VoteMoney.jpgOppose the undemocratic move of government to more than double the security deposit for candidates in elections through an amendment to the Representation of Peoples Act. The government has proposed that the security deposit for candidates for general category seats for the Lok Sabha be raised from Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000. India is supposed to be a democracy wherein every citizen has the right to elect and be elected… Any citizen should be able to stand in elections with a token deposit that he or she can afford.

All the Members of Parliament, to all political parties and organizations, to the citizens of our country

The Lok Sabha is currently debating the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2008. The Rajya Sabha has already passed this Bill. As we of the Lok Raj Sangathan send this open letter to all of you, we are not at all surprised that the only substantive amendment in the RPA is being passed without any criticism from any quarter.

The government has proposed that the security deposit for candidates for general category seats for the Lok Sabha be raised from Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000. It proposes to raise Security deposit for candidates in reserved seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes from Rs 5,000 to 12,500. In the case of Assembly Elections, the deposit will be raised from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 for a general category seat and from Rs 2,500 to Rs 5,000 for seats reserved for SC/ST’s.

The Law Minister Shri Veerappa Moily has justified these increases with an argument that is outrageous. According to news reports, Shri Moily has declared that this is to cut down on “non-serious” candidates contesting elections!

India is supposed to be a democracy wherein every citizen has the right to elect and be elected, if they are above the stipulated minimum age and mentally sound. This right is already circumscribed in practice with millions of working people in central and state government institutions and organisations denied the right to stand in elections. Many people cannot even think of standing because they are daily wage workers, contract workers or home makers on whom the family entirely depends. Many cannot stand because their employers do not like their employees to participate.

Any citizen should be able to stand in elections with a token deposit that he or she can afford. In our country, the minimum wages of workmen in a city like Delhi is around Rs 4,000 a month. In other states, it is even less. A small farmer in even a so called agriculturally prosperous state like Punjab does not earn more than Rs 10,000 a year, after the family as a whole puts in its labour through the year. So when the government proposes to raise the security deposit for parliamentary elections to Rs 25,000 and further states that this is to weed out non serious candidates, what is the message? The message is that working class and mass of peasantry, that is the overwhelming majority of our population are “non-serious”, they should not contest elections, even if they are highly motivated to do so. Elections are only meant for the rich and powerful, and for the parties representing vested interests!

The Law Minister’s move is to prevent candidates from the working class and peasantry from contesting elections through the method of raising the security deposits. This deserves to be thoroughly condemned. His justifications about “serious candidates” being those who can pay money is indefensible. No right thinking democrat, independent of ideology or political affiliation can accept this. This is not the way to deepen or strengthen democracy, or make it more inclusive, it is to make it even more exclusivist, a tool of the moneybags, with the workers and peasants reduced to being spectators in the great Indian election tamasha.

As some members of parliament have pointed out during the ongoing parliamentary debate, there are serious questions about the increasing role of money power in elections. Surveys after the General Elections reveal how the majority of parliamentarians and MLA’s are crorepatis many times over. They have revealed how money power is being openly used to buy media space, print and electronic, apart from bribing of the voters. They have revealed how governments in power misuse the state machinery to advance ruling party interests.

Over the years, the Representation of Peoples Act has been systematically amended to make it more difficult for independent candidates, candidates belonging to the working class and peasantry and tribal population, as well as candidates of small parties and organizations to fight on a level playing field in the elections against the power of the established political parties, which have privileges such as recognizable symbols, free radio and TV time, etc. Despite this, all over the country, people and their organizations have been participating in elections, to highlight the concerns of the poor and marginalized. Sometimes they win. Most times they lose the elections. But as all honourable MP’s know, win and lose is part of the election game. To participate in politics, including through putting up candidates, is a right. This right is being attacked among other things also by increasing the security deposit, and by declaring those who struggle for the rights of the people as “non serious”!

Lok Raj Sangathan is one of the organizations that has participated in various elections in different states – to the panchayats and corporations, to the state assemblies and to parliament. We have been putting forth a new political process wherein the working people in their mohallas and colonies, in the villages, select candidates from their midst and then put them up for the elections. Many workers, poor peasants, women, working class youth, have been emboldened to participate in the political process and voice the concerns of the people. This is in direct contrast with the present system wherein political parties decide the candidates and the electorate is asked to choose between one or other candidate of a political party. The proposal to select candidates before election is now being increasingly accepted by many new political forces, who used this method as in the recent Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.  In this manner, the working people in town and country, are able to more effectively assert their say, check the character, integrity and record of public service of prospective candidates, which in our view is a necessary condition for the renewal of democracy and for the empowerment of the people, which all parties claim to be fighting for.

The Lok Raj Sangathan has put forth wide ranging proposals for a through going reform of the political system and process, including the institutions like parliament, the relation between the executive and legislature, and the relation between the electorate and the executive, Judiciary and legislature. We have been arguing for establishing mechanisms to ensure the right of the electorate to recall ineffective or unaccountable representatives. We have also argued that the right to initiate legislation should not vest only in parliament and assemblies, but also amongst the people organized in constituency committees. We have organized serious discussions in the midst of the working masses, but they have been ignored by the powers that be including the electronic and print media at large.

This letter is not the time and place to put forth all these proposals. The purpose of this appeal is concentrate our fight against the undemocratic move to increase the security deposit, as well as concentrate our fight against the notion that the problem with the electoral system is “non serious candidates” and that candidates from the working class and peasantry are “non-serious”.

Every individual, every political force will have its own definition of who is a “serious” candidate and who is not. It may be the case that the working people think that many of those who are elected are not serious, because they do not defend the interests of the electorate either inside or outside parliament. But if we started going by such definitions, then we will end up with a dictatorship as the final outcome. For those in power will decide that those who are not in power are “not serious”.

If Shri Moily is serious that wealth determines the seriousness of a person, then why does he not propose raising the deposit to a crore or more, this will automatically eliminate all “non serious candidates”, as in any case according to the media, the declared assets of most MP’s run into several crores!

Already, we hear that the Chief Election Commissioner, an unelected official, has been speaking everywhere about deregistering small registered parties from contesting elections, saying they are “non serious”. This is another dangerous assault on the right to elect and be elected, and the right to organize oneself into a political party to further the interests of different sections of society that are part of the polity.

In conclusion, Lok Raj Sangathan addresses this letter to political parties and to all Members of Parliament to seriously oppose this undemocratic move to raise the security deposit and ensure that this does not pass. LRS also appeals to the political parties and to MP’s to participate in the discussion on genuine reforms in political system and process that will lead to empowerment of people and not their further marginalization.

On its part, LRS will take this campaign even more widely amongst the people, and all political forces, to redefine all the institutions of our system in a direction that contributes to peoples empowerment.

With sincere regards

S Raghavan

Prakash Rao

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