Monday, July 12, 2010

Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan on electoral reforms!

Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan M.L.A releases the journal 'Social Science in Perspective' giving a copy to Survaram Sudhakar Reddy, veteran CPI leader at C.Achutha Menon Centre, Trivandrum!
When Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan talks about India's electoral mechanisms and the reforms it needs he never beats around the bush. He is damn serious and straight. Indeed, JP, scrupulously follows Gandhiji's dictum on being the change you want to see in the world. Speaking at Trivandrum's C.Achutha Menon Study Centre on an 'Agenda for Electoral Reform' he never minced his words. JP, a medical doctor and an ex-IAS officer now turned leader of LokSatta party and legislator in Andhra Pradesh refuses to buy the fashonable middle class argument that India's electoral system is hopeless and beyond reform. Instead, he corrects the popular myth that the Election Commission can provide a panacea for free and fair elections. The Commission, to JP, is a 'overglorified institution'. Something I too agree with. The Election Commission's rightful place in an election drama is the green room.It's not to be seen on stage. Unfortunately, many Electon Commissioners beginning from T.N. Seshan have been tempted to exhibit a larger than life role before the public encouraged by mass media.

Giving the Election Commission its due place, JP remarked that one of the few powers vested in rhis body during intervals between elections is to register voters and prepare voters list. This falls solely in the Commission's jurisdiction and it is a job they are doing shabbily. The country needs a dynamic list which can be maintained by and updated in the Post Offices and though this sensible suggestion is being raised from many quarters,the Commission has obstinately refrained from implementing it.

Donning the contrarian's cap, JP said that the danger facing us is not of people wth money entering politics but the reverse of people joining politics to make money. Their success at it proves the system can be hijacked to serve vested interests.

JP demolishes the myth that money is needed for election campaign. He cites his personal example of winning the Legislative Assembly elections from Hyderabad in 2009 spending a paltry Rs.4,50,000/- while his opponents spend tens of crores. In this age of fast and rapid communication, JP mentioned, you don't need much money to send your message across to voters. If so, why do candidates and political parties spend enormous sums of money in elections, whether to parliament the assembly or local councils. The reason , to JP , lies in the operation of the first past the post system of representation we borrowed from Great Britain. At a time when the merits of continuing with it are being seriously debated in their country of origin, JP, points out that in a land of India's complexity and diversity, the ill effects are more visible than its advantages. The winning candidate in elections, often wins with less that the absolute majority of the votes polled. This manner of winning makes the marginal vote of crucial importance. A cabdidate who wins with a few hundred or thousand votes never knows from where these votes will come. This uncertainty induces candidates and parties to cast their net wide to ensure that all the votes they can get ultimately land up in their kitty. To this end they are forced to yield and cater to all sorts of demands and needs put forth by various sections. Money becomes all important to wrest control of votes and the controllers of votes. Another reason JP cited for the readiness to spend such astronomical sums was that our elected representatives see themselves part of the executive, directing and controlling administration, and never restrain themselves to law making and shaping of policies. Exercising control over the executive affords ample opportunity to make money.

JP is optimistic that a shift to alternative forms of represenation may cure some of our major electoral malpractices. He told me in personal conversation of his efforts to convince the top leaders of India's polity to efffect changes in our system of representation, how close to success he was at it and how that opportunity was missed due to inaction shown from certain quarters. He doesn't despair over the missed chance but is confident that the convergence of a younger generation of voters receptive to new ideas, rapid expansion of communication and stable economic growth will soon make inevitable what he then proposed.

JP is so modest that he acknowledges before the audience that recent changes in our election system like making candidates disclose assets and recording of criminal antecedents which got implemented after a legal battle he led are only symbolic in nature and should'nt be taken for anything radical. The real work is yet to begin, he confesses.

JP suggests that changes he recommends cannot be brought about by swimming against the current. He is for a more zen like approach, going with the flow. It is not by treating political parties as enemies that change is to be striven for. On the contrary, it is by aligning the changes and reforms required with the interests of political parties that smooth tranformation occurs. JP is all for change in this fashion which explains why he is President of a political party which contests elections and is himself aa legislator. JP, unlike many politicians is on the side of system reformers and unlike most system reformers, is on the side of politicians and political parties.

Therein lies the significance of the role he is to play in contemporary India.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Shashi Tharoor - Run Out!

Shashi Tharoor's resignation from the Council of Ministers closes an innings in Indian politics. Tharoor was a poor batsman. His performance fell short of his promise. His stay in a 5 star hotel in Delhi, albeit with own funds to the tune of Rs.50 lakhs, wasn't ideal for a Minister who claims tall to be the change he wants in the world. His tweets attracted attention and controversy but they didn't end to his advantage.

The proverbial last straw was the latest round of auctions for IPL Cricket teams.

Tharoor shouted from rooftops of his role in binging IPL cricket to Kerala and a team for his home state. He was proud of his association with the Kochi team as 'Mentor' and all was well. The beans started spilling when Lalit Modi, the IPL Commissioner, revealed in a tweet that a certain Sunanda Pushkar held sweat equity worth Rs.70 crores in the team Tharoor happened to be mentoring.

All hell broke loose in media and Parliament while Tharoor failed to convincingly explain his association with the Kochi team as 'Mentor', his association with Sunanda Pushkar as fiancee and sweat equity being awarded to her. Even at the time of his resignation, many things remain a mystery.

Were Tharoor more transparent, this ignoble exit could have been averted. That he couldn't, confirms suspicions, there is more than meets the eye!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Free Anand Jon!

'Out of sight,Out of mind', the adage pierced my senses last evening when a call came from Shashi Abraham, mother of Anand Jon. In the last many months, attending to the routine, unimportant bsuiness of life, Anand Jon receded from my consiousness and I felt a prick of conscience talking to his mother. I was one of the early birds to express my solidarity with Anand Jon for it was clear he was on trial for charges that were false and trumped up. I hoped the trial court would see this and declare him 'not guilty'. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Anand's trial got vitiated by many external factors and ended in his being sentenced to 59 years in jail. Not having read the judgment of the trial court, I won't comment on it. Judicial veridcts, in civil society, are sacrosanct and our earnest belief is that they are pronounced by the Judge in a fair and independent manner. However, even without reading the judgement, from familiarity with the facts of the case and the events connected with it, I am sure, the verdict indicting Anand Jon leaves a lot of questions unanswered and issues unexplained. Anand was a victim of racial prejudice and of his own professional success, to say the least. The judgement does not succeed in allaying these suspicions which is why the movement to free Anand Jon remains vibrant, growing and active. The people associated with it are fair and honourable citizens who don't want to be identified as supporting a sex offender or criminal. That they risk their reputation in continuting to lend support to Anand is a testament to their faith in in his innocence and protest at a free and fair trial being denied to him. I hope the Judiciary and the Government of the United States of America will heed demands arising from civil society the world over and ensure justice to Anand Jon. The Indian Government should sincerely do whatever it can in this matter.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Micro-level Conflicts

Scanning Page 11 of New Indian Express dated Jan 11th, Monday, brought these news items to my notice:

a)Strained relations between Malays and ethnic Chinese and Indians that the country is being Islamised resulted in firebombs being thrown at many Christian churches. Authorities described these as pranks and not organized attacks for they caused only minimal damage.

b)The town of Rosarno in Southern Calabria region of Italy witnessed clashes between immigrant labourers from Sub-Saharan Africa and locals. The immigrants, mostly fruit pickers, were protesting about the appalling living conditions and low wages, while the locals wanted them thrown out of the country.

c)Analyzing data of survey conducted in Britain, David Voas, Prof of Population Studies, Manchester University pointed out that majority believed the multi-cultural experiment had failed, there was increasing opposition to Islam than to any other religion and those surveyed were even willing to limit the freedom of speech to contain religious extremism.

These news items makes me aware that many micro-level conflicts are happening around the world.They centre around geographically small areas and small populations. Unfortunately, they don’t receive the notice they deserve. Our entire attention is captured by major conflicts like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and so on. Is it a conspiracy of big media and big governments to entrench themselves?. Ultimately, our maturity in tackling and resolving micro-level conflicts will go to determine how safe the world will be for future generations.