Elections in India are often called the festival of democracy. It is indeed one of the most important ways an ordinary citizen can exercise his rights in general and his right to vote in particular. It is, therefore, necessary that not only is elections in India conducted free from fear and favour but also measures are taken to ensure that sufficient information and awareness are created in this regard.
In the recent times, India has seen various ways in which elections have impacted the lives of general public. Further, many concerns have been raised on methods of conducting elections, the power politics involved, the code of conduct, and the overall need for reform in this regard. Months after the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, here are the major issues concerning elections in India.
The Election Commission of India and its role
The democratic system in India provides for impartial, free, and fair elections. Hence the framers of the constitution made provisions for an independent statutory body called ‘Election Commission’ to conduct elections in India. Article 324 to 329 in Part XV of the constitution deals with the composition, powers, and functions of the Election Commission. It consists of the Chief Election Commissioner and other election commissioners; the President of India appoints them on the advice of the Union Cabinet.
It prepares the electoral roll and conducts a periodic revision of the same. It holds the elections to the Parliament, state legislature, and office of the President and the vice president. After the announcement of elections, it decides the time table. It also conducts by elections for vacant seats and grants recognition to political parties as national and state level parties. It can withhold election results on valid grounds and also order for re-poll if it believes that a particular booth was captured.
It scrutinizes the nomination paper allot symbols to Political Parties, appoints staff and other members to conduct elections, and makes necessary arrangements. It puts I place the code of conduct for candidates in political parties and ensures that free and fair elections are conducted in the country
Previous Reforms by the ECI
The voice of the people is the voice of God. Hence to conduct impartial, free, and fair elections, the Election Commission has taken various measures through many committees appointed by the government, such as the Indrajit Gupta committee, the Law Commission, Justice Kuldeep Singh committee, etc. These committees have periodically reviewed the election issues and given recommendations. Many recommendations of these committees have been implemented to ensure that the democratic system stays strengthened through electoral reforms. The major three are as follows:
- The Electors Photo Identity Card or EPIC was introduced in 1993 to remove evil practices like corruption, impersonation, and false voting. A card was issued with the voters Age, Name, Photo, Gender, Address, Constituency as an official document to all eligible voters. They were required to produce the same before voting.
- The Electronic Voting Machine is one of the most important innovations in modern technology regarding elections. It has replaced the system of the ballot paper and ballot box with the more effective Electronic Voting Machine. It was introduced in 1998 and subsequently used all over India. One of the major advantages of the EVM was that it could be easily operated, and it saved time. It prevents invalid votes and irregularities and ensure the principle of one man one vote. Further, it ensured that results were declared accurately and quickly.
- By far, the most important reforms taken up by the election commission on the advice of the Supreme Court is the mandatory disclosure of antecedents of the candidates. Today every candidate is required to declare his Criminal, Education, and Property Antecedents in the form while filing nominations. This leads to three major benefits, 1. The criminal background of candidates was revealed to the voters. 2. Educated people were encouraged to enter politics and, 3. The property antecedents of the candidates and his/her family exposed the honesty of the candidates. All this information was broadcasted through media to help voters make informed choices.
Need for more Measures in the Country
In recent times, the need to address the various issues concerning elections has become more necessary for the ECI than ever before. This is because of 2 major reasons, 1. Many of the concerns raised have questioned the credibility of the ECI itself and 2. Elections at various levels are having more and more impact on the general lives of people, and there is an increased awareness of its importance.
Elections restore a citizen’s faith in democracy. Opposition parties have formed a new trend of blaming the EVMs when elections are lost. Further, most measures to curb corruption and criminalization of politics have not been very effective.
A good percentage of the current Members of Parliament have criminal cases on their backs. Voter’s education requires effective implementation and equal engagement with all sections of society. New methods of bogus voting are emerging with the creation of multiple fake EPICs, as discovered in the Rajarajeshwari Nagar constituency in Bengaluru. To restore the trustworthiness of elections, not only the ECI but also the government and the judiciary must take effective steps.
Issues Concerning Elections in India
Electronic Voting Machine (EVM)
The EVMs have been the target of most political parties, calling it out for being hackable, malfunctioning, and even manipulated.
The EVMs typically consist of a Controlling Unit that stores the votes and the Balloting Unit, which records the votes. The country has over 20,000 machines, of which a few hundred may malfunction.
For these cases, there are various reserve machines and the votes collected till then are stored in the CU safely. Further, the ECI before every election explains and tests the process in front of each candidate’ s representatives in every constituency.
The introduction of VVPAT and the 100% matching of the same with the votes in the recent Lok Sabha Elections have added on to the ECI dismissing all such claims are invalid.
But, instances of an abandoned EVM found in a national highway or a minister’s house, etc., have fuelled further doubts. It is important to get all political parties on the same page regarding EVMs to reduce further hampering of credibility.
Criminalization of Politics
Criminalization in politics not only refers to acts of crime being conducted to fight elections, like the use of black money but also includes the participation of criminals in the electoral process as candidates and them being elected to act as representatives.
This leads to the use of political power for criminal gains due to a nexus between criminals and political representatives or criminals becoming political representatives. This has become a widespread problem in Indian democracy with not only the center but also state legislatures having about 31% of members with criminal charges against them.
Various Measures by the ECI, Supreme Court, and even the legislatures have not been successful in handling the issue as the lawbreakers are the lawmakers.
Further, when such political parties come to power, they make policies favoring such businessmen against the welfare of the general public. Such nepotism, corruption, and favoritism only increase as criminals in the political arenas increase. This leads to inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the institutions in the country and erodes the trust in the democratic system. Honest and sincere candidates miss out on the opportunity to serve the country
India follows the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” With the judicial system taking on an average of 15 years to decide on criminal cases, accused candidates continue contesting elections. Any attemps to prevent the same has been met with the argument of political opponents filing cases to stop a person from contesting an election.
Hate speech consists of anything said during political campaigns that are not only insensitive to a particular community, caste, linguistic group, racial group, or geographical residents but also can incite violence. When such dangerous and undemocratic statements come from senior leaders of a political party, it shows the sad state of affairs in the nation.
Political parties often resort to hate speech to play upon the emotions of their vote bank. The increases in such statements, even by leaders like Yogi Adityanath and Mayawati have shown that voters often get fooled by such controversies.
It is yet another indication that even today, we vote based on caste and religious lines instead of holding development as a focus. Another thing that has come into the light is the incapacity of the EC to prevent or handle such situations. It is often powerless and can, at the most issue a warning and then a notice but cannot cancel candidature on this basis.
Media is the fourth pillar of democracy. It plays an important role in the election by creating awareness among voters about the candidates and broadcasting manifestos, promises, etc. Voters are often influenced by such media programmes.
In the recent times, paid news has become a concerning trend. Not just traditional media, even on social media, paid puppets of political parties broadcast or post news, incidents, and interviews, which will enrich the image of the party.
This sometimes amounts to fake news and can be used to swing elections. Not only these mechanisms used to defame an opposite candidate bur it also puts down the credibility of media, and thus, even necessary information is overlooked. This has been a persistent issue, even the recent Lok Sabha Elections.
Electoral Bonds and State Funding
To increase accountability and promote cashless transfers, Cash donations to political parties have been replaced by Bank transactions. The problem is that these transactions do not come under the RTI and now are known only to the government. In the world of politics, where corruption and black money is prevalent, this opaqueness is detrimental. Electoral bonds are secretive and thus raises questions.
State funding of elections was proposed way back by Indrajit Gupta committee in 1998 and subsequently endorsed by other committees as well. If implemented with well-thought restrictions, this can not only invite honest citizens into politics but also act as a deterrent for political parties to engage in illegal activities to fund elections. But this has not yet been implemented.
One Nation One Election
There is a proposal to hold the Lok Sabha and the State Elections simultaneously. This is called One Nation, One Election. The ruling BJP is strongly pitching for the same. The Law Commission has also recommended ONOE and suggested amending the constitution and electoral laws to accommodate it.
There are various issues with the proposal. First of all, there are huge chances that simultaneous elections can affect the voter’s mind and lead them to vote for the same party, thus mixing center and state elections. Then there is the issue of implementation and impracticability. Many political parties are against it, and much thought is required before any major step is taken.
The credibility of the ECI
Over the past few years, there have been major questions on the appointment and working of the ECI itself. Its inability to take action without SC’s intervention in matters such as that of Namo TV or even the PM’s announcement of ASAT has raised eyebrows.
It is widely believed that the ECI is biased to the ruling party, which has a role in its appointment.
Further, the recent issues like the ones mentioned above have continually shown the lack of power with the ECI itself. Not only are its options to react to a particular violation of the code of conduct limited, but it is also not strong enough to encourage a serious effort from political parties. This shows that there are needs for more powers to be given to the ECI in a regulated environment.