Electoral Reforms: Who will bell the cat, anyway?
( This is the first part of a series of engaging essays on Electoral reforms by Prof Rana Nayar. The next edition of this series would be out soon on Express Today. Watch this space! )
For a long time now, there has been a talk of electoral reforms in India, but unfortunately, very little has been done on the ground to ensure their effective implementation. Over the years, several commissions have been set up and a plethora of changes recommended, but often the successive governments, and even the opposition parties, drag their feet over these changes. No wonder, we have moved ever so slowly over the process of electoral reforms and consequently, our political culture has slipped into one logjam after another, virtually bringing the process of policy making and governance to a screeching halt.
Today, we find ourselves in an unenviable situation as far as our political culture is concerned. In the name of political debate, often charges are traded and abuses exchanged on the national television. In the Parliament, the most hallowed forum for public debate, business is rarely ever conducted with the kind of seriousness it often demands. Either the party in power bulldozes its way to manufacture consent it so desperately needs, or the opposition simply digs in its heels, regardless of the merits of the specific case and/or the supervening national interest. No wonder, our legislative assemblies and the parliament only demonstrate the proverbial ‘death’ of the public debate in our political culture.
Of course, there are other serious questions about the style of functioning of our political masters, both in and outside power. For almost three and a half decades, West Bengal was ruled and governed by the CPM led front. After a great deal of hesitation and reluctance, the people of West Bengal voted for a change. The way in which Mamta-led TMC government in West Bengal is now tearing all pretence to democratic norms to shreds is already making the people wonder if they have made a grave mistake in doing what they have done. Ironically, only the political parties are voted in and out of power in our country, as our tenacious political culture, impervious to all changes, continues to stink, more than ever before.
With the increasing trend towards criminalization of politics, it has now become almost a compulsion for most of the political parties, national as well as regional, to field candidates with dubious background, even criminal record. In the recent elections in UP, though Akhilesh Yadav came into power riding on the promise of development, performance and of ushering in a radically new political culture, he has miserably failed to resist the pressure of inducting legislators with known criminal background into his Cabinet. Despite all the efforts of the Election Commission to ensure free and fair elections, at all possible levels of people’s participation, from the village panchayats to the municipal corporations, from the State Assemblies to the National Parliament, the vital questions about the fairness of elections remain hopelessly unanswered. With the introduction of the electronic voting machines, booth-capturing and rigging may have been reduced substantively, but the use of money and muscle power is still so flagrant and widespread that even the Election Commission, with all its paraphernalia, finds itself completely helpless in containing it.
Governance and policy making in India have increasingly become an insulated process, in which public participation, at best, remains notionally minimal. During the recent Anna Hazare movement for the Jan Lokpal Bill, the manner in which the role of the civil society was repeatedly questioned by the political parties of all shades and hues is a case in point. Never in the history of the parliamentary democracy in Independent India have the political parties across the ideological spectrum shown as much solidarity and unanimity as they did over the question of how the right of the parliament to legislate laws was being usurped by the ‘so-called’ civil society. The only time, political parties wake up to the existence of a ‘civil society’ or that of the people is during the election season, and then, too, people are seen less as people, and more as members of different castes or communities, in short, the much desirable and sought after ‘vote banks.’
To put it another way, it appears to be really a hopeless situation. One wonders if there is some way out of this morass, some way of protecting our democracy, some way of arresting this precipitous decline in our polity.
(.. to be continued)
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