Dr. Bangalore International Centre had arranged a Talk on “Electoral Reforms in India” by Dr. S.Y. Quraishi, Chief Election Commissioner of India, on Sunday, 13th May, 2012 at 5:00 pm. The talk was moderated by Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, Former Chief Justice of India.
In his introductory comments, Justice Venkatachaliah referred to the cynicism generated within the country in view of several observations in the working of our democratic system and warned about the growth of a negative social critical mass, capable of unleashing forces of severe destruction. He, however, recognized the enormous balancing and stabilizing role being played by Judiciary and the Election Commission within this over-all scenario. In a pithy aside, he added, “The best that we do may not take us to Heaven, but may delay our precipitate descent to Hell”.
In a wide-ranging and lucid talk, Dr. Quraishi outlined how the Election Commission has grown over the years to manage the process of election in the largest democracy in the world. He drew attention to the fact that the Election Commission came into existence on 25th January 1950 by invoking Article 324 of the Constitution before the rest of the articles of the Constitution came into force. While the Constitution gives wide and unfettered powers to the Election Commission, much of its powers have come from judicial pronouncements from time to time by way of interpreting the constitutional provisions and various statutory enactments. Dr. Quraishi also highlighted the fact that the Model Code of Conduct, which is non-statutory, has become a norm only because all the political parties have accepted it. To that extent, the political parties have also contributed to the powers of the Election Commission. Dr. Quraishi was appreciative of the enormous role played by the bureaucracy to make the smooth conducting of elections possible. He mentioned that during the last General Election, 11 million people were on duty, handling 1 million polling booths and 1.4 million Electronic Voting Machines with braille facilities and their mandate was to do their job with zero margin of error. Dr. Quraishi stressed that management of elections was not an easy job. Apart from the fact that voting had to conducted in several remote, inaccessible and difficult areas, the election officials have also to function in areas under the virtual control and influence of Maoists who often use extreme violence and terrorist activities to intimidate the voters. Even in other areas, one has to ensure free and fair elections by taking head-on the money and muscle powers of unscrupulous politicians. The steps taken by the Commission are Vulnerability and Sensitivity Mapping of the Constituencies, taking known trouble-makers under protective custody or bound on personal bonds of good conduct, requiring fire-arms and other arms to be deposited, video-trailing of candidates and other undesirable elements, keeping a watch on the election expenses, seizing suspicious movement of large-amounts of cash and drugs etc. All these taken together ensure peaceful conduct of elections.
Dr. Quraishi was dismissive of the view that democracy is on the decline. He was categorical that with systemic improvements, a strong Election Commission and an ever-vigilant Judiciary, democracy in India would not only survive, but also thrive. On electoral reforms, he stated that the Election Commission has already recommended to the government certain steps to prevent criminal elements taking part in the election. These include debarring candidates from contesting elections when they are charged by a court for a heinous offence, attracting a penalty of imprisonment for 5 years or more, and when the FIR for the offence was filed at least 6 months before the election; transparency in funding the political parties and the elections by ensuring all payments to be made by cheque; all accounts of election expenses to be audited and placed in the public domain; and giving constitutional protection to all the Election Commissioners.
In the lively interactive session which followed his talk, Dr. Quraishi made the following points:
It was a hugely successful event.