The Hindu
Sudarsan Padmanabhan

Here's a glimpse into the Indian electoral process and the reasons for its success, despite the corruption and criminalisation.

The electoral process in India is probably the largest and the most elaborate organisational exercise in the world. For a first time voter, it would certainly be an exhilarating and empowering experience and for experienced voters a fleeting but gratifying sense of power over their elected representatives who otherwise are anything but approachable or accountable to them. While our elected representatives have not covered themselves with glory, our country has survived for more than 60 years as a thriving, vibrant albeit noisy democracy. Amidst the comic circus of deal-making and horse-trading by political parties big and small, left and right, conservative and secular, there is one institution that has worked relentlessly to maintain the integrity of the process of election which is the cornerstone a representative democracy — the Election Commission of India.

Clean elections

Tamil Nadu gained infamy as the state that created the “Tirumangalam Formula” during Assembly by-elections held on January 9, 2009, in which the electorate in Tirumangalam, near Madurai, were given thousands of rupees to vote for a particular candidate.

The current Chief Electoral Officer of Tamil Nadu, Praveen Kumar, and his predecessor, Naresh Gupta, have been trying to improve transparency and accountability in the electoral process in the state with strong support from the Election Commission of India.

Dr. Quraishi, the CEC, has gone on record to say that during the 2011 Assembly Elections in Tamil Nadu there will not be any “Tirumangalam Formula” but only the “Election Commission Formula.” News reports about confiscation of large quantities of cash and gifts in automobiles by flying squads monitored by the Election Commission proves that political parties have not stopped trying to entice the electorate with money and gifts.

The Election Commission of India and State Election Commissions are constitutional bodies and their regulatory powers are governed by the Constitution of India. Any drastic change in the electoral and political process in India is possible in three ways: through the legislature, courts and the people.

While the Election Commission has been gradually gaining ground in its efforts to conduct free and fair elections because of its status and that of the judiciary, ensuring free and fair electoral practices can be sustained only by the will of the people.

Citizen power

There is one thing that the politicians fear: our vote. One might ask whether any such endeavours on the part of the people and associations have borne fruit. The answer is a clear and resounding yes.

In 2003, an organisation called the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) won a landmark case in the Supreme Court of India mandating candidates contesting elections to file their financial and criminal records in affidavits.

Politicians went to the extent of enacting an ordinance to circumvent the ruling of the Supreme Court. But an impassioned appeal by several eminent citizens to then President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, to not sign the ordinance that would only encourage corrupt practices and weaken Indian democracy, scuttled the efforts of the politicians to nullify the ruling of the Supreme Court.

The ADR's initiative also includes National Election Watch (NEW) and State Election Watches to create awareness among the electorate about issues that plague the political and electoral system. NEW, with the help of State Election Watches, compiles the data collected from the affidavits of electoral candidates, which are available in the Election Commission website into detailed reports of financial and criminal records of candidates during Assembly and LokSabha elections.

India is at a crossroads. India's young population is her tremendous demographic advantage. Therefore, without exaggeration, the next few years will be pivotal to the direction that India will take as a nation, society and economy.

Democratic duty

It is also in the interest of millions of young voters that they should participate in the polls with enthusiasm to forcefully infuse new ideas and elect new faces as representatives, to combat corruption and impropriety in public life and to make sure that good policies that will benefit Indians at large are implemented. The duty of the electorate to elect good, qualified and honest representatives is the most important of all democratic duties.

Overseeing democracy

The Election Commission of India, in recent years, has been headed by senior officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) such as T.N. Seshan, J.B. Lyngdoh, N. Gopalaswami, and Dr. S.Y. Quraishi, the current Chief Election Commissioner of India (CEC). T.S. Krishnamurthy, who was N. Gopalaswami's predecessor, was the only person from the Indian Revenue Service to have occupied the CEC's position. All these CECs were known for their impressive service records and unimpeachable integrity.

The Election Commission of India, under their exemplary leadership, has succeeded in reining in money and muscle power of corrupt politicians and criminal elements to some extent. Still, elections in India witness considerable loss of lives, voter intimidationand distribution of money and freebies. To the Election Commission's credit, the recent Assembly elections in Bihar have been one of the cleanest and most peaceful.

Get your ID

First-time voters will find the process of voter registration very cumbersome. The wait for new voter identity cards could be interminable and and also replete with errors about age, gender, relationship, name and address. My name is missing from the list even though the Lok Sabha 2009 voters list was updated recently. Therefore, even if you have a voter's id there is no guarantee that your name will be on the voters' list.

What you can do: Make sure that your names are registered; if not, fill up a registration form and hand it over to the nearest government office responsible for registering voters. The office of the Chief Electoral Officer maintains an excellent website with all the requisite information. Voter apathy is not only an elixir for the corrupt but also a crushing blow for Indian democracy. A strong voter turnout would be an elixir for Indian democracy and also sound the death-knell of corruption and criminalisation of Indian politics.


Ruling Combine:

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)

Indian National Congress (INC)

Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK)

Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK)

Indian Union Muslim League (IUML)

Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam

Muvendar Munnetra Kazhagam

Main Opposition:

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)

Desika Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK)

Communist Party Marxist (CPI-M)

Communist Party India (CPI)

Puthiya Tamizhagam (PT)

Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (TMMK)

Republican Party of India

All-India Forward Bloc

Kongu Makkal Ilaignar Peravai

All-India Moovendar Munnetra Kazhagam

Indian National League

R. Sarath Kumar's Akhila India Samathuva Makkal Katchi

M. Karthik's Akhila India Nadaalum Makkal Katchi

Seeman's Naam Thamizhar Iyakkam 

The author is the Coordinator of Tamil Nadu Election Watch and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras.

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