party/candidate vide (document reference and date) sent by courier/regd post (regn number required) on (date), total distance covered, fuel consumed, nature of fuel.

*Anti Defacement Squads

**pertains to the area of Palakkad Municipality


The first response was that the information can be collected after inspecting the documents on a date that was almost a month away. The first appellate authority ruled that the delay is acceptable as everybody was busy with election work. He directed the information to be provided by June 15, 2014, a further delay of 45 days. Accordingly, some information was provided June 12, 2014. The first appeal filed after receiving this information was not accepted.


The most important bits of information provided are listed below:

-        There were 13 Anti Defacement Squads organised in the Lok Sabha Constituency, one each for the 12 Legislative Assembly Constituencies and one for the District Electoral Officer.

-        Each squad consisted of a Junior Superintendent level public servant, as head of the squad, two subordinates, one videographer and a driver with vehicle. The total diesel consumed between March 17 and March 29, 2014 alone was 3,747 litres. The squads had recorded cases of defacements under five headings: wall writing, posters, banners and others. Total number of such defacement of public property was 1,49,333.


Interestingly, such cases in the matter of private property were not recorded at all. Though the Model Code of Conduct states unambiguously that “No political party or candidate shall permit its or his followers to make use of any individual’s land, building, compound wall etc., without his permission for erecting flag-staffs, suspending banners, pasting notices, writing slogans etc.”


Also, though listed, absolutely no cases were recorded of misuse of vehicle, violation of loudspeaker act, illegal meetings/speech etc., inducement/ gratification to electors /cash, kind distribution. This is a far cry from the reality. At least one thing one can vouch for – there have been many violations of the loudspeaker act because many vehicles could be seen making announcements though the permission, when given, strictly prohibits announcements from moving vehicles.


The most interesting piece of information received was ‘Candidature cost of Anti Defacement’.  The figures are: UDF-110,100; LDF-118,000; BJP-42,100; Welfare Party-1650; SDPI-2670; BSP-1142; AAP-1050; M.P. Virendra Kumar (Indep)-2100. Though sought, the information about recovery of these amounts had not been provided.


Then there was the case of Ramesh Krishna, IAS, assigned as observer to Kollam (Kerala), who went to Thiruvananthapuram to play golf (as reported in the media here). He was immediately withdrawn. But seeking information under the RTI Act on what disciplinary action had been taken against him, the Public Information Officer of the CEC dismissed media reports as ‘perception’ and said that no further action had been taken against him.


One doesn’t know how many people remember the video reports of Ms Nalini Singh on booth capturing during elections in Bihar and UP. Maybe those thuggish crimes have reduced, not entirely due to the efforts of the Election Commission or the public servants involved in conducting the elections. I will credit the social media and citizen journalists with a major share of the compliments for the visible positive changes. But there still is a long way to go before we can usher in democracy through fair and free elections.


In conclusion, I would like to inform readers that I have registered a complaint with the Chief Electoral Officer of the State (Kerala) about the defacing the walls of private property by the UDF candidate, Mr V.K. Sreekandan. This is just a test case. It is more than a few days since I complained and demanded that the posters be removed from the compound walls of the plot adjoining my house within 48 hours. The plot belongs to my children who are out of the state. A compensation of Rs 50,000/- has also been sought for trespassing on private property, as such defacement is to be viewed. A copy of the complaint has been endorsed to the CEC.  Shall keep you posted of any further developments. 

The views expressed by the author are personal

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