A seminar on “Economic Reforms with reference to Electoral Issues” was organised by the Confederation of Indian Bar in Delhi on 8th and 9th April 2017. Important dignitaries like the President of India and the Chief Justice of India spoke at the seminar, which touched upon the important issue of maladies in the current electoral process.

The President of India, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, stated the obvious when he said that the country needed electoral reforms. He pointed out that the number of parliamentary seats have remained frozen since 1971, though the population has grown several-fold in the last 46 years. “The Constitution (Forty Second Amendment) Act 1976 imposed a freeze on the population figure for readjustment at the 1971 census and has been extended by the Constitution (Eighty-Fourth Amendment) Act 2001 till 2026”.

Yes, the size of constituencies is certainly an issue. Todays’ constituencies in India – be they parliamentary, state assembly or even municipal – are often too large. As President Mukherjee pointed out, “this gives rise to an anomalous situation wherein today, India has over 800 million voters and 543 Lok Sabha constituencies represent 1.28 billion people

However, he also said that “the system of parliamentary governance is such that if somebody gets 51 (majority) out of 100, 51 has all the rights and authority and in our electoral process, less than 51 have all the rights and authorities but no responsibility”. While it’s not very clear if he meant that the parliamentary opposition should also be “accountable”, the Chief Justice of India, Mr Kehar Singh, was closer to the truth when he said that “electoral promises routinely remain unfulfilled. The reason for this gap between electoral promise and its fulfillment does not become an electoral issue”.

In other words, political parties routinely promise things which the people would like to have, such as employment, education, health care, social justice and the like – and brazenly leave these promises unfulfilled. The political parties show utter disdain and dishonesty, treating the people from whom they seek votes with great contempt. This is because the current system in the country has totally disempowered the voters.

  • People do not have any say in who should represent them. Powerful political parties choose candidates and impose them on the electorate.

  • Political parties and their candidates can make all manner of promises to the people at election time. They are known to act totally against the interest of the people on various occasions. But the people have no remedy or recourse if their ‘elected representatives’ fail to perform their duties or even act totally against their interests!

The seminar in Delhi correctly assessed that the political and economic system in India and in particular the electoral system, are in dire need of reforms. But reforms are needed for empowering people, not strengthening the rich and the established political parties!

Elected representatives must be made accountable to the people who elected them and NOT to parties which gave them a ticket to contest! In fact, political parties should have a more positive role of educating people, of propagating ideals – rather than lording it over the people and imposing candidates on the electorates of various constituencies – from gram panchayats and municipal wards to parliamentary constituencies – regardless of whether they have ever worked for the welfare of the people in those constituencies, regardless of whether they understand the needs and aspirations of the people there, regardless of whether they have the most dastardly anti-people and criminal antecedents.

Dr. Venkatesh Sundaram

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