The Statesman
New Delhi


Prof Trilochan Sastry is the founder-member of National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) which won a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court that made it compulsory for candidates to declare their financial, criminal and educational background at the time of elections.

An alumnus of distinguished institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, Prof Sastry taught for several years at IIM, Ahmedabad, before moving to IIM, Bangalore. He is currently dean (academics) at IIM, Bangalore. He has taught in other universities in India as well as in Japan, Hong Kong and the USA and has published a number of academic papers in Indian and international journals.

He spoke to RANJEET S JAMWAL about the role of money in elections, measures of deterrence and new trends in India.

Large amounts of money have been seized during the ongoing Assembly elections. How do you see it?

I think it’s a very good thing (seizure of money). First, we should congratulate the Election Commission for the job. Secondly, the basic problem with the kind of democracy practised in India is that voters can be bought. We need a whole set of measures to correct this, including changes in law and more strict vigilance and monitoring. Voters also need to be told that they should not accept money as it gives them nothing else but bad governance.

Do you see elections as playing a role in breeding corruption?

Yes, there is definitely a very strong connection between the two. At least one chief minister is on record saying that election expenses are at the root of corruption. In this era of competitive politics, candidates feel that they need to spend more and more to win an election and once they win they have to recover the costs. And, to do that, they indulge in corruption and perpetuate it because elected candidates also set aside money for contesting the next election.

Is it proper for business houses to donate to political parties?

This is a complex issue. If businessmen or corporates donate money to political parties in an open and transparent manner, there is no problem. But if it is not done in an open and transparent manner, it would not be wrong to conclude that corruption is involved. Several other leading democracies are also facing this problem and there is no single solution. Lot of transparency is required with regard to election funding and it should be made very clear who is funding whom and what’s the amount involved. Also, there should be a ceiling on donations. Lastly, there should be penalties. We are a soft state in this regard. Despite scams galore, we see very few people going to jail. Penal action should be swift and appropriate.

Is state funding of elections a solution?

The current Chief Election Commissioner has gone on record to say that his fellow commissioners and himself are opposed to this. The opinion on this is divided. Our position in the Association of Democratic Reforms and the National Election Watch is that first we need to put in place the necessary laws to root out corruption and then go for state funding of elections. Otherwise, without deterrents, candidates will carry on with wrongdoing despite receiving state funding to contest elections. So, we need to cleanse the system first and then think about state funding.

It is because of the important role that money plays in elections that political parties give preference to millionaires as candidates?

There is nothing wrong in being a millionaire if the money is earned through honest and legal means. But by selecting millionaires, millions in this country are not represented adequately. Many reports put the number of people living below the poverty line in India at between 300 and 700 billion. How well is this segment represented in Parliament? If a large number of MPs are millionaires, this spawns a crisis of equitable representation.

Have you witnessed any new trend in these Assembly elections?

We have been getting reports about some voters who actually started returning money that had been offered/paid to purchase their votes.

What do you think is the reason?

It happened because of a combination of factors. Some civil society groups such as National Election Watch have been working with voters in Tamil Nadu. They are telling voters that selling a vote is like selling one’s dignity. Second, people have started realising that one may get Rs 1,000, 2,000 or 5,000 for every vote cast but it doesn’t really help in the long run without good roads, water or electricity and teachers who come regularly to schools. Accepting bribe translates into bad governance because the candidate who is buying a vote is clearly not interested in acting as a people’s representative in the true sense of the word. We are trying to generate awareness here.

The world is changing very fast because of cellphones and the Internet. The younger generation is thinking things through. It is my hunch that we will see many positive developments with regard to voter responsiveness and responsibility in the next 10 to 15 years. Increasing awareness will dig out more dirt regarding corruption in public life. And, we as a nation should have the fortitude to weather it. It’s a positive sign, actually.

Have you noticed anything new in West Bengal?

I think 85 per cent polling in the second phase of election is fantastic news. It shows people are expressing themselves much more strongly than they had done in the past. Comments (0)

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