India is often referred to it as a vibrant and vigorous democracy. This might well be justified compared to a large number of other countries that gained independence from colonial rule around the same time. There is however reason to be concerned about the health of our democracy and its future. Just because we have elections regularly, some might even say far too often, does not necessarily mean that we have an effective democracy.
The electoral system might well be considered the very heart of democracy. It determines who can or should be allowed to vote. When should electoral rolls be prepared, revised, and how? The formation, functioning including funding, etc. of political parties is also an integral part of the electoral system. Included also is the basic question, who can contest an election. Then comes the actual conduct of the election which is what is most associated with the electoral system. On what basis is the winner of the election decided is another key element of the electoral system. These are some of the pre-election and during election activities. There is a whole range of post election activities during which the outcome of the electoral process are managed, such as post election disputes, election petitions, formation of the government, and subsequent functioning of the government including issues such as defections.
The widespread and increasing disenchantment with politics and politicians is much too widely known to require any substantiation. The way our legislatures, Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and State assemblies, function does not make us proud. One of the major causes for the unruly and unproductive functioning of the legislatures is the quality of people who find their way into the legislatures. For example, in current Lok Sabha, nearly a quarter (23.2%) of the MPs has reported criminal cases against them. One out of two among them (over 50%) have cases that could attract penalties of imprisonment of five or more years.
It is quite common to put almost the entire blame for the current state of affairs on the so-called political class in the country. But all those who would have us believe that all that is wrong has been caused by the political class seem to overlook the fact that the political class does not exist or develop in isolation or in a vacuum, but that it emerges and evolves out of the society at large. Therefore the society at large, of which all of us are a part, cannot escape responsibility for the existing state of affairs. While the so-called political class cannot be assigned the complete responsibility for the current state of affairs, they cannot be entirely absolved of it either. A substantial portion of the behavior of the political class can be explained as a logical response to the broader social system within which they have to operate. And the electoral system is a major and immediate part of that broader social system. Consequently, one way to change the behavior of the political class would be to change the system in which they have to operate and to which they have to respond. This is where electoral reforms become important.
While token attempts at reforming the electoral system have been made from time to time over the last many years particularly whenever it suited the party in power, there has been hardly any attempt at making any significant and substantial changes in the electoral system. There has been any number of reports and recommendations on what needs to be done. Some of the significant examples are the Indrajit Gupta Report, the Dinesh Goswami Report, the 170th Report of the Law Commission of India on Electoral Reforms, and the Recommendations of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC). The remarkable fact however is that almost none of the recommendations of these learned and painstakingly prepared reports have been implemented.
The main reason of non-implementation of these suggested electoral reforms was that the decision making was left in the hands of the same political class who is the beneficiary of this flawed system. There was no support or pressure from citizens. It was only because of citizens' initiative ( led by Association of Democratic Reforms) filing of affidavits by electoral candidates disclosing their assets, liabilities, educational qualifications and criminal record if any, was made mandatory. Thus, we as citizens, have the immense and important job of improving and strengthening democracy in India. In words of Felix Frankfurter "No office in the land is more important than that of being a citizen"
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