Democracy is undergoing a crisis in India...
Every day, we hear comments on how Indian democracy has failed... how Indian politicians have looted the country... how the system is so incorrigible that there is no scope for any redemption... how elections are farce that the votes are purchased for money or liquor.... how it is useless to vote in an election as each and every candidate is a criminal.. etc.etc
India is a country that is characterised more by its diversities than its unity; the only unifying factor being ‘Indian-ness’ or ‘Bharatiyata’. Among the more solid identities based inter alia on religion, caste, language, race and regionalism, it is indeed difficult to perceive the Indian-ness. The crass efforts to define it within the narrow perspectives of Hindutva have only further eroded that defining identity of Indians.
Such a country (even though we can be proud of its very long history), cannot afford too many challenges to its existence. More so, if these challenges are from within. There are various fringe players, from the wide spectrum of extreme right to extreme left, that are wittingly or unwittingly trying to destabilise the nation. Even a seemingly noble fight against corruption is being hijacked by forces that can be a real threat to the Indian State. When I say this, I am not speaking about the political threat to existing government, but the threat to the core of Indian State.
India cannot neglect these developments but to its own peril. The State and its political establishment have to make sure that they carry the people along. At this moment, this can only be attained by two steps: (i) restoring people’s faith by expediting the actions against corruption and the malaise of black-money; and (ii) restoring people’s faith in the electoral system of the country.
While we all know what needs to be done in the case of corruption, I am concerned here with the second step of restoring faith in electoral system of the country. Various steps initiated by the Election Commission of India have ensured that most of the recent elections have been very fairly and successfully conducted. Yet many people are still not happy for the simple reason that they perceive these elections as an exercise that only provides a chance to elect the lesser of many evils.
It is often true. In their quest to identify “winnable candidates” political parties end up with persons who are of dubious and often outright criminal history. Winnability prevents many a capable and sincere candidates from not being able to contest in the elections.
While political parties must, for their own sake, ensure fielding credible candidates in elections, on the other hand we need more reforms in our electoral laws. One such reform that can really bring a change is the provisions related to rejection of candidates.
Not many of us are aware that there is a provision to reject all the candidates in an election and even lesser numbers actually use that provision. A voter who does not want to vote in favour of any of the candidates can declare so in front of the Returning Officer by filing up a prescribed Form. However, exercising that option in the present manner is against the principles of secret ballet, as the choice of the voter become known to all those present in the electoral booth, including the agents of the candidates. I do not have to explain the problems associated with such an open exercise of choice; it could even put the person’s life in danger! Apart from that, it is also against the legal right to exercise secret ballot.
It is time to change the law and make the rejection of all candidates an option in the ballet paper or EVMs, along with option of candidates. Such a step will serve the purpose of providing a perception of supremacy to the voters and put the political parties on notice to present better quality candidates. It requires not a gigantic change; but merely some tweaking of the existing procedure. In the worst case of really bad choices, majority of the voters can demand another set of candidates by rejecting the existing ones.
Hope our parliamentarians understand the need to provide such a perception of power to the people, so that they are not swayed by unscrupulous elements who exploit their anger towards what they consider as an unresponsive system.