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.

1 comment:

C. Ramachandran said...

JP is a reformer, a convincing speaker and a man of higher than average intelligence. He is a man of integrity and there are many like minded people who support him. He has all the qualities of a good leader of people. He is the type of leader that can change the face of Indian politics. In the last election, though he made a big splash before the election, with more than significant support, there was not much of a conversion into seats to make any dent in the political scene. So, what is it that he lacks that make him a marginal player in the electoral scene?

I agree with him that money is not a big factor in winning elections. In an ideal situation, perhaps his views that major reforms are not necessary, may be true. But that "ideal" situation is an utopia that is not going to happen by merely wishing. Neither it will happen by accident. Going by his contention, let us see why his "communication" did not reach most people to affect his prospect. One is to do with education and the other is with inherent contradictions that we are all living with.

Let us take education. It is differnet from literacy. Take Kerala for instance, which is a highly literate state. Still it lacks education of the minds. The knowledge is so warped that it will be difficult to find few people agreeing with each other on major impact areas. And if they disagee, they are not prone to appreciate areas of agreement and go forward with it and hope to finetune things as they go along. This makes people accepting to live with extremes of conditions without making an effort to change it. Vast majority of people in Kerala are fed up with bandhs and hartals. Yet, they are resigned to it and accept it as a fact of life - which is an apathy of the worst kind. Similarly, we see the worst corruption, worst politics, worst caste and communal situation thriving in Kerala - when, logically it should have been erradicated, because it has the largest number of graduates per million. So, in short, educated awareness is what is needed most.

There are many things wrong in our polity - and most of it stems from the wrong type of people entering into the system of governance and poluting it from within. To change this, we need to have electoral reforms. It is imperative that there is a proper screening of all candidates as they file in their candidature to "serve the people". Whatever filter that need to be used can be debated - but it should not compromise on certain basic fundamentals. Hence, electoral reforms are a must - to ensure that the choice people have are fundamentally between the right sort of people.

The right to recall must also be a part of this reform.