Electoral reforms are inevitable; keep out candidates with criminal records and make the right choice, appeal experts
Mysore/Mysuru: After decades of Independence, India continues to be haunted by issues including poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, lack of progress in research and innovation and inaccessibility of quality health and education. With such issues still prevalent, there is an urgent need for quality public representatives to emerge from an inclusive democracy. Unfortunately, elections are influenced by factors such as money and muscle power, populism, caste, religion and language. Political parties of all hues give tickets to candidates who can afford to spend on election campaigns, donate a hefty amount to party funds and influence vote banks.
These issues and the way forward were discussed at an event held at Rani Bahadur Auditorium of B.N. Bahadur Institute Of Management Sciences (BIMS), Manasagangothri, last evening where it emerged that a candidate’s honesty, integrity and efficiency have to be taken into consideration while voting.
In a talk on ‘a citizen initiative on corrupt electoral systems in India and the ways to reform it,’ organised by the Department of Studies in Political Science and Public Administration, University of Mysore in association with Mysore Open Forum at BIMS, experts drawn from various fields forming the think-tanks of Mysore Open Forum shared their views on various subjects.
Delivering the keynote address, Ashvini Ranjan, Founder-Trustee of Pratham Mysore, expressed his apprehension over how in recent days, elected representatives are caught with unaccounted cash, yet they continue to wield power.
Concern for country and youths
With the help of slides, Ashvini Ranjan, referring to news titled ‘Bribe Bomb Explodes’ published in Star of Mysore dated Mar. 3, 2023, with a picture of bundles of notes, delineated how difficult it has become to dislodge a ‘corrupt politician’ once he occupies the seat of power.
“The Mysore Open Forum mission is driven by a concern for the country and youths. If we don’t find the best candidate, it is better to exercise the ‘None Of The Above (NOTA)’ option, he said.
Raising the pitch on why criminals are preferred as candidates, he said that the chances of victory of those with a criminal background is more, along with money and muscle power. During the elections held in 2008, there were 195 candidates with criminal backgrounds, which rose to 334 in 2013 and 391 in 2018, he noted.
While in the Lok Sabha elections held in 2014, the increase in the percentage of such candidates touched 26 percent and 233 among the total 543 Lok Sabha MPs have a dubious background. It included the highest of 116 from the BJP, 29 from Congress, 13 from Janata Dal (United) and 10 from DMK and other political parties, he noted.
“Freebies are the other means to induce voters by luring them with money, liquor and hosting non-vegetarian food parties. Followers of politicians resort to corrupt practices to win votes which in a way has hit occupations like plumbing and carpentry as finding local skilled workers for such repair works have become increasingly difficult. While those from other States are taking up such works, locals have turned lazy, courtesy freebies,” he pointed out.
Ravi Joshi, formerly in the Cabinet Secretariat, who delved into the topic ‘Money and Muscle Power,’ said that electoral bonds, about which even the Election Commission of India (ECI) took exception, has led to huge flow of funds to political parties. As on Jan. 2023, Rs. 12,000 crore has been collected in the form of electoral bonds, with BJP getting the highest of Rs. 7,200 crore accounting for 67 percent, followed by Congress at Rs. 190 crore.
The chances of victory of those with a criminal background is 22 percent more and in the cases of those mired in any disputes, it is 10 percent more, he said and opined that there are no women elected representatives with a criminal background. “If we vote for women, there will be less criminality,” he opined.
Convenor, Mysore Open Forum Prof. M. Umapathy, who spoke on ‘Electoral Reforms’ asserted that loopholes in the law are deliberately left to be addressed in the electoral system.
“Candidates are stooping low luring voters in the names of cash, sarees, gifts and even taking ‘Aane-Pramana’ (pledge) in the name of God, so that they will favour them at least out of fear for God.
“It is better to introduce a primary election system within the political parties than pinning for NOTA which is a negative for election. There is also a need to avoid by-elections to curb electoral expenses too, bring down the role of money and cut party expenditures. If we don’t bring in reforms in the electoral system, we should be inevitably ready to see candidates with criminal backgrounds in the fray,” bemoaned Prof. M. Umapathy.
Prof. Krishna Hombal, Professor and Chairman, Department of Studies in Political Science and Public Administration, University of Mysore, welcomed the gathering.
Prof. K. C. Belliappa, former VC of Rajiv Gandhi University, Arunachal Pradesh proposed a vote of thanks.
The elite must step out and vote: KBG
Delivering his Presidential remarks, Founder-Editor of Star of Mysore and Mysuru Mithra K.B. Ganapathy said that everyone, including the elite, must vote. “We should not behave like Homa bird, a mythical bird, which always remains in the sky never landing on earth. We should shed inhibitions and step out to vote. In the previous elections, the percentage of voting at posh localities like Yadavagiri, Jayalakshmipuram, Gokulam and Saraswathipuram was low. The rich and famous people do not vote to avoid standing in the queue, which is unfortunate. They must come out of the ivory tower,” he said.
He replied to a volley of questions that were raised during the interaction session and listened to the suggestions from the audience. On the demand for ‘suspending democracy for a period of 10 years, to audit the pros and cons,’ Ganapathy said, “It’s not a workable solution as in the past even Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, called ‘the most powerful lady and the only man in the Cabinet,’ couldn’t extend the imposition of Emergency for more than two years in 1975.”
To another suggestion of Dr. S.K. Mittal who had said, ‘Reformation is not a one-day job,’ Ganapathy said, “Yes, it’s not a one-day job, as Rome was not built in a day. Society is like a flowing river which flows perennially, which at times needs dams, like reforms, to be built across them. People should join the Mysore Open Forum’s efforts like how they joined Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra and take the cause of electoral reforms forward.”
Ganapathy responding to a student’s question said that even if poor people accept freebies, they should vote only for a good candidate irrespective of the party and he need not fear because it is a secret voting.
On the observations made by H.R. Bapu Sathyanarayana, who had regretted how corruption is in our DNA with Parliament and the Executive being the biggest failures now, Ganapathy said that if corruption doesn’t stop at the top level, it will percolate. Hence people should take the initiative to actively be a part of the electoral system to end corruption at the top.