In a landmark ruling on 15 February 2024, the Supreme Court delivered a significant blow to the electoral system by striking down the controversial Electoral Bonds Scheme. The court’s decision, citing violations of voters’ right to information under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, marks a pivotal moment in the quest for transparency and accountability in Indian elections. The ruling not only invalidated the scheme but also mandated an immediate halt to the sale of electoral bonds.

The lead opinion, penned by Chief Justice Chandrachud, asserted that the complete non-disclosure of the origins of political funding via electoral bonds facilitated corruption and fostered a culture of quid pro quo with the ruling party. This culture often had implications for initiating policy changes or securing licenses by corporate enterprises. The scheme and its associated amendments were deemed to permit an “unbridled influence of corporates in the electoral process ‘. By allowing for anonymous donations to political parties, the scheme created a veil of secrecy around the sources of funds, thereby compromising the public’s ability to make informed decisions and hold parties accountable.

According to the Finance Ministry the total value of Electoral Bonds purchased from State Bank of India is about ₹16,518 crores. A major portion of this went to the ruling party giving it undue privilege over the opposition parties.

While the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the scheme is a significant step towards enhancing transparency in political funding, it is unlikely to single-handedly eradicate the issue of money power in elections. Political parties have various avenues to receive funding, and the discontinuation of the Electoral Bonds Scheme may lead to the exploration of alternative channels for financial support. Moreover, the money transferred through electoral bonds in an election year is only a small fraction of total estimated election expenses which was estimated to be as high as ₹60,000 crores by a study conducted by Centre for Media (CMS) during the 2019 elections. The expenditure during the 2024 elections will be much higher considering inflation and higher stakes.

Broad electoral reforms

While the withdrawal of the Electoral Bonds Scheme addresses one aspect of the problem, it is imperative to look beyond this single policy to enact broader changes. State funding of elections, for example, where the government provides equal support to all candidates, could help level the playing field and eliminate the domination of corporate funding in elections.

The Indian electoral system is currently afflicted with the pervasive influence of political parties dominated by the elite, a scenario where the privileged few wield disproportionate power and prioritize their interests over those of the general public. These parties, controlled by a select group of influential individuals or business families, tend to perpetuate a cycle of exclusion and inequality, sidelining diverse voices and concerns of the people.

Direct selection and election

In light of this entrenched elite dominance, advocating for a shift towards direct selection and election of candidates by the people within a constituency emerges as a compelling solution. This approach empowers voters to choose candidates based on merit, integrity, and alignment with local issues, rather than mere party affiliations or elite connections. This includes the requirement for the final list of candidates to be approved by the electorate, so that no party is free to select whomsoever it pleases. By allowing constituents to directly participate in the decision-making process, this system promotes a more inclusive and representative democracy.

One of the key virtues of direct selection by constituents lies in its potential to ensure greater accountability among elected representatives. When candidates are chosen directly by the people they serve, their mandate becomes rooted in grassroots support, rather than allegiance to party hierarchies. As a result, elected officials are inclined to prioritise the concerns and aspirations of their constituents, fostering policies and decisions that truly reflect the needs of the local population.

Furthermore, embracing direct selection and election of candidates diminishes the stronghold of political parties over individual representatives. This decentralisation of power lessens the control exerted by party elites, thereby reducing their influence in dictating policy directions and candidate selections. Such a shift redirects the focus from party loyalty towards a more people-centric approach.

Direct selection of candidates by the people and state funding of election campaigns would together make elections a truly fair contest.

Right to recall

The principle of the right to recall an elected representative in the event of acting against the interests of the people of the constituency represents a powerful mechanism for enhancing the role of citizens in the electoral process. By providing constituents with the ability to remove a non-performing legislator mid-term, the right to recall fosters a more direct and participatory form of democracy that empowers voters and holds elected representatives accountable.

Knowing that their actions and decisions are subject to scrutiny and potential recall by the electorate serves as a powerful incentive for representatives to prioritize the interests of their constituents over personal agendas or party directives.

Furthermore, the right to recall encourages greater role for the people in the electoral process. By enabling constituents to actively shape and monitor the performance of their representatives, this mechanism promotes public awareness, responsibility, and involvement in governance.

Right to initiate legislation

In addition, mechanisms such as the right to initiate legislation and public referendums on crucial policy decisions can empower people and end their marginalisation. By involving the electorate directly in decision-making processes, transparency and accountability can be significantly enhanced.

In the current electoral system, the right to initiate legislation primarily rests with the executive, often leaving the general public with limited avenues to actively participate in the legislative process. The recent struggles of kisans to enact a legislation to ensure guaranteed MSP and the widespread demand to do away with oppressive laws such as the UAPA illustrate this point.

Empowering the people with the right to initiate new legislation or to propose amendments to existing laws is crucial for fostering a people-centred democratic system. By placing legislative authority directly in the hands of the citizens, this mechanism holds the potential to ensuring that policies and laws are not only reflective of public interests but also responsive to the evolving needs of society.

By enabling individuals and people’s organizations to directly shape the legislative agenda, this approach ensures that policy decisions are driven by the collective will of the people rather than the interests of the ruling establishment.

Moreover, providing citizens with the right to initiate legislation fosters a culture of active citizenship, encouraging individuals to take a more proactive role in shaping the future of their country. It empowers communities to address pressing issues, advocate for important reforms, and hold elected officials accountable for their actions.

Delimitation of constituencies

The issue of high voter-to-representative ratio in India’s parliamentary system is a significant concern that affects the quality of democracy and representation. With one Member of Parliament representing such a large number of voters, it becomes challenging for constituents to establish a direct connection with their elected representatives. This leads to a lack of accountability and limited avenues for citizens to voice their concerns effectively.

To address this issue effectively, there is a need for electoral reforms that aim to reduce the size of constituencies and give sufficient powers to the third tier of governance—the districts, blocks, and village constituency committees. The present Panchayati raj system has not been able to prevent the concentration of powers in the central and state level executive bodies.

Furthermore, reducing the constituency size can also lead to more focused and effective representation, allowing elected representatives to better understand and address the specific needs and challenges of their constituents. By reimagining the electoral system to be more inclusive and responsive to the diverse needs of India’s population, we can bring people to the centre-stage of decision making.

Ending the monopoly over electoral symbols

The issue of election symbols in India has long been a point of contention, with larger political parties often having a significant advantage over smaller parties and independent candidates due to their monopoly on recognizable symbols. These symbols play a crucial role in influencing voter perception and recognition, as they serve as a quick and easy way for voters to identify and differentiate between various candidates and parties. The use of distinctive symbols by parties of the status quo can create a branding effect that enhances their visibility and recall among voters, giving them an unfair advantage in the electoral process.

Ending the monopoly of election symbols held by elite political parties could help level the playing field and promote greater electoral participation. By allowing smaller parties and independent candidates equal access to unique election symbols, the focus can shift towards policies, ideologies, and candidate qualifications rather than just party branding. Common election symbols should be allotted not only to parties but also to any people’s organisation, such as worker’s, women’s, or farmer’s organisations. This could lead to a more informed and diverse electoral landscape where candidates are judged based on their merit and vision.

Reforms such as direct selection of candidates by voters, state funding of elections, and the elimination of the monopoly of elite parties over election symbols can have a significant impact in combating challenges such as non-transparent Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), failure to implement promises in party manifestos, muscle power, sectarian vote banks, and other electoral malpractices.


The recent court ruling on Electoral Bonds highlights the urgent need for comprehensive electoral reforms in India. Beyond the cessation of the scheme, transformative changes are necessary to curb the influence of money in politics, promote transparency, and uphold the principles of democracy. It is time for India to embark on a path of reform that strengthens the democratic process and ensures that elected representatives remain accountable to the people they serve, not their financiers.

In the present political process, there are no avenues for people to take decisions regarding the day-to-day affairs of the country. Their role is limited beyond voting. Power is concentrated in the Executive. The Legislature is answerable to the Executive and not to the people even though the legislators call themselves “people’s representatives”. The increasing demand for electoral reforms underscores the disconnect between the government and the governed, pointing out the limited opportunities for citizens to actively participate in governance.

To bring the people to the centre-stage of the political process a transformative shift is required from the present process dominated by political parties of the elite to a process where people directly select and elect their candidates, where they exercise their right to recall and the right to initiate legislation, where elections are funded by the state and private funding is eliminated, and where mechanisms like periodic referendums are used to ascertain the will of the people.

Only then can people be empowered from a situation where they are mere voting cattle to a position where they create mechanisms to play a direct role in decision making and where elected representatives are not allowed to usurp the right of people to decide on key issues that determine their future.

President’s Blog

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