On April 9, the Election Commission (EC) announced the cancellation of the by elections to RK Nagar assembly constituency in Chennai. This seat in the Tamilnadu Assembly had fallen vacant after the death of former chief minister Jayalalithaa. The Commission cited bribing of voters and flouting of election laws by contesting parties for putting off the election. The new date would be announced in due course, the EC said.
This is the second time that the EC has cancelled assembly polls in TN on grounds of bribing voters. Last year, the EC countermanded elections in Thanjavur and Aravakurichi, after huge sums of money were seized by poll officials.
According to news reports, the EC cancelled the elections following IT raids on close associates of ministers of the Tamilnadu government indicated that Rs 89 crore were distributed among the voters of the constituency.
Documents seized by the income tax department during raids on state health minister Vijaya Bhaskar’s house on Friday showed that the faction of the AIADMK in power gave Rs 4,000 to every voter in the constituency.
The EC said: “… the commission cannot help expressing its anguish over the sordid state of affairs as revealed in the reports of the election expenditure observers, election expenditure monitoring teams, as well as the reports of the income-tax authorities.”
Along with many other organisations, Lok Raj Sangathan has been agitating for deep-going electoral reforms that will empower voters to select and elect candidates, exercise the right to recall, and have the right to initiate legislation in the interests of the people. It has been demanding an end to monopoly over symbols by a few parties of the status quo. It has also been demanding an end to all private financing of elections and the need for the state to fund the entire electoral process.
The announcement by the EC of countermanding of elections raises the larger question of addressing major reforms needed in the political system and process raised above, in order to actually deal with the malaise. We cannot forget that countermanding of Elections to two assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu last year made absolutely no difference. The very same candidates were allowed to contest later under the symbols of the very same parties who were found guilty of electoral malpractices!
Nor is this peculiar to Tamilnadu. This is what has gone on in all the elections held in different parts of the country. In the recent elections to the UP assembly for example, BJP leaders including the Prime Minister openly violated the strictures of the EC and the Supreme Court barring communal and divisive propaganda. No action was taken against them.
Countermanding of elections raises a number of other issues as well which cannot be ignored. What about the candidates of parties and others selected by people’s organisations, who have been working indefatigably for the rights of people? Furthermore, the electorate has the right to select and elect a representative from amongst their midst whom it can hold accountable. By countermanding elections, the electorate is deprived of this right.
What is needed is indeed thoroughgoing reforms in the political system and process. All such reforms must begin with the right to select and elect candidates vesting solely in the electorate. Political parties and other organisations of people will have the right to propose candidates, but the final decision on selecting the set of candidates standing for elections in a constituency must be with the electorate. Those elected must render periodic accounts of their work to the electorate. The electorate must retain the right to recall him or her if they do not do their work properly. In such a system, the legislature will be accountable to the electorate. Furthermore, the concept of dividing the legislature into ruling and opposition must end. All those elected must together form the government. The executive must be accountable to the legislature.
Today, the domination of money power over the election process is the bitter reality. It cannot be and must not be swept under the carpet. It must be addressed head on by hitting at the root of the problem. The root of the problem is that the present political system and process marginalizes people from decision making. This marginalization begins from the process of selection of candidates. It is time to take measures to end this marginalization.