Election reforms and `Shekhawat formula’

Published: The Hindu Business Line, August 13, 2003
By Pradeep S Mehta & Nitya Nanda

To have 107 elections in a litlle over a decade-and-a-half is something developing countries, such as India, can ill afford.

TALKS of electoral reforms in India are, perhaps, as old as the history of elections. And as for the changes suggested to the poll process, the term “innumerable” explains the phenomenon best.

Though some of them were meant to be more than mere political rhetoric, they either got lost in the melee of suggestions or failed to see light of day.

For a form of government, which is essentially “of the people, for the people and by the people”, it goes without saying that elections are a prerequisite, especially so if it is to be preserved not just as a democracy but a “vibrant democracy”.

But to one’s dismay, going by the available figures, to have as many as 107 elections in little over a decade-and-a-half is something developing countries, such as India, can ill afford.

Talking about the monetary part, the official statistics go on to narrate the taxing tale: The exchequer has been spending no less than a mind-boggling Rs 900 crore for conducting just one general election. And, with the ever-growing trend of coalition politics — both at the Centre and in the States — catching up fast, the number of elections, including those to the State Assemblies, is set to shoot up further. Recurring elections also drive the government’s attention away from core issues. The price of democracy is proving a bit too costly for the Indian nation to bear!

The alarming situation has left the intelligentsia, political pundits and the government perturbed. But the irony of the situation remains that despite the concern for both frequency of polls and the escalating cost thereof, due to lack of political will, literally every move of the Election Commission (EC) to put things on the track is derailed by the politicians themselves, whether in or out of power.

Only recently, the Chief Election Commissioner, Mr J. M. Lyngdoh, at a seminar in Jaipur suggested such measures as rectification of the voters’ list, prevention of use of muscle- and money-power as also bogus voting. He cited the example of Madhya Pradesh where strict action was taken against some District Magistrates following confirmation of charges of serious discrepancies in the voters’ lists in their jurisdictions.

A former judge, Mr Vinod Shankar Dave, surprised the audience with his revelation that he found discrepancy in his own name, while Ms Aruna Rai said that she had been described as a “male” in the voters’ list. There was unanimity among those present that the trend of seeking votes in the name of caste and religion was spreading like an epidemic all over the country.

“But all is yet to be lost” seems the message of the Vice-President, Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who recently offered some suggestions to save the crumbling house. Instead of going Utopian, Mr Shekhawat mooted some concrete, workable measures.

The first move, as suggested by him, in this direction should be to ensure commencement of elections to both the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies simultaneously — every five years and in a fixed month. Amendments to the Representation of the Peoples Act to this effect will ensure a fixed tenure of the Houses concerned, where the members will also, naturally, have a fixed term of as many years.

But, then, what about the governments shown the door by “no-confidence motion”? To check this malady, Mr Shekhawat wants a subsequent but immediate confidence motion to follow.

A similar provision exists in Germany and some other European countries. This would guarantee a without-delay alternative to replace the first one, and thereby, negating the very possibility of going through the chagrin of holding an election prematurely — before the five-year term of the House concerned.

If in the worse case scenario, no Opposition party gets the requisite numerical support, it would be mandatory for the members of the House to elect one out of them as the Prime Minister or Chief Minister, as be the case, then and there directly. But no elections at all!

Once there is a stable government, the rest will follow as naturally and smoothly as a calm and quiet Ganga flowing down its course. Assured of a fixed five-year term, the politicians will naturally have more time on hand to think about and focus on other growth- and public welfare-related issues, calling for their urgent attention. Also, the government would then be better placed to divert the hard-earned money of the taxpayers to constructive areas instead of allowing it to go down the poll drain.

The viability and the practicability of the suggestions of Mr Shekhawat can be gauged from the fact that it was endorsed by leaders of almost all political parties, except a few who feign ignorance about the “Shekhawat formula”, since they know that they do not have anything better to offer.

A person like the Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav, who is often described as a conservative man and averse to the ideas of change and development, hailed the proposals of Mr Shekhawat in these words: “It is good thinking. All parties should ponder over it.”

In fact, Mr Shekhawat’s views are more than merely keeping the frequenting polls away — they are about reforming the very political system of India to call it a vibrant democracy in the true sense.

Though the critics may point out that the “Shekhawat formula” calls for too many amendments to both the Constitution of India and the Representation of Peoples Act, it is high time we went for them. For, if that is the way to save India’s democracy one should not find much wrong about the technique evolved by the VP.

Even otherwise, how urgently the Constitution needs some remedial changes to keep it in tune with the times is obvious from the fact that within 53 years it had to be amended close to 90 times! If there are some lacunae in the draft, why shy away from admitting the fact? Should one allow the Constitution to become outdated and stale? No! An exercise to keep it up-to-date is the need of the hour.

Experience certainly has an advantage over sheer bookish knowledge. And, it is at this juncture that we need to look up to the elder generation, which has been a witness to the ups and downs of the course of history, for their precious advice.

Also, more and more people like Mr Shekhawat should come forward with constructive ideas to strengthen the nation in every possible way, and more important, prevent it from withering away as the “largest working democracy” from the world map.

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