India got her freedom from the British in 1947.But we still see her in all her glory and shame, her growth and stagnation. There is no doubt that India is the largest free democracy in the world with great fanfare and rejoicing. The point is driven home through reminders well presented by the media evoking national pride.
Demands have been made from time to time for electoral reforms and the demand has grown more urgent with the passing of time. It is demanded that persons holding positions of high office of the chief election commissioner and members of the Commission at the Centre and state levels should be barred from accepting any office of profit in the Government or elsewhere on retirement.
However, the most pressing demand of the opposition has been the demand for the state funding of elections. At present, most of the expenditure on election is met by company donations and donations from big houses, and this in turn results in many evils and malpractices. It increases the role, power and influence of large industrial concerns and capitalists. It is pointed that to eliminate these evils, and to do away with corruption in high places, is the urgent need of the hour.
At present, candidates or the parties to which they belong have to raise their own resources. So the contesting and winning of an election, has become an expensive affair. It is certainly beyond the reach of common man who is left behind with no funds or resources equal to his rich fellow contestant, even though he has the right to contest. As a candidate’s prospects in any election depend upon his resourcefulness in many ways, a ceiling on election expenditure is essential. Moreover, company donations to political parties and individual politicians continue to be the curse of the Indian Electoral System.
To check election malpractices, to reduce the heavy financial burden on individual candidate or parties, state funding of elections is necessary. There is every reason for introducing state aid in India, but this should be in kind and not in cash. Use without charge of public places and buildings for election meetings, free but limited supply of stationery, free postal services for canvassing material, sufficient time on radio for party broadcasts, a limited amount of petrol and diesel and help in paying for newspaper advertisements, are all desirable.
A candidate is not free to spend as much as he likes on his election. The law prescribes that the total election expenditure shall not exceed the maximum limit prescribed under Rule 90 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. It would also amount to a corrupt practice under sec 123 (6) of R. P. Act, 1951. There are tight legal limits on the amount of money a candidate can spend during the election campaign. Recent amendment in October 2003 has increased these limits. For Lok Sabha seats in bigger states, it is now Rs 25 lakhs. In other states and Union Territories, it varies between Rs 10 lakhs to Rs 25 lakhs. Similarly, for Assembly seats, in bigger states, it is now Rs 10 lakhs , while in other states and Union Territories, it varies between Rs 5 lakhs to Rs 10 lakhs .Thus the reform should also impose restrictions on the candidate’s party.
India is a constitutional democracy with a parliamentary system of government, and at the heart of the system is a commitment to hold regular, free and fair elections. These elections determine the composition of the government, the membership of the two houses of parliament, the state and union territory legislative assemblies, and the Presidency and vice-presidency.
Elections are conducted according to the constitutional provisions, supplemented by laws made by Parliament. The major laws are Representation of the People Act, 1950, which mainly deals with the preparation, revision of electoral rolls, all aspects of conduct of elections and post election disputes. The Supreme Court of India has held that where the enacted laws are silent or make insufficient provision to deal with a given situation in the conduct of elections, the Election Commission has the residuary powers under the Constitution to act in an appropriate manner.
Elections in India are events involving political mobilisation and organisational complexity on an amazing scale. In the 2004 election to Lok Sabha there were 1351 candidates from 6 National parties, 801 candidates from 36 State parties, 898 candidates from officially recognised parties and 2385 Independent candidates. A total number of 38,99,48,330 people voted out of total electorate size of 67,14,87,930. The Election Commission employed almost 4 million people to run the election. A vast number of civilian police and security forces were deployed to ensure that the elections were carried out peacefully.
In an attempt to improve the accuracy of the electoral roll and prevent electoral fraud, the Election Commission ordered the making of photo identity cards for all voters in the country in Aug, 1993. To take advantage of latest technological innovations, the Commission issued revised guidelines for EPIC Program in May 2000. More than 450 million Identity cards have been distributed till now.
In a country as huge and diverse as India, finding a period when elections can be held throughout the country is not simple. The Election Commission, which decides the schedule for elections, has to take account of the weather – during winter constituencies may be snow-bound, and during the monsoon access to remote areas restricted -, the agricultural cycle – so that the planting or harvesting of crops is not disrupted, exam schedules – as schools are used as polling stations and teachers employed as election officials, and religious festivals and public holidays. On top of this there are the logistical difficulties that go with holding an election – sending out ballot boxes or EVMs, setting up polling booths, recruiting officials to oversee the elections.
The number of candidates contesting each election steadily increased. In the general election of 1952 the average number of candidates in each constituency was 3.8; by 1991 it had risen to 16.3, and in 1996 stood at 25.6. As it was far too easy for ‘frivolous’ candidates to stand for election, certain remedial measures were taken in August 1996, which included increasing the size of the deposit and making the number of people who have to nominate a candidate larger. The impact of such measures was quite considerable at the elections which were subsequently held.
During the election campaign the political parties and contesting candidates are expected to abide by a Model Code of Conduct evolved by the Election Commission on the basis of a consensus among political parties. The model Code lays down broad guidelines as to how the political parties and candidates should conduct themselves during the election campaign. It is intended to maintain the election campaign on healthy lines, avoid clashes and conflicts between political parties or their supporters and to ensure peace and order during the campaign period and thereafter, until the results are declared .
By Election Commission, all recognised National and State parties have been allowed free access to the state owned electronic media-AIR and Doordarshan- on an extensive scale for their campaigns during elections. The total free time allocated extends over 122 hours on the state owned Television and Radio channels. This is allocated equitably by combining a base limit and additional time linked to poll performance of the party in recent election.
Any elector or candidate can file an election petition if he or she thinks there has been malpractice during the election. An election petition is not an ordinary civil suit, but treated as a contest in which the whole constituency is involved. Election petitions are tried by the High Court of the State involved, and if upheld can even lead to the restaging of the election in that constituency. In order to bring as much transparency as possible to the electoral process, the media are encouraged and provided with facilities to cover the election, although subject to maintaining the secrecy of the vote.
Elections are the essence for democracy. Most of the candidates win purely because of unfair means like using their money power and muscle power. Challenges such as money power and muscle power exist not just in India but also in many established democracies. These deeper issues are a matter of concern for a country like India. That is why the citizens of our country, social activists and several organisations have been demanding reforms in our Electoral system. “Every object or thing in this universe consists of both positives and negatives”. I think this statement comes true when we talk about elections. Thus it is the need of the hour to overcome the evils like money power and muscle power from the elections using the most powerful weapon called “PEOPLE”. I hope that people would participate actively in many movements to wield the money power and muscle power.