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Electoral bonds are a damp squib: Chawla

Straight talk: N. Ram, Chairman, The Hindu Publishing Group, in conversation with former Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla on Saturday.

Straight talk: N. Ram, Chairman, The Hindu Publishing Group, in conversation with former Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: Rohit Jain Paras

Former CEC says scheme has served as camouflage method

The electoral bond scheme introduced by the government in 2017-18, which saw the ruling BJP getting the highest funding, had turned out to be a “damp squib and [a] huge disappointment” because of its failure to address the issue of black money paid to political parties, former Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla said here on Saturday. It had emerged as a “greater method of camouflage”, he said.

Mr. Chawla, who oversaw the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, was in conversation with N. Ram, Chairman, The Hindu Publishing Group, during the release of his book, Every Vote Counts: The Story of India’s Elections, at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

‘Sea of black money’

“There is a sea of black money [for political parties] irrespective of demonetisation and irrespective of which party is in power,” Mr. Chawla remarked when asked about the source of money spent during elections. Making cash contributions of less than ₹20,000 in multiples was not accounted for, while the Election Commission was making the recommendation to change the law for 22 years without any result, he said.

Mr. Chawla’s book has presented an account of the daunting task of conducting the largest electoral exercise in the world, challenges before the poll panel, maintaining credibility, holding free and fair elections and enforcing the model code of conduct. Mr. Ram observed that Indian elections were considered “one of the wonders of the world”, partly because of the sheer numbers of the electorate in the country.

Mr. Chawla said though the Election Commission’s structure had been built brick-by-brick over 70 years, the 10th CEC, T.N. Seshan, had given teeth to the body and brought so much independence to it that it did not consult the executive while setting the dates for elections. “During my tenure, I tried to understand various fault lines of money and muscle power and fake and paid news... It is remarkable that the winners and losers have accepted the [election] results equally,” he said.

The former CEC, who authored a biography of Mother Teresa, said every vote counted in a democracy, which had also formed the theme for his book, and cited the instance of the 2008 Rajasthan Assembly election when Congress leader C.P. Joshi — presently the State’s Speaker — had lost by a single vote in Nathdwara constituency. “We have tried to reach every last voter even in times of disturbances,” he said.

‘House of the rich’

Mr. Chawla said the statutory limit for election expenses was invariably exceeded and wondered if India’s Parliament was on the way to becoming the House of the rich and powerful, without actually representing the voice of the people. When Mr. Ram cited the Centre for Media Studies’ estimates of ₹1,50,000 crore spent on all elections between 2010 and 2014, half of which came from unaccounted money, Mr. Chawla said this was a “worrisome aspect” of electoral expenditure.

On being asked about the credibility of electronic voting machines, Mr. Chawla said the EVMs could not be linked to computers to make their hacking possible.

“These machines have gone through a long judicial journey... Cases were filed in several High Courts. Until the Supreme Court takes a final view on this, we must keep our faith in them. The same machines have given different results in different polls,” the former CEC said.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 2:38:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/electoral-bonds-are-a-damp-squib-chawla/article26101262.ece

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