EVMs Must Flag Candidates With Criminal Records

The concept of ‘The Rule of Law’ is ingrained in our Constitution. However, when politicians with criminal records get elected to law-making bodies and even become part of the government, it defeats the whole idea behind establishing ‘The Rule of Law’. Law-breakers after becoming the law-makers ensure that only those laws and policies are made that serve their interest and are not in contradiction to it. The criminalization of politics in an electoral democracy thus poses a threat to the very foundation of Republic of India. In spite of various directions given by the Supreme Court of India from time to time, no political party has shown the will to eliminate criminal elements from their fold.

Over the last three general elections, there has been an alarming increase in the strength of criminals entering politics. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) report , out of the 7,928 candidates who filed nomination for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, 1,500 (19%) had declared criminal cases against themselves. In the previous Lok Sabha elections, held in 2014, out of 8,205 candidates, 1,404 (17%) candidates had been facing criminal charges while out of 7,810 candidates in 2009 general elections, 1,158 (15%) had criminal records.

The report also pointed out that 1,070 (13%) candidates in 2019 elections had serious criminal cases including cases related to rape, murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, or crimes against women. The percentage of candidates facing serious criminal charges in 2014 was 11% and in 2009, the figures was 8%. The report also shows that 49% constituencies 2019 had three or more candidates with declared criminal cases pitted against one another. This figure was 45% and 36% in 2014 and 2009 respectively. The rising criminalization of politics hence is an established fact.

A candidate is required to file an affidavit called Form 26 at the time of filing his nomination papers, which furnishes information on his/her assets, liabilities, educational qualifications, criminal antecedents (convictions, stayed convictions and pending cases) and public dues, if any. The Supreme Court has ruled that a candidate stands disqualified from contesting elections if his conviction in a criminal case, wherein a jail term of two or more years has been awarded, is not stayed. The apex court has also directed political parties to publish the criminal antecedents of their candidates on their website and social media platforms along with the reasons for fielding each one of these candidates, notwithstanding their ‘winnability’. The candidates have also been directed to publish such antecedents in newspapers and television at least three times before polls.

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However, various survey reports show that these measures are not sufficient to make the voters aware of the antecedents of contesting candidates, taking into account the factors like illiteracy rate, access to mass communication means and general unawareness. As per National Statistical Commission’s survey report, literacy rate among persons of age seven years and above during there are 718.74 million active internet users in India that comprise only 54.29% of the population and 45.71% of the country’s population still does not have internet access. Publicity of criminal antecedents of contesting candidates through newspapers and television three times before polls too have a limited reach.

According to a survey report on ‘governance issues and voting behaviour’ conducted by Association for Democratic Reforms in 2018, although 97.86% voters felt that candidates with criminal background should not be in Parliament or state assembly, only 35.20% voters knew that they could get information on criminal records of the candidates. In relation to voting candidates with criminal antecedents, the maximum number of voters (36.67%) felt that people vote for such candidates because they are unaware of his/her criminal records.

While not all citizens have access to mobile internet or a television set, each eligible voter of India has access to the electronic voting machine (EVM) and hence it could be used as an effective tool to make voters aware of the candidates with criminal antecedents. The Election Commission of India prints ballot papers used in the units of EVMs for Lok Sabha elections in white colour and for assembly elections in pink. This photograph is prescribed to be displayed on the Ballot Unit and on postal ballot papers in order to “avoid any confusion, which may arise when candidates with same or similar names contest from the same constituency”.

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If the panels (name, photo and election symbol) of the candidates with declared criminal cases against themselves are printed in red on the ballot papers, the voters could identify such candidates and thereby make an informed choice. Red is the traditional colour of warning. Printing their panels in red will help illiterate adults and other voters encountering difficulties in accessing the details of the criminal antecedents of the contesting candidates make a careful decision and discourage political parties from fielding such candidates in elections.

A copy of the list of contesting candidates is also displayed prominently outside each polling station. The Election Commission will do well to display a copy of the summarised version of affidavits of contesting candidates along with it. It will help voters to check the antecedents of contesting candidates before entering the polling station.

This will help voters exercise their right to vote in an informed manner and discourage political parties from fielding candidates with criminal antecedents in elections. Electoral reforms are an ongoing process based on the changing technology and challenges. The measures suggested could be launched in trial phases and limited to a zone or certain constituencies. If positive results show up, the same reforms can be launched at a large scale to rid our legislature of criminal elements. This will be a service both to the polity and the republic.

The writer is an academic researcher in the field of good governance and policy-making

Challenger To CM: ‘AAP Govt’s School Reforms Are Cosmetic’

Rohit Gupta, a 31-year-old stationery shop owner in East Delhi, says Delhi education system needs an overhaul. Gupta is contesting against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to underline this need

I decided to contest against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to underline my presence and desire to reform Delhi education system. I run a stationery shop, so I have a deep attachment with the education field. I know the city’s education structure is not good, the selection of books is not desirable, the selection of subjects or curricula is not good – and it’s all adding up to a messed up future for our children.

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CM Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia did some good things with some schools but these changes are cosmetic. I can say it was more like a PR exercise and nothing substantial. The education system reform has been largely ignored.

We require a good education system to eliminate joblessness. Our curriculum from high school to colleges need to be job oriented. We need to add at least one skill in the syllabus of the children. This is not being done by the government despite of having all the budget they need. We need to change now for a better future.

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The schoolkids are our future. We need to take serious care of them without discrimination between the poor and rich. For this, we need a complete overhaul of our education system. We need to choose books wisely with no unnecessary burden on students. 

Here, I would also like to share my experience with our electoral system, in sharp contrast with how the education department. It was not without trepidation that I decided to file my papers against Kejriwal. I had been thinking about it for some time, but could never gather the courage to do so. The decision was in fact finalized on the last date for filing the nomination. I had a chat with my friends. My family and friends gave me the strength and I gathered all the documents required to file the nomination. All this information is available on the Election Commission website. I also requested some friends to become my ‘proposee’ for the nomination.

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My hands were shivering when I reached Jamnagar House, where all the nominations of the area were being filed. I could feel a heavy chest and other signs of nervousness. However, as soon as I entered the room in which the process was going on, all the fear went up in thin air.

All the candidates were being treated with respect and not seen as minnows contesting for cheap publicity. There was no special service for the candidates from major political parties or even for the CM. I waited with the Chief Minister sitting right in front of me for about 10 minutes and I was amazed to see how many people were there to contest against Kejriwal.

This is the beauty of our democracy which treats all equal before an institution. The rules of Election Commission of India are so strong that no person can alter it. I salute this festival of democracy.

CEC Sunil Arora

Credibility Of Election Commission Under Scanner

Governing general elections in as vast and diverse a nation as India is never easy; it becomes more difficult when integrity and impartiality of the poll administrator are doubted

India’s polity, despite its robustness and seven decades’ working, is in turmoil as never before and appears divided. Causing and deepening the crisis, ironically, is an election that is being fought no-holds-barred.

Governing this vast and diverse nation is never easy. It is more difficult when integrity and impartiality of its institutions are doubted. And even more so when the political leadership in and outside the legislature that facilitates these institutions and works in tandem with them is in throes of an election.

In India, buck stops at the door of the Supreme Court on every other contentious issue. But the highest court is itself mired in a controversy involving none less than the Chief Justice of India (CJI). While handling it, it has seemingly divided members of the top judiciary on how to ensure justice and fairness, both real and perceived.

In the most piquant situation, a former woman employee last month wrote to all serving judges complaining of being sexually harassed and then victimized, by the CJI, Mr Justice Ranjan Gogoi. The CJI strongly denied the allegations. He said: “There are forces that are trying to destabilise the judiciary. There are bigger forces behind these allegations hurled at me.”

He did not indicate who the ‘forces’ could be. But he vowed that he would function normally during the six months left of his tenure.

The lady in question remains unnamed because Indian law mandates that victims of sexual assault and harassment not be named in the media. After appearing before a Gogoi-appointed panel of three serving judges for two days, she cried out alleging that the committee declined her plea for engaging a lawyer and that she would not get justice.  

The in-house panel of judges dismissed her plea stating there was “no substance” in her allegations and thus, gave a clean chit to the CJI. Prior to the committee’s verdict, two serving judges had reportedly asked that the lady be permitted to engage a lawyer or an amicus curiae be associated to ensure the probe’s fairness. However, the probe is completed ex parte, without her and its report will not be made public. Countering the ‘forces’ seeking to destabilize the top judiciary seems to have driven the judges committee’s unanimous decision.      

However, the woman is demanding a copy of the report. Sections of legal fraternity and women’s rights groups stated a protest outside the court demanding natural justice for the complainant.

As it seeks to get over its embarrassment, the apex court is being asked by many political parties to adjudicate on fairness of the conducting of the polls by the Election Commission, another august institution on whom India has been taking a bow from other democracies.

There is no last word on any issue. After five of the seven phases of this 39-day process were completed, the Supreme Court rejected a review plea filed by 21 Opposition leaders seeking further increase in random matching of the Voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) slips with electronic voting machine (EVMs).

Being directed by the Supreme Court on issues that actually belong to its turf, the EC is facing challenges more daunting than what preceding generations faced. Advances in communications technology have made regulation of campaigning, to ensure that it is consistent with the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), almost impossible. Clearly the existing legal framework is inadequate, unable to keep pace with rich and tech-savvy campaign cells of political parties.

Reminded by the Supreme Court that it had ‘teeth’ and must use them, the EC has done so partially, but is itself divided. One of its three members has dissented on whether campaign speeches, especially those by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah, have violated the MCC.

The EC’s efforts at curbing spouting of venom in the polls discourse are also being questioned. It is accused on both counts of favouring the ruling dispensation. “While complaints against other leaders were promptly dealt with, there was an obvious delay in taking up those against Mr. Modi. Few would have failed to notice that he has been running an abrasive campaign. He has stoked fears over India’s security, claimed credit for the performance of the armed forces and implicitly underscored that his party stands for the religious majority,” The Hindu newspaper said.

Five of the six orders have been dissented and the dissenting Election Commissioner has asked why his dissent is pot part of the final order.    

The Supreme Court this week permitted the opposition Congress Party to place on record all the EC verdicts. The party argued that the EC’s silence and delay “are akin to tacit endorsement”.

The Modi/Shah duo is accused of attacking Muslims, directly or subtly, invoking armed forces and of Pakistan-bashing — all three falling within the MCC ambit — to raise ‘nationalistic’ fervor, while calling all dissenters ‘traitors’.

Just how many instances of violence can the EC’s state-level offices record, report, issue notices and upon receiving replies, deliver verdicts? It imposes token no-campaign punishment on candidates for two or three days. Even these are being violated.

Too many disputes against the EC or its Returning Officers have been taken to the apex court. Tej Bahadur Yadav had emerged as the main opposition candidate against Modi in the Varanasi constituency. A former policeman sacked for seeking better food while on duty, his papers were rejected on the ground that he had failed to take EC’s permission to contest, which is needed for a government official removed or suspended. That certificate, Yadav complained, was sought at the eleventh hour and he could not comply. He told the court that he was debarred to allow Modi a walk-over.

The EC must also play the policeman. After three of the seven phases were completed, it confiscated cash, gold and silver, liquor, drugs and other items worth ₹3,205 crore, according to its data published on April 27.   

At this rate, wonders N. Bhaskara Rao, Chairman, Centre for Media Srudies, a New Delhi think tank, “we can expect more than twice this amount to be confiscated by the time the election ends. What is confiscated is likely to be less than five percent of what is being spent by all the candidates and parties. The total expenditure of this election is estimated to be about ₹50,000 crore, which is the highest amount for any election in the world.”

As things stand with two weeks to go to the May 23 outcome of these elections, the over-worked Umpire, its credibility questioned, is under stress as never before.

Having written on a dozen elections, one is clutching at the comforting but unsure thought that things would become ‘normal’ once this no-holds-barred “dance of democracy” is over.

But the thought on low depths that can be touched by people with fellow-citizens as they contest an election and on the performance of institutions with enduring records, formed and functioning under the Constitution, is deeply disconcerting.

mahendraved07@gmail.com

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Kapil Sibal, Chandrababu Naidu And Abhishek Manu Singhvi

Naidu Accuses EC Of Working For BJP

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu on Sunday alleged that the Election Commission was acting at the behest of BJP as it turned down his demand for 50% Electronic Voting Machines to be verified against paper audit trail machines.

“EC is acting under BJP. They are not correct. They have to act impartially which they are not doing. Also, we doubt that even EVMs are being manipulated and that’s why we are demanding 50 per cent counting of VVPATs. They are not agreeing. Why are they not doing so?” Naidu told ANI after the press conference of the Opposition leaders, who earlier threatened to move the Supreme Court over the issue of alleged malfunctioning and tampering of EVMs.

The TDP supremo claimed that people had “lost trust” in EVMs, while underlining the need for the EC to restore the confidence of the voters through paper trail machines.

“People are not trusting EVMs. EC has to restore the confidence of people,” Naidu said.

On Saturday, Naidu met EC officials over the issue of EVM ‘malfunctioning’ in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. He demanded the top electoral body to revert to ballot paper system immediately to “preserve the sanctity and protect the spirit of the electoral process and democracy.”

On April 11, polling in a few districts of Andhra Pradesh was disrupted briefly due to malfunctioning of EVMs, following which Naidu had requested the EC for an extension of polling time in the state to compensate for the time lost due to technical glitches.

Voting took place for all the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh and for its 175 Assembly seats on April 11. Counting of votes will take place on May 23. (ANI)

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