The Tribune

ACKNOWLEDGED as one of the ‘most vibrant’ democracies in the non-western world, India has also been considered ‘an ideal case for testing democratic theories’, given the formidable challenges it has faced since Independence. Its success, however, has primarily been recognised as an electoral democracy, having regular free and fair elections registering participation of one-sixth of the world’s electorate, and also peaceful transfer of power.

The weakening of other democratic forums and procedures has made elections crucial to the well-being of India’s democracy. This explains a heightened focus on the electoral system, party system and electoral politics. Sifting through literature reveals lack of focus on the institutional and legal aspects of elections. For instance, there have not been many studies of the Election Commission, electoral laws, reforms, legislations and judicial decisions pertaining to elections.

This volume merits attention precisely due to its focus on the institutional and procedural aspects of the electoral system and for the abiding concern as to how elections in India can be made much more transparent and cleaner. It consists of essays by former civil servants, activists, lawyers, journalists, academics and former judges who are part of the civil society groups like the Association for Democratic Reforms, the Constitutional Conduct Group and Forum for Electoral Integrity. These social action groups have played an important role in efforts to cleanse the electoral system by not only providing information about the background of the contestants, but also drawing attention to any lacuna in the way elections are conducted, be it the selection of candidates, campaign speeches, role of money and muscle, or use of sectarian politics to gain votes. They have often taken recourse to judicial remedies also.

The first part deals with the merits of the EVM-VVPAT system of voting as some Opposition parties have been accusing that the ‘process is tamperable’. The suggestions include providing guarantee against ‘hacking, tampering and spurious vote injections’, and that the ‘paper slip is counted and matched to verify/audit the votes polled and votes counted before making the results public’. Essays related to the integrity and inclusiveness of the electoral rolls underline the critical need of including all vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

There are also essays which refer to criminalisation and role of money power, which ‘compromise the integrity of democracy in multiple ways’. Electoral bonds especially come up for critical scrutiny as these evidently create an uneven field favouring the parties in power. The way electoral bonds were introduced, presenting it as a Money Bill so as to overcome the Rajya Sabha resistance, comes up for criticism. Another area of concern is the excessive partisan role of the media in favour of the parties in power.

The reform measures suggested include making the appointment and removal process of ECI members more rigorous, and a bar on post-retirement assignments. The proposed Aadhaar-voter ID linkage also comes up for scrutiny on the ground that it leads to an invasion of privacy.

The volume is a valuable contribution by eminent citizens who have a proven record of integrity and professional competence. What adds to the value are the empirical studies of the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections to highlight the challenges that have seeped into the system.

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