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January 05, 2017

Essay : Election Reforms and Indian Democracy

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  • Importance of election in democracy. 
  • Election procedure in India.
  • Significant amendments in the acts. 
  • Introduction of electronic voting machine. 
  • The concept of NOTA.
  • The different committees' contribution regarding electoral system. 
  • Criminalisation of politics and electoral system.
  •  Steps taken by the Election Commission to strengthen democracy.
India has the distinction of being the largest democracy in the world and election is an integral component of the democratic system. A successful democracy is based on the free and fair elections and not on the rigged and manipulated ones. While politics is the art and practice of dealing with the political power, the election is a process of legitimisation of such power.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) is a permanent constitutional body that was established on 25th January, 1950. The ECI is the guardian of free and fair elections in India. Post independence, the elections are held after every five years at the state and national levels to choose the representatives of the people and to elect the government. The Article 326 of the Indian Constitution deals with election to the House of People and to the legislative assemblies of the state.

Over the years, there have been a number of electoral reforms in India. The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 years by the Amendment to the Constitution (1st Amendment) Act, 1988 and this enfranchised a whole new generation of voters. Under the Representation of People Act, 1951 a new Section 13CC was added, which provides that the officers or staff engaged in the preparation, revision and correction of electoral rolls for elections shall be deemed to be on deputation of Election Commission for the period of such employment and such personnel during that period, be subject to the control, superintendence and discipline of Election Commission. Besides, the number of electors who were required to sign as prospers in nomination papers for elections to the Council of States and Legislative Council have been increased to 10 per cent of the electors of the constituency of ten such electors whichever is less to prevent frivolous candidates. The Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) were used on an experimental basis for the first time in assembly constituencies in states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and New Delhi for the General Elections in November, 1988. The Election Commission was empowered under Article 324 of the Constitution to use EVM during elections. The Election Commission successfully accomplished the vital task of the introduction of photo identity cards for all the voters in the country. This has been successful in weeding out the bogus and duplicate entries during the elections.

The NOTA (None Of The Above Option) was used for the first time in the Assembly Elections held in these five states in 2013. It was introduced in the electronic voting machines after the honourable Supreme Court delivered the landmark judgement in Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties vs Union of India Case. The option of NOTA upheld and recognised the rights of the citizens to not to cast a vote while maintaining his secrecy during such abstinence. The true spirit of democracy lies in giving the citizens power to exercise their rights. NOTA replaced the process of filling the form 17(A), which was used in order to cast a negative vote. The form 17 (A) was under the Section 49 (0) of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.

Despite all these reforms, there are a number of grave issues that have plagued the Indian Electoral System for decades. Consequently, a number of committees have examined these issues and the major challenges affecting Indian Electoral System. The committees include the Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms (1990), the Vohra Committee (1993), the Indrajit Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections (1998), the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (2001), the ECI Proposed Electoral Reforms (2004), the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC- 2008) and the Law Commission of India. All these committees pointed towards the divergence and irregularities in the election process and then made recommendations for its implementations.

The elections have become synonymous with corruption, communalism, violence and power. The criminalisation of politics has led to the misuse of money and power. It is tough to expect fair and just decisions when the law breakers have become the law makers. The inclusion of anti-social elements in the legislative assemblies have diluted the essence of democracy and led to a feeble electoral system. The Section 8 of Representation of People Act strongly advocates for the disqualification of candidates with criminal background. But as per the Section 8, a person is disqualified from elections only on conviction by a court of law. The Election Commission has time and again proposed the amendment of this 4) law to provide that any person who is accused of a punishable offence by "8 imprisonment for 5 years or more should be disqualified from contesting in elections. The Election Commission strongly advocates for the fact that this will play an important role in cleaning up the Indian political system. ilAt In July, 2013, the honourable Supreme Court gave a ruling that the MPs and MLAs who were convicted of serious crimes be barred from contesting elections. But the implementation of this clause has not been strictly adhered to in the Indian elections. The opponents of this law have been firm on the opinion that a person is presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty by a court of law.

It is paradoxical that everyone including the Election Commission knows that the ceiling of the expenditures fixed for elections is just enough to cover up the small proportion of actual expenses. There are no means by which the Election Commission could check the expenditure done by the candidates and political parties during the elections. During the election period, the State and Central Governments embark on the advertisement spree in the guise of providing information to the public. The expenditure incurred on these is recovered from public exchequer. This gives the government which is in power an edge over the others. The paid news and political advertisements have risen exponentially in the regional and national media. The Election Commission has laid down the moral of the code of conduct for the candidates as well as the political parties. But the bitter truth is that these rules are openly flouted and never abided. The predicament is not the lack of laws, but their strict execution and implementation.

Over the years, the Election Commission has conducted a number of laudable reforms to strengthen the democracy and conduct free and fair elections. However, there is still a lot that can be done. The Election •Commission needs to be vested with more power and authority. It should have the power to penalise the politicians and political parties who disobey the electoral laws. The political parties need to show their will to abide by the reforms. It is high time that the citizens of India rise above the issues of religion, caste and community, vote on the basis of their convictions. The citizens must be aware of their rights and duties. An enlightened voter is the cornerstone of a successful democracy. All these reforms will go a long way towards making India a democracy in its true sense.

Difficult Words with Meanings :
  • Rigged to put in proper order for working or use
  • Legitimisation the act of getting something in accordance with law, established rules, principles or standards
  • Amendment an alteration of or addition, addition to a motion, bill, Constitution etc
  • Deputation the person or body of persons appointed or authorised
  • Frivolous not important, not deserving serious attention
  • Weeding out to separate out, remove or eliminate
  • Bogus not real or genuine
  • Abstinence the practice of abstaining from something
  • Plagued a large number of harmful or annoying things
  • Divergence the act of moving or extending in different directions from a common point
  • Diluted to lessen the strength of (something)
  • Feeble weak intellectually or morally
  • Barred preventing entry or exit
  • Adhered to to attach firmly to something
  • Paradoxical having a self-contradictory nature
  • Spree a short period of time when you do a lot of something
  • Guise manner, mode
  • Exchequer a treasury, as of a state or nation
  • Flouted to intentionally not obey a rule, law or custom
  • Predicament a difficult or unpleasant situation
  • Laudable deserving praise; commendable; 22. Vested held completely, permanently. 
shared by Nisheeta Mirchandani
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