Pradeep Baisakh

When the Parliament was scheduled to debate on the Lokpal (an anti-corruption institution in line of Ombudsman) bill on 27 th December 2011, Team Anna (Anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and his team have been leading a popular struggle for last one year for enactment of a strong Lokpal )) decided to go on a token fast to mount pressure on the elected representative to pass an effective law. The attitude of Anna Hazare and team for ‘dictating' and ‘blackmailing' the highest representative body of was criticised by some so called enlightened individuals and of course some leading electronic media of the country running the discussion 24x7. In just 12 hours, the debate in the Lok Sabha (Lower house of Parliament) was over with voting taking place on party lines. The major amendments moved by opposition parties e.g. giving the Lokpal an independent investigative agency and freeing the CBI (Central Bureau of investigation), the premier investigative agencies of the country, from administrative and financial control of the government were defeated. Minor amendments which were soothing to the government however were adopted. Eventually amidst high drama, the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) was adjourned without passing the bill. This is exactly what Team Anna was apprehending. It has been complaining from the beginning that the government of the day lacks will to bring a strong Lokpal . This was however negated by many experts airing their opinion in TV channels innocently reposing faith on the temple of India - the Parliament, apparently ignoring the fact that the majority party calls shot in this so called temple.

In a recent interview I asked Manish Sisodia, a key team Anna member on what's their learning in last one year of struggle ( ). He said “The biggest learning is­­­ - aam admiki is desh me koi aukat nehin (Common people's voice has no weightage here)”. The demonstration by millions of people for last more than eight months ended with the Lokpal matter been made a mockery by the political parties tacitly joining hands together. The blame goes more to the ruling establishment, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) lead by Indian National Congress popularly known as Congress party.

India has nearly $1500 billion black money stashed in foreign banks. This is the data provided by the Swiss Bank. India has the highest black money followed by Russia 470 Billion, UK $390 Billion and others like Ukraine $100 Billion and China with $96 Billion. The quantum of black money operating inside the country is not known. Many of the politicians, bureaucrats, corporate houses are the ones who own this money and the government, for the very obvious reasons, is not disclosing the names to the public despite insistence by the Supreme Court of India. Nor has it initiated any disciplinary action against the owners of this money. It's therefore not beyond anticipation to not have got any opposition from these powerful masses to the anti-corruption movement by Anna Hazare .

With a phase of anti corruption crusade being over, what's the next course of action for Team Anna ? Campaigning against the candidate of Congress party in Hisar (a place in Haryana, a state of India where an by-election was held for the state Assembly), though non-conventional, was a strategy to pressurise the party to fall in line for an brining an effective Lokpal bill. Now time has come to understand the basic problem lying with the electoral system of the country. The prevailing system, where money is raised by the political parties in dubious means to fund elections and political parties dominated by criminal and corrupt elements, people at large are the passive participants in the democratic process limited to ‘electing' representatives once in five years. Therefore, there is a felt need of creating an atmosphere for brining in key electoral reforms in the country in order to cleanse the political system of rot. Once this root cause is addressed, the quantum of corruption is most likely to come down. Team Anna , which once proposed electoral reforms, must now focus its movement in this direction. Some of the proposals are a discussed here.

Negative Voting

The concept of negative voting provides the choice to a voter to reject a candidate s/he does not find them suitable. In the current practice of adult suffrage in India , the voter in fact adopts a process of elimination than selection. Suppose when a voter is faced with a situation where he finds none in the list to be suitable enough to represent him/her, what does s/he do? He either votes for the one s/he ‘dislikes the least' of s/he just skips voting. In both these circumstances the freedom of the citizen to elect his or her representative is only partially met, which may not be called as a free will but a forced will.

No wonder that in last Lok Sabha (Lower house of parliament) election held in 2009 the number of Members of Parliament (MPs) with criminal background is 162 out of the information available for 543 MPs (Total strength of Lok Sabha is 552). And ironically this is a 34% increase to the last election held in 2004. MPs with serious criminal cases pending against them are 76 in numbers this time. A compilation made by National Election Watch (NEC) and Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) provides further details on the criminal cases and the numbers of Crorepatis (owner of Crores of money ) ( 1crore is 10 million) ( ) . The website reveals that in case of 304 MPs in the 2004 Lok Sabha who also contested the 2009 election, their assets have gone up by 289% on an average. Their average assets was 1.92 crore rupees then but has gone up to an average of 4.8 crore rupees in just five years! Where have these money come from, wonder the common people. And the Crorepati MPs in the 2009 Lok Sabha are 315. All these show that a common person has a rare chance to enter into these so called temples of India namely the legislatures.

Given the above fact, it is not ironic that the kinds of governments the Indians have been getting are the ones which hardly listen to the real need of people.

System of negative voting operates in two forms. In the first form, the voter is given two options, one is ‘for' and the other is ‘against'. He can vote for the candidate he finds most suitable and against he considers highly undeserving. During the counting of votes all the ‘for' and ‘against' votes are added separately and then added to each other to get the sum total of it for a particular candidate. The candidate getting the highest number of ‘for' votes (or least number of ‘against' votes as the case may be) is declared elected. This suggestion is a radical one. In the other form, which is also known as neutral voting, simply one more option indicating ‘none of the above' is added to the ballot paper. Here the voter will have the option of rejecting all the candidates if s/he finds them unfit to represent him/her.

Under the current dispensation, there is option for ‘not to cast his/her vote' by letting the reason recorded near the presiding officer under r ule 49 O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. Though this provides the scope for ‘rejecting all candidates', it violates the secrecy of voting. The Election Commission of India (EC) recommended in 2001 and again in 2004 that “Rules 22 and 49 B of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 may be suitably amended adding a proviso that in the ballot paper … there shall be a column ‘None of the above', to enable a voter to reject all the candidates, if he chooses so.”

This recommendation has fallen into deaf ear of successive governments. The Election Commission of India has also not attempted to bring in such a provision on its own despite it having the power to do so. (In Mohinder Singh Gill case of 1978 and A.C. Jose case of 1984, the Supreme Court held that the EC has power to bring in such reforms on its own). The Supreme Court also played safe hand and called for a larger political consensus when it has been approached by concerned citizen for acting proactive to bringing in this provision. In 2007 hearing to a PIL filed by Ashok Agarwal, a resident of Noida, the apex court suggested the petitioner to wait till the government takes a decision on negative voting.

The system of negative voting operates in countries like Nevada State ( United States ), in Massachusetts ( United States ), Spain , Switzerland etc in various forms.

Likely impact of negative voting

This reform will in all likelihood bring back the disaffected voters back to the election process as s/he now has option to vent out his/her displeasure toward the candidates. If the numbers of negative voting in an election is too large, it shall bring moral impact on the political parties to redefine their criteria for candidate selection. And if the numbers of negative votes are more than the highest votes got by a candidate, re-polling should be ordered in the constituency. This however may need the backing of necessary legislation by the Parliament. The parties will be very cautious onwards to ensure that the criteria to choose the candidate are quality and acceptability of the candidates by the public, not on basis of money, muscle power and family affinity. This may usher good people entering politics breaking the wider perception that ‘politics is not everybody's cup of tea'. It might thus revolutionise the political system with people at large having voice in influencing the internal functioning of the political parties.

The other suggestion for electoral reforms to be discussed is State Funding of Elections.

State funding of elections

In May 2001, the then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party president Bangaru Laxman was shown in a clandestine video to have received one lakh rupees ‘bribe' to favour a defence deal. The BJP however defended terming it as receiving the donation for party. The lesson learn is that there is no difference between taking bribe and receiving raising funds for parties and elections as in most of cases the money raised for party is not accounted and come from dubious means.

The debate on the desirability and feasibility of state funding of elections has been in air for last some decades. But owing to lack of consensus among the political parties, the matter could not take any concrete shape. Recently while the debate for a strong Lokpal was going on, the Group of Ministers (GoM) formed to suggest measures to tackle corruption in the country asked the Law Ministry in October 2011 to formulate concrete proposals on constitutional and statutory amendments required to introduce state funding of elections of the Parliamentary and Assembly pools. Gandhi Scion Rahul Gandhi has reportedly supported the idea.

The purpose of it is to check the dirty money funding the operation of political parties and then influence the policies. Ideally, even though India is a Sovereign, Democratic and Republic where the people are said to be source of power, in reality those who fund the parties- legally or secretly, set the agenda of governance for the nation.

Indrajit Gupta Committee recommended for state funding of elections way back in 1998. It recommended for partial state funding of elections to the candidates and parties recognised by the Election Commission where the support may be given in kind than in cash. The Law Commission report in 1999 also agreed to Gupta commission's idea of partial state funding of elections for reducing scope for raising funds by the political parties from illegitimate sources. There is desirability for complete state funding provided that the political parties are debarred from raising fund from any external sources, opined both the committees. Second Administrative Commission report ‘Ethics in Governance', 2007 reiterates the position. Law Commission recommends for regulation of the internal democracy and structure of the political parties and proper maintenance of accounts and submission of audit to the Election Commission as pre-conditions for introducing state funding. While the National Commission of Review of Working of Constitution (NCWRC), 2001 have been cautious on the issue, the Election Commission of India is not in favour of it as it feels that state funding of elections will not solve problems of black money. However, given the condition of role of dirty money in elections and the rising quantum of black money, presumably, with the connivance and active participation of the politicians and political parties, there is case for state finding of elections.

Currently the limit of expenditure for a candidate contesting Parliamentary elections has been pegged by the Election Commission of India at 40 lakh rupees (or $0.8 million. 1 dollar is considered equivalent to 50 rupees here, which is the prevailing exchange rate) and that for Assembly pools is 16 lakh rupees (or $0.32 million). While it may be difficult to quantify the money required to be borne upon by the state if a complete state funding of election is considered, it will certainly be less than the money bungled in the recent series of scams exposed in the country e.g. the 2G spectrum scam (of $25.4 billion or 1. 27 lakh crore rupees; 1 dollar is considered approximately equal to 50 rupees) (presumptive loss as quantified by Comptroller and Auditor General of India), Commonwealth game scam, Adarsh Society scam ( $200 million or 1000 crore rupees scam), Mining scam in Karnataka (India state, mining scam in Odisha (an India state) ($60 billion or 3 lakh crore rupees as quantified by CNN-IBN-a leading electronic media of the country) so on and so forth.

Time has come for the people and concerned citizen to raise the pitch for these electoral reforms which will go a long way in brining the electoral system to the control of people and drive out the elements illegitimately funding elections and shape government policies in their favour. It will also reduce the scope of accruing black money by the corporate, politicians, bureaucrats, criminals so on and so forth. 

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