An Indian election officer marks the finger of a voter with ink at a polling stating in Dibrugarh on April 7, 2014, during national elections. Indians have begun voting in the world's biggest election which is set to sweep the Hindu nationalist opposition to power at a time of low growth, anger about corruption and warnings about religious unrest. India's 814-million-strong electorate are forecast to inflict a heavy defeat on the ruling Congress party, in power for 10 years and led by India's famous Gandhi dynasty. AFP PHOTO/Dibyangshu SARKAR (Photo credit should read DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
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Political Elections are celebrated to the likes of a festival in a successful democracy. Regular elections keep the wheel of democracy moving since it keeps the tenets of a democratic institution alive, and proves the power of an ordinary citizen to be extraordinary during elections, as one is exercising the most powerful weapon of democracy, i.e. the power of the ballot. With this right, the authoritarian, and corrupt powers are kept in check or ousted from power. The role of the Election Commission of India (‘ECI’) cannot be overshadowed in this matter.

Role of Election Commission of India

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The ECI is the main body that undertakes the process of conducting elections both in the state and at the national level. Additionally, it also acts as a vigilance mechanism to keep a check on the candidates in case of a breach of Model Code of Conduct, which every candidate is required to maintain in order to ensure free and fair elections. The task performed by ECI is commendable. To get a deep insight of regulating this difficult task amenable in the world’s biggest democracy, one can refer to the detailed working of the ECI and tireless efforts of its members from the book “An Undocumented Wonder” written by former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi. In the book, the emphasis has been laid upon the working of the ECI, and how its members devote their time and labour to conduct elections in different parts of the country.  The author has provided different aspects with wonderful examples that aids in keeping faith in a healthy democracy alive.

Functions of Election Commission

The ECI apart from conducting election also regulates various awareness campaigns to enlighten the minds of the electorates to exercise their power judiciously. The power of technology led to the induction of Electronic Voting Machines has abolished the menace of vote tampering. The heavy deployment of security personnel equally contributes to the regulation of secure and safe elections. The ECI aims to conduct inclusive elections, and with coordinated and well-planned efforts our Election Commission of India is internationally acclaimed. But, even the ECI recognises the menace of money and muscle power that dampens the working of a successful democracy. The political elites act as professional politicians influencing the electorates with their power (whether money or muscle).

Political Parties and Right to Information

India has six recognised national political parties including Trinamool Congress, making it seven. Each political party vows to fight against black money and portrays a clean image as compared to their opponents. Even after the meritorious efforts of the Election body, the menace of money power during elections is still rampant. In a democratic country, political funding is essential for political parties to undertake campaigning and other related activities during the elections. But, such an ideal democratic thought is widely misused. There are two aspects of money power in politics as mentioned in Undocumented Wonder i.e. collecting funds and spends funds during an election campaign to benefit the party and its candidates. The interdependency of these two aspects makes it more deplorable because if you spend more you need to collect more, and this uncontrolled collection breeds corrupt practices. The hypocrisy of political parties comes into picture when the demand to let the electorates know the source and amount of political funding are raised. Unfortunately, the Right to Information does not recognise political parties as Public Authorities.

The Central Election Commission via its order/decision dated 03.06.2013, provided a new dawn to reform the electoral practice in India. But, the arch-opponents in politics, shared a common path in wilfully neglecting the order and disobeying the guidelines. The political parties are aware that their inclusion as Public Authorities mentioned under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information will open the doors for public scrutiny. Such a scrutiny is entirely an antithesis to the interest of the political parties. But, the question arises whether or not the citizens in a democracy should be entitled to this right to know details of the parties’ that are likely to influence their national interests? In a democratic country, where elections are widely celebrated, does it not give the holders of a democracy a right to scrutinise their “servants” (political parties)?

Role of Judiciary and Non-Governmental Organisations

But, this should not make us lose our hopes. The role of the Non-governmental organisations and civic bodies holds much applause. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has been at the forefront of electoral reforms including adequate advocacy striving to make the political elites more transparent and accountable. Their selfless efforts are directed towards making this democratic process more democratic such as by analysis the candidates and their portfolio with deep scrutiny to provide their whereabouts to the electorates so that informed decisions are made.  Public Interest Litigation is an important tool to check the menaces around the society and also empowers the judiciary to take stringent actions by exercising their adjudicatory functions. ADR  has efficacious used this tool to reform the electoral process. The organisation has been a part of several landmark judgments such as NOTA that marked a new benchmark on a person’s freedom to reject that also upheld the fundamental right of Freedom of Expression.

Further, with the passing of a  landmark judgment, the Hon’ Apex Court ordered the candidates to disclose their criminal antecedents so that electorates are more informed and can vote for the right candidate. Now, the matter comes with political funding. The matter is sub judice, but the final conclusion has not been reached yet. The political parties use the defense of that such an inclusion in Public Authorities under the Right to Information Act, 2005 would make them vulnerable to frivolous litigations and disclose their strategies for upcoming elections.  But, such a contention can be seen as a beautiful excuse to hide behind the real picture. It is a well-established fact that the political funding is massively used to exploit the fickle and illiterate voters and often used for violent purposes. Every possibility is made to hinder any constructive step which is an appalling reality in the world’s biggest democracy.

The Way Forward

The entire blame cannot be put on the political will. Certain measures are often suggested by the legislatures to establish the provision of “Simultaneous Elections” that is aimed to conduct both legislative and Lok Sabha elections together so that the expenses incurred by the election machinery is reduced and much money can be saved from the public exchequer which can be diverted towards other welfare activities. Even the NITI AYOG submitted a report on simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha, which is still under deliberations. But, such deliberations must be expeditious, because this would in a way contribute hugely to regulate political funding and keep a close vigil. Even the ECI would be more focused towards conducting only one election that would easily help to overcome the shortcomings and fill the empty holes with adequate measures. The Hon’ President of India in his Republic Day address mentioned the need for simultaneous elections which shows the shifting political will to cleanse the electoral practice. Moreover, a strong legislative intention is required to amend the statute such as Right to Information Act, and political parties must not act at loggerhead and portray a strong determination to create an amicable environment where the ideals of democracy are upheld and any unscrupulous activities are condemned and sanctioned.
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