Times of India
Bharti Jain
New Delhi

NEW DELHI: The Election Commission has been urged to allow voters more time to know their candidates than the fortnight or so they currently get to familiarize themselves with the financial and criminal backgrounds of those in the fray.

The idea, conveyed informally to the EC by theAssociation for Democratic Reforms (ADR), moots a longer campaigning period of a month to 45 days to allow voters to know their candidates better and make their choice more objectively.

The existing 'Know-Your-Candidate' (KYC) initiative of the EC does place the candidate's financial and criminal background in public domain. But it kicks in only post-nomination, leaving voters no more than 13 days to scroll through the information. Many feel this allows the electorate — particularly the growing breed of young, inquisitive voters that political parties are increasingly targeting their campaigns at — little time to know the candidates they must choose from.

One of the suggestions made by ADR to correct this anomaly was to increase the intervening period between the nomination process and the actual poll, from the current 15 days to a month or 45 days. This, it was felt, would give enough time for the voter to scan and compare the antecedents of the candidates in the fray, thus aiding him in making the right choice.

Though the Election Commission is said to have held internal discussions on the suggestion regarding the proposed KYC model — crafted on the system followed in many western democracies — but the dominant view was that it was not suited to Indian conditions. Given the money and muscle power that are integral to the election campaigns here, a longer gap between completion of nominations and polling would only add to costs and political clashes. This, the EC felt, would be counter-productive to its efforts to make elections fairer and more transparent.

Though there is the option of political parties declaring candidates well in advance and volunteering information on these candidates even before their file their nomination, this has not found many takers as most parties are unwilling to finalize their ticket distribution much ahead of the poll.

"Unfortunately, unlike the US where KYC is a successful programme as nominations are made well before the poll, the Indian system barely allows the voter a fortnight to decide his favoured candidate. So, unless a candidate is being renominated, voters don't get enough time to weigh his suitability based on hard facts and figures," ADC founder and trustee, Trilochan Sastry, told TOI.

According to Sastry, the ADR has for now made suggestions to make the current KYC system more effective. "We requested EC to make the candidate information available within 24 hours of withdrawal of nominations, unlike the present system where it is put in public domain only two to three days later...besides, we sought that a one-page summary of candidate's information be put up, to which the commission has agreed," he added.

Times View

The idea of a longer campaign seems attractive on the face of it because it would certainly give more time for the electorate to be made aware of the pluses and minuses of various candidates. However, there is a serious downside to the proposal which must be dealt with. The model code of conduct is in force from the moment the elections are announced to the day of the polls. While it prevents ruling parties from abusing their power to give sops to voters, it also does act as a constraint on government decision making. If it is in operation for a longer period, that could become a more serious problem than it currently is.

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