fifty years ago April 14, 1970 Archives

Malpractices in Elections(From an Editorial)

Some 150 million Indians going to the polls to pick their representatives in the Federal and State legislatures is a majestic and unparalleled exercise of democracy which rightly evokes the admiration and respect of the rest of the world. But how far this exercise is carried out according to the prescribed rules is increasingly turning out to be quite a different story. The Representation of the People Act has laid down a strict code of electoral conduct to ensure that no extraneous influence is brought to bear on the voter in the free exercise of his franchise and also to give every Indian an equal opportunity to contest an election if he (or she) so wishes. Some of these rules, however, are so much more Utopian than realistic they have come to be more honoured in the breach than the observance. For instance, the rule about how much a candidate can spend on electioneering — Rs. 9.000 for a State legislature constituency (in Tamil Nadu) and Rs. 25.000 for a Parliamentary constituency — is so unrealistic considering the size of constituencies and the shortness of the distance that a rupee goes these days, it is an open invitation to candidates to circumvent it by getting money spent through other channels. There are many such rules which are similarly broken in practically every election that takes place.

In his report on the 1968-69 mid-term elections, which has just been published, the Chief Election Commissioner has drawn attention to the malpractices that prevail. Mr. Sen Varma has pointed out how intimidation, coercion and undue influence are often brought to bear on the voters, how huge sums of money are being spent to bribe voters, how candidates spend more money than is permitted under the law, how casteism prevails on a large-scale in many parts of the country and so on. But there is nothing new in these findings. The prevalence of these malpractices has been public knowledge for a long time, though as Mr. Sen Varma has noted, it is not easy to prove them in a court of law. Governmental and party leaders have often decried these malpractices but when election time comes around all the decrying is laid aside and it is “business as usual.” Occasionally, a violator of the electoral code is exposed but for every D. P. Mishra who is punished, there are umpteen that go scotfree.

The situation undoubtedly calls for drastic corrective action, as Mr. Sen Varma has suggested. But who is to bell the cat? All the political parties have their electoral fortunes linked to corrupt practices in some form or another. Mr. Sen Varma is of the opinion that defections by legislators and the multiplicity of political parties— 75 of them on his list—are two major factors contributing to the malaise and has suggested that the remedy is to reduce the number of parties to a few well-knit and compact ones. This too is not a new proposal and a polarisation of political parties will eventually have to take place if Indian democracy is to survive. But for the immediate present, the various parties are in no mood for hara-kiri. As long as a premium is offered on “defections”, so long will there be an incentive for proliferation of parties. In such a situation, an aroused public opinion alone can bring sense to the parties and politicians. The massive programme for educating the electorate which the Election Commission proposes to launch will help.

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 5:55:30 AM |

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