The Tribune

IN a democracy, people are said to get the government they deserve and there is indeed no office that is more important than that of the citizen, who requires credible information to make an informed choice while electing people’s representatives. Thanks to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and the National Election Watch (NEW), both citizens’ initiatives, people are receiving more information than ever before about candidates in the fray. Their studies this year have revealed, for example, that in the five poll-bound states, as many as one-third of the ministers seeking re-election have criminal charges against them; that predictably enough, the Punjab Cabinet ministers are the most prosperous with 83 per cent of the ministers being crorepatis, the corresponding figure for Uttar Pradesh being only 37 per cent and in the small state of Manipur, where women traditionally enjoy a dominant role in society, surprisingly barely 5 per cent of the candidates are women.

One of the trends, which have emerged from the studies so far, indicates the growing financial clout of the political class. Judging by the income tax returns filed by candidates themselves, it would seem that the average valuation of assets owned by MLAs in Punjab, for example, has grown by Rs 6 crore between the Assembly elections in 2007 and 2012. But while it may be possible to generalise and say that increasingly, only the wealthy and the well-heeled are able to find space in politics, it may be a mistake to link the candidates’ growing wealth to either corruption or criminality. It is entirely possible, for example, that candidates are volunteering much more information than they did earlier. It is also possible that the value of their assets appreciated because of inheritance, speculation or simply by rates determined by the market.

While politics, no doubt, is becoming more lucrative, elected representatives seem to be getting less accountable. Further reforms might require them to make disclosures annually. It may also help if the state funds them to recruit researchers in the constituencies to collect and analyse information on various schemes. The Election Commission may also be empowered to constitute a body of ombudsmen in each constituency to record and report on the activities of the elected representatives. Information must lead to the desired electoral reforms.  

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