Leaders must tell voters not to take bribes, says CEC Nasim Zaidi

‘The Election Commission is seeking to make it a cognisable offence as under current laws police cannot take action’

March 09, 2017 11:48 pm | Updated July 08, 2017 04:46 pm IST

Chief Election Commissioner of India Nasim Zaidi.

Chief Election Commissioner of India Nasim Zaidi.

At the end of the Assembly polls in five States, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidispoke to The Hindu on electoral funding, bribery of voters and multiple-phase elections.

We are at the end of the Assembly polls in five States, with Uttar Pradesh having seven phases. Are such lengthy polls desirable?

Overall, the elections have passed off smoothly, and contrary to all expectations and precedents, in a peaceful manner. Regarding the seven phases in U.P., we would also like to have had it in the shortest number of phases. Our elections have become heavily dependent on Central forces as people have their own reservations about the State police. The Commission, therefore, over the years, has come to depend on Central police forces. Our anxiety and the anxiety of political parties that all polling stations should be covered by Central police have led to this situation. There have been examples in the past that voters too feel that to truly ensure an unafraid exercise of franchise, Central forces are required. Keeping all that in mind, there is no way out but to conduct polls in a phased manner. It can be compressed to six or even five phases, but not less than that. I must add here, that our voters have shown unprecedented enthusiasm, so they are, at least, not fatigued by the length of the polls.

The polls took place right after the decision by the government to demonetise certain currency notes. Has that currency squeeze affected voter inducement by cash and kind?

Leaving aside the policy of demonetisation, and purely from the [Election] Commission’s point of view, this set of elections has seen an unprecedented number of seizures of all manner of inducements to the voter. If you total cash, liquor, drugs, bullion, it crosses ₹350 crore, a three-fold increase over 2012 when we seized around ₹100 crore worth of stuff. Liquor worth ₹86 crore has been seized during these polls.

What do you attribute this to?

Our enforcement was 24 hours, our people worked in three shifts; therefore, I feel that there has been an increase in the volume of these goods seized during these polls. I am only looking at it from the Commission’s point of view and have no comment to offer on the possible effects of demonetisation.

Three senior political figures, Chief Ministers of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh Arvind Kejriwal and Akhilesh Yadav and Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar, all said during these polls that people “should accept bribes but vote for them”.

The Commission has always urged political parties that all of them have to work with us in curbing pecuniary inducements to vote, and although the matter with regard to these three leaders are closed, the Commission would continue to urge not to use these words. Leaders, if they are speaking against this practice, must speak against it unequivocally and not even refer to accepting a bribe tangentially. The common man might see it as a validation of the bribe, and therefore leaders must speak out against accepting bribes unequivocally, without dissembling.

Are the laws dealing with electoral bribes sufficient?

The Commission is seeking to make bribery a cognisable offence. Cognisability is required because when you lodge an FIR today and under the current laws, police cannot take action, it will have to go back to the courts to do that. In this regard, the Ministry of Home Affairs, on our pursuance has circulated a Bill seeking to amend certain sections of the IPC relating to making bribing a cognisable offence. As a part of that note, they have proposed the enhancement of punishment for the offence as well. Therefore, as far as individual voters are concerned, with these provisions coming in, individual matters will be dealt with very effectively. The EC will continue to pursue an earlier proposal of ours about countermanding elections if there is a widespread bribing of voters, based on material evidence and reports of returning officers. That too is under consideration of the government.

Will the Centre’s decision to cap the limit on anonymous cash donations to ₹2,000 bring about transparency in party funding?

We had, in the past, made a proposal that the amount of donation that remains anonymous should be brought down to ₹2,000 from ₹20,000. We understand it is now part of the Finance Bill. It is a good beginning and to this extent, the anonymity of donors will decrease. However, there is a counter view that ₹2000-limit will also be misused. But, as and when those instances come, we will deal with it.

What about electoral bonds. It is being said that it is not going to bring any transparency?

As far as electoral bonds are concerned, we have learnt that it is part of the Finance Bill, but we don’t have the outlines of this scheme. However, I can say in general if it is going to reduce the anonymity, we welcome it.

What is the Election Commission’s view on state funding of elections?

Our view is that state funding can come only subject to certain deep reforms in the entire system. It cannot be a stand-alone proposal. We have said that there is a need to reform the functioning of political parties, a need for internal democracy [of the parties], for decriminalisation so that sources of money are also checked. There should be complete transparency of the funding of political parties and any other means of black money getting into the political system or in the hands of candidates.

The PM has proposed simultaneous elections. What are the bottlenecks in implementing the proposal?:

The first condition is to amend the Constitution, for which there are recommendations that debate should be held among the political parties. It is an important national issue. The second part is our role [in the implementation].

It is a huge logistical exercise in terms of mobilising the election machinery. A lot of money would be required. If you have simultaneous elections, and they are dependent on forces, the elections will have to be multi-phased.

I guess, it may take a minimum of two months. It is a huge logistical exercise, but surmountable under certain conditions.

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