The Telegraph
Patricia Mukhim

Elections vs democracy

Elections are the pivot around which democracy revolves. In a participatory democracy, elections are meant to enable citizens to elect their representatives to pursue their aspirations and ensure that their grievances are addressed. But democracy also requires empowered citizens who can make informed choices and vote out of a sense of conviction and not because they have been influenced by other extraneous factors. Increasingly, we find that money is playing a destructive role in influencing voters’ decision and behaviour. As a result, we get the wrong people to represent us and democracy itself is defeated. The people we elect do not believe in the democratic ethos. They have some other agenda and their only intent for getting elected is to be able to enjoy the spoils of office.

What can we expect from democracy when those we elect to help deepen democracy are themselves involved in some of the most obnoxious acts of corruption without batting an eyelid? Acts of corruption have become so commonplace that our own souls and senses are stultified. The media does its work of unearthing corruption almost on a daily basis and we see that the prosecuting agencies of the country seem hamstrung about getting their act together. The CBI has become a pawn of the ruling party and government. It no longer serves the public good.

Recently, the Election Commission organised a National Consultation on Voters’ Awareness at Delhi. Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, speaking as chief guest, told the audience that whenever he visits any part of the country for an interface with young people, he is swarmed by a barrage of questions, most of them pertaining to the quality of elected representatives. At Gauhati University, Kalam was posed a question — “My vote is purchased. How can I prevent that?” In Kokrajhar students asked him, “How can I assume that the person I vote for will deliver the goods?”

The impatience of young people at the functioning of the present system is palpable. They want change. The young have lost faith in elected representatives who treat them with a demeaning sort of paternalism, as if to imply that they (young people) will always have to be at the margins of politics while they (the geriatrics) will continue to hold on to power. The youth are looking for an alternative leadership that can restore a semblance of respectability to democracy. It is not as if we collectively revel in the thought that A. Raja is in Tihar jail or that we feel nauseated because Hasan Ali, a tax evader to the extent of Rs 60,000 crore, is mocking the system. All we want is a rule of law that is equal for all. A rule of law that does not allow criminals, however affluent, to get away with impunity. But do we have such a thing today?

Criminal past

Many of our elected representatives have serious criminal charges pending against them. A survey conducted by National Election Watch, an NGO, which scrutinised the records of MLAs of all the states heading for elections shortly, found that 25 per cent of the MLAs in the outgoing Assemblies have criminal cases pending against them. Of the 140 candidates from the Kerala Legislative Assembly, 69 have pending criminal cases while 18 have very serious charges against them. In Tamil Nadu, 234 candidates have been analysed, of whom 77 have pending cases against them and 25 face serious charges. In Puducherry, out of 30 MLAs, five face serious charges. In West Bengal too, 30 MLAs face serious charges while 40 MLAs in all have criminal cases pending against them. In Assam, of the 126 MLAs analysed, five have serious charges and there are seven against whom criminal charges are pending. Assam cases Now, why should the judiciary take such a long time (some are completing their second term) to decide the cases pending against these MLAs/ministers? Should there not be a fast track court to decide cases against these VIPs considering that they have been elected to be law makers? The Supreme Court, under Justice S.H. Kapadia, has fast-tracked many an important hearing. An example is the P.J. Thomas case where the apex court came up with such scathing strictures against the government and its mode of identifying incumbents into the most sacrosanct institution of the country, that even the Prime Minister had to plead guilty of not following correct procedures. In fact, it is the procedural lapse that the three-judge bench took serious note of. Can we have similar fast-tracking of cases against politicians in Assam? There is a minister against whom a murder case is pending. Surprisingly, the chargesheet just went missing from the police station.

Is that possible without the connivance of the police? And if so, then should the police officer/officers responsible for the loss not be punished? The same tainted minister is becoming more powerful by the day and nemesis does not seem to be catching up with him. Such a blatant disregard for the law and then the successive attempts to buy votes by using the money amassed in the five or 10-year tenure is destroying the very fabric of democracy in this country.

Even now in Assam, there are scams amounting to several thousand crores of rupees. But these are all sought to be brushed under the carpet as if they do not mean anything. Are these amounts not meant to build infrastructure, to fund education and health services in the most distant villages? Yet, the elected representatives instead of being ashamed of their misdeeds seem to think that anyone who flags such issues of corruption is being impudent! Look at the new found body language of Tarun Gogoi and his second-in-command, Himanta Biswa Sarma. It is the body language of arrogance and invincibility. Yet, these two stalwarts of the Congress are set to return to their hot seats. Is this democracy? That you do anything you want in five years as much as you want and still return triumphant? Is this not a defeat for democracy?


If these are the kind of representatives that the elections throw up again and again, then have the elections themselves become a rigmarole? One thing that has emerged is that wherever the youth have participated actively as voters or as candidates, the tendency to get the wrong type of representative is less. If Bihar can produce a Nitish Kumar, why cannot Assam do the same? Nitish Kumar has given the Biharis a new pride. May I ask the people of Assam if today they take pride in their state and their leaders? What is it that is working well in Assam? And why have they reposed their faith in people who have evidently let them down time and again? Some leaders may not be involved in corruption at the personal level but they are presiding over a reign of “ghotala”, much like the helpless Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is. That is why I am so looking forward to Akhil Gogoi’s plan of action, come March 16. I also wish that Assam could produce an alternative political party that would stand for clean and good governance and give the Congress a run for its money. It is tiring to see the same old venal politicians sucking the system dry yet again.

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