Reforms must start with Electoral Commission itself, says ADR co-founder

It’s a long and sad saga. Reforms, the criminalization of politics, the role of money in politics have been discussed for 50 to 60 years, but no government has ever wanted to do anything about it. The existing system benefits all governments, regardless of party, and they have found ways around the system and are afraid of any change.

Between 60 and 100 proposals have been sent to the government over the past decade. In 2004, a list of 22 proposals was sent to the Prime Minister at the time. In 2016, the then Commissioner General of Elections sent about 62 recommendations. These have piled up, but the government of the day selects the recommendations it deems appropriate, as it did with the Aadhaar liaison.

To name a few of the most important, first democratize political parties by enacting legislation. It is often said “India has a vibrant democracy” but if the political parties, the pillars of democracy, do not function in a democratic way, how will they build a vibrant democracy? Each party has a high command, a hard core or a supremo that makes the decisions. ADR had asked Judge Venkatachaliah to draft a law in this regard, which was done 10 years ago. We presented it to all political parties, but no one was interested.

Second, the financial aspects of political parties must be transparent. How much money they get, where they get it from, through what process and how the money is spent – ​​this information should be available to voters. Without financial transparency, we will never know who controls elections. Donations to political parties are not charity, it is a matching agreement, rather it is an investment.

Supposedly, the parties are already bound by the RTI Act but none of them comply with it. In 2013, the Central Information Commission declared the six national political parties to be public authorities under the RTI Act, but they refused to accept it and the case is before the Supreme Court in which the Union of India objected.

Third, the question of criminals in politics. In 2004, when we did the National Election Observation for the first time, we found that 25% of Lok Sabha members had pending criminal cases. This figure increased to 30% in 2009, 35% in 2014 and 43% in 2019. Some of these cases are serious in nature such as murder and rape. In any other country, this is absolutely unthinkable. Our foreign counterparts often ask us: “Is this true? How can a person with a criminal case sit in Parliament?

ADR wrote letters to the presidents of all political parties asking them not to give party tickets to those who had pending criminal cases. In vain. Then, when they were elected, we again wrote to the presidents asking them not to appoint them ministers, again to no avail. We don’t even receive an acknowledgment of receipt of the letters we write.

The presence of criminals in politics is linked to the use of money in politics that comes from criminal activities. It has been repeatedly suggested by the Election Commission and the ADR that a person who has a case registered against them at any time before one year of the election, which is liable to imprisonment for one year or more, and in which charges have been made by a court of law should not be allowed to challenge an election. It has not been implemented and this case is also pending before the Supreme Court.

Aurora J. William