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Good morning, distinguished guests, delegates, friends and fellow members of FAME. Welcome to the Second National Seminar on Electoral Reforms. We are proud to have with us an eminent gathering of lawmakers, implementers, the protectors of democracy and some of the ‘Aam Aadmi’ like us who benefit from it. I now throw open the seminar  by first inviting on stage the Chairman of FAME, our inspiration and guiding light, Mr. J M Lyngdoh. I am sure all of us know Mr. Lyngdoh for the fantastic work he did in J&K for the first ever — some say — real elections conducted in Jammu and Kashmir but since I am an ardent admirer of his, I will stop from saying anything further.


I request Mr. Lyngdoh now to welcome on stage the Honourable Minister of Law and Justice, Dr. Veerappa Moily. Dr. Moily has been very gracious in attending our last seminar too. In this seminar, we look forward to Dr. Moily fulfilling some of the promises that were made in the last seminar and hopefully this seminar too.


Dr. S Y Quraishi, Chief Election Commissioner of India. Dr. Quraishi is a multifaceted personality. We think of him as the Election Commissioner, as the CEC, and as a person who has enthused students and the masses. What we do not know about Dr. Quraishi is the stellar work he has done for AIDS awareness and in over 1500 universities and colleges by involving the students. Welcome, sir.


I also request the Honourable Justice Mr. M N Venkatachaliah, former Chief Justice of India to come on stage. Anything said about Justice Venkatachaliah is too little. He is one person who has been making remarkable recommendations about changes in the electoral system, about the appointment of the CECs, their ECs and we hope to benefit from his erudition and experience. Thank you, sir.


I request Dr. Anil Seal to come on stage. Dr Seal is the Director, Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre, Cambridge. He is a well-known international personality and an expert on Indian history, constitution and expert on all matters academic. I am a direct beneficiary of the fact that Dr. Seal is the Director of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust because my daughter won a Commonwealth scholarship and benefited from her experiences.


These are the five eminent speakers form our morning session. I request the real mover and shaker of FAME, the General Secretary of the foundation, Mr. K J Rao, the election stalwart to present bouquets to our eminent personalities, beginning with the law minister Mr. Moily, then to Justice Venkatachaliah, Dr. Quraishi, Dr. Anil Seal and finally to our very own chairman, Mr. Lyngdoh.


I now throw open the proceedings. We hope, through today’s deliberations, to benefit from the experiences and recommendations of these experts. First, we have the law minister in our midst; we hope to benefit from concrete action. Before we begin the session, I request Dr Moily to light the lamp signifying the opening of the session.


Thank you, sir. I now formally declare the seminar open. We begin our morning deliberations by requesting our chairman Mr. Lyngdoh to speak. Mr. Lyngdoh will also briefly mention our experiences of the first ever seminar and how we intend to take this initiative forward; whether we have at all been successful in keeping this debate of electoral reforms alive and in passing the baton to the next generation and making it aware of the need for safeguarding democracy.




Ladies and gentlemen, I shall be very brief. I have the pleasure of welcoming Shri Veerappa Moily, the Union Minister of Law who will be speaking to us. He was kind enough to attend FAME’s last seminar in November 2009 and promised prompt action on its recommendations, which have since been conveyed to him. It is also my privilege to welcome Dr. Quraishi, Chief Election Commissioner of India and the inaugural speaker, as well as Justice Venkatachaliah, former Chief Justice of India who will be setting the reform agenda. I also have the good fortune of welcoming Dr. Anil Seal, Director, Malaysian Commonwealth Study Centre and Director, Cambridge Malaysian Education and Development Trust who will be addressing us. Mr. Karamjit Singh, Trustee, Malaysian Commonwealth Study Centre and former electoral commissioner of UK and Mr. Fredrik Galtung, Chief Executive of TERI — Making Integrity Work — are all advisors to FAME. I have to add that the Malaysian Commonwealth Study Centre is the only institution in the world to sponsor international conferences of election authorities. There has been an annual one in Cambridge this last decade for election commissioners from the Commonwealth. The Cambridge Conferences have not only provided a professional and non-committal sounding boards for elections just concluded as well as a forum for sharing problems and solutions, but opportunities to anticipate some of the difficulties and to offer friendly advice with respect to cause celébrè, elections anywhere in the world like the last one in Palestine; all accomplished within the informal, catalysing and fertilising ambience created by distinguished scholars of Cambridge University.


The last seminar was a curtain-raiser, as it were, on the broad-based subject of electoral reforms. This one has a sharper focus concentrating on all the principal problems of current Indian politics, namely money power and weaknesses of democratic institutions. Out of the untrammelled and heated discussions one anticipates on these contentious issues, one still hopes that some light will emerge. Thank you very much.




Thank you, sir. I request Dr. S Y Quraishi, the Chief Election Commissioner of India to now deliver the inaugural address. Dr Quraishi, in his last session with us, had promised us that he, for one, would really push the reform agenda. Now that he has taken over as the CEC, we have many expectations from him.


Inaugural address by Dr. S Y Quraishi, Chief Election Commissioner of India


Thank you. Shri Moily, Union Law Minister, Justice Venkatachaliah, Shri Lyngdoh, Dr. Seal, my brother commissioner Mr. Sampath, ladies and gentlemen; I congratulate FAME for taking up electoral reforms as a priority agenda for their activity. The formation of FAME itself is a very good and constructive step and the agenda which you have taken up is really commendable. We travel abroad frequently and I have noticed that one thing which stands out regarding India in the public mind worldwide, one that describes India, is its democracy. That is our USP and something that we should be proud of. Everybody knows that we have the biggest election process but actually how big it is, is something which not many know, nor did I, till I went over the figures. We used to consider a few countries here and there and put together and match them. In actuality, we have more voters than all the fifty countries of Europe put together with the US and Australia, and we still have a gap of 60 million voters. Then we have all the 54 countries of Africa put together; all the 56 countries of North and South America put together and 53 countries of the entire Commonwealth —minus India — put together. That is India’s electorate.


Of course, one may like to ask: what is the big deal about size? After all, India is big. But everything about India is big. One has a point, but let us look at the complexity and the sheer enormity of problems. If one goes to the US; it is a much bigger country, but from coast to coast, they speak the same language and by and large, share the same culture. But in India, we encompass whole continents, the whole Commonwealth, and extremely diverse geographical and topographic conditions. We operate in –50ºC in the hills of Kashmir and Himachal and also operate in the deserts of Rajasthan where the temperature goes up to 58ºC and we have to deliver foolproof elections. There are places where is no other way to reach except by foot. Polling parties transport election materials on their shoulders. There are places where it takes three days and three nights to reach the polling station. Helicopters cannot land and there is no other transport like rail or plane which can reach there and that is how personnel travel. Then we have polling stations where there is only one voter. There were two till last year; one was in Orissa and one that is still in operation in the Gir forest of Gujarat. The polling party of three personnel has to go there to enable the voter cast his vote; legally, the shop should open at 7’o clock and so they have to open the shop at seven. The voter may choose to come any time; even after he has come and exercised his vote, we cannot close our shop because technically, somebody else may come claiming that the other was not the individual and he (the one who has arrived later) is the right person. Thus, there will be a disputed vote. Till 5’o clock, the polling booth remains open just to bag this vote.


An article in the Hindustan Times last year spoke of a temple priest who complained that no political party came to ask for his vote because obviously they consider that he is not worthy of it. But one vote makes all the difference. Who knows it better than India? Recently, in the general election, in Rajasthan, a candidate who was the local president of the Congress party there and probably a chief ministerial candidate, lost by one vote. He requested our officials that the postal ballot should be recounted and the tabulations should be looked at again. We recounted the postal ballots; it was done in 120-150 minutes and re-tabulation was also done in twenty minutes. Since it was an electronic voting machine, there was no question of recounting. The margin of his defeat was still one vote. That gentleman actually rang up our officials to thank us and congratulate us for a very good election. That is the credibility of Indian election, which probably happens only in India. Around the same time, similarly, in one constituency in Madhya Pradesh, one candidate lost by one vote, which is almost a routine affair. This credibility which I mentioned, wherein even those who lose by a single vote still thank the Election Commission, has been built over 60 years. We are lucky to have our predecessors here starting from Mr. Lyngdoh, Mr. Krishnamurthy, Mr. Gopalaswami; everybody has worked to make the Election Commission what it is today.


As regards the strength of the Election Commission and its processes, there are six sources. One is the constitution itself which lays the strong foundation. Our forefathers and the authors of the constitution were really Statesmen of great vision and they laid the foundation of a very ferociously independent and an autonomous organisation, which the Indian Election Commission is.


After that, there is Parliament itself; by passing various laws from time to time, they have made the Election Commission very strong.


The third is the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court. What the constitution and laws did not give in elaborate detail, the judiciary gave us. The power to transfer officers, for instance, came to us through judiciary. The model code of conduct is no law, as everyone knows, but is more powerful than law. In a way, it has the force of law because the judiciary has put its stamp on it stating that it is a model code and needs to be enforced hundred per cent. Obviously, with judicial pronouncement, it does become a law in a way.


The fourth source of our strength is — you may be highly surprised to hear me say so — is the much-maligned, hated, lazy, corrupt bureaucracy. Who delivers the elections? Probably India is unique and the only country where the elections are conducted by bureaucracy. About 11 million people are employed in the general elections by the bureaucracy because the Indian bureaucracy is supposed to be independent and neutral. Governments come and go, but the bureaucracy stays. The political governments formulate policies but the implementation is done by the bureaucracy. Similarly, elections are conducted by them and we feel that this is the best way because when we initiate action against anybody who does not behave in the election process, we know that he cannot get away with us for the next 35 years, as he is a government servant. We will catch up. If we make an adverse remark in his ACR, he won’t get his promotion. If we start a case against him, he can’t get away because we have him by the neck for the next 30-35 years. We cannot say the same about a volunteer who joins for 30 days as happens in many other countries. If a volunteer does not conduct himself well and walks away, you cannot do a thing. We feel that this is the strength of the Indian election system.


I must mention that after the general elections, Mr. Bimal Jalan, Governor, Reserve Bank of India commented that the same bureaucracy that is otherwise notorious delivers a first-rate event management in 30 days under a different dispensation, under the discipline and command of the Election Commission. It shows that basically they are capable, but they have to be given the right environment. They have to be given very specific directions and have to be told that there is no getting away from discipline; they have to deliver. If there is zero tolerance, they do deliver.


The fifth source of strength is the media. The media is normally hostile and destructive, but we feel that they are also our eyes and ears and also our allies. Our intentions are same, which is basically to know what is happening on the ground. Are there any malpractices; corruption talking place; is there any booth capturing, rigging or muscle power active somewhere? If we get to see anything through the eyes of the media, we take suo moto action. We have given instructions to our observers and our machinery down the line not to wait for formal complaints. If anything is seen on TV, then that is to be treated as a complaint. If you read anything in the newspaper, that is a complaint. You are supposed to investigate and take action and send us a report. This approach works very well. In the last general elections, we deployed about 400,000 videographers to see what is happening. In addition to that, if media too sends its video teams and they show us what is happening on the ground; it is so much the better for us.


Finally, the credit goes to — don’t start throwing stones at me — the politicians. I know it is very fashionable to malign politicians saying that they are all corrupt, they are all thieves; why give them votes at all? I think this cynicism very damaging and very destructive, apart from being dangerous. If there are no politicians, there can be no democracy. After the Mumbai terror attack, all the media channels went to town doing surveys wherein 99.9% people said that they hated politicians. This is a very dangerous trend. With no politicians, there will be no democracy. There are indeed aberrations, as there are all kinds of people but India is what India has become in 60 years because of its political system. We are being talked about as a potential superpower. How did this come about? It is because of the leadership that we have got. In a short span of 60 years, if India can hope to become a superpower; it is not a small achievement. And this is because of the leadership, of course, backed by administrative support system, which was created by the country’s politicians.


With these pillars of our Indian election system, we have no other way to go except forward and do better than others. When we started our constitutional journey, because of illiteracy, there were apprehensions that Indian democracy may fail. How could illiterate people exercise their franchise? What did they know? The prophets of doom however, were belied very soon and we discovered that our illiterate, poor and downtrodden citizens are the most active participants in our democracy. They know their rights and can spring surprises on the government every now and then. That shows their consciousness.


All of us have seen that earlier, politicians had two kinds of partners. One, people with money and the other, people with muscle. Over a period of time, these musclemen realised that politicians win elections on their strength, so why shouldn’t they (the musclemen) contest themselves and acquire respectability? Similarly, moneybags too felt that if politicians won elections on the strength of their money, why shouldn’t they moneybags themselves contest elections? Thus, moneybags and musclemen began entering politics themselves and becoming respectable. Unfortunately, our legal system being what it is, an exposed individual is deemed innocent till proved guilty and all the processes of law exhausted. Even rapists and murderers can become ministers and enjoy the fruits of power. Today, police chase them in order to apprehend them but tomorrow the same police would be escorting them to safety because they have become ministers now. And even after say, thirty years or so, if they are finally proved guilty and convicted, what do we do with them? Can we undo history? We realise that we are helpless because that is the law.


Although the Election Commission keeps demanding that criminals must be debarred from fighting elections, it is easier than done. We did come up with a via media, a compromise formula that at least those persons against whom charges have been framed by the court, should be debarred. Because the standard reply to this debate is that many times, politicians file false FIRs against each other. Obviously, if one wants to debar a serious candidate, one can file an FIR and the opponent is disqualified. After six months or two years, whatever happens to those FIRs does not matter, as the damage has been done. But then the damage is done the other way as well. We came up with the formulation that if a case is heinous and can carry a conviction of more than five years and if a court has framed charges, a candidate is disqualified from elections, as at least the court is a neutral body. This is a formulation which Justice Venkatachaliah was probably the first to offer. He is the best person to throw light on this; about the feasibility of this position.


Secondly, we were able to control the muscle power substantially because of the experience which the Election Commission was gaining. We started taking the help of the central police forces. There was a time when we had asked the home ministry for one company to which the home ministry replied that they could not give us even one company. That is the case which I think, went up to the Supreme Court, which laid down that whatever was needed by the Election Commission had to be given to them. That changed the complexion and gave us the power. Otherwise, the credibility of central forces deployment in Election Commission is extremely strong; it has really contributed to free and fair elections. The proof is that whenever the Election Commission goes to the field ¯ as we do whenever the elections are announced ¯ the first thing is the whole Commission talking to the political parties, one at a time, to tell us frankly how things are. The first demand on everyone’s part, without exception is the deployment of central forces. It is a little disconcerting for us, as it shows lack of credibility in the local State forces. Apart from obtaining forces from outside the State, the demand now is that even civilian officials should be brought from outside. This is not a very sustainable demand. It is true that we are increasingly being asked to micromanage elections, which is fine for the moment, but not very sustainable or desirable in the long run. The election machinery down the line should itself be so efficient that it should not really require spoon-feeding or constant handholding from the centre. But as of now, the situation is that without central forces, no political party feels that elections will be free and fair. We have therefore, to deploy forces here, there and everywhere. They have to be mobilised from different places, sometimes at the cost of thinning the borders for the immediate cause of a good election. The home ministry has been very helpful to us.


While I did mention that there is very little credibility of the local police in general locally, the same police when taken to other States like for instance, Punjab police posted in UP or UP’s police deployed in Maharashtra is acceptable. It proves that professionally our police forces are efficient. It is only that they are subject to political pressures in their own States, which they are unable to resist. If they can be safeguarded from political pressure, they do deliver. When we refer to the central police force, it includes State armed police which we borrow from different States and deploy in other States.


Having managed muscle power very substantially, booth capturing is almost history because not only do we deploy forces, but we use re-poll as an ultimate weapon. One may capture booths, but we have ten ways of finding out whether one did that. Some of this suo moto require no complaints. Suppose, if at the end of the day, we find any aberration in the turnout, or the average turnout of a constituency or a State is 60% and we were to find that in one booth there is a 75 or 80% turnout; it may be genuine or may be suspicious. We go through the documentation very scrupulously and if there is a complaint, we go for re-poll. Sometimes, we do the re-poll of the re-poll till we are satisfied that the poll has been conducted in a fair manner. We are using this mechanism effectively, which is why booth-capturing is now history. But the latest problem which is dodging us is money power. Everybody knows that the expenditure ceiling which is prescribed is Rs10 lakhs for a Vidhan Sabha election, which is the maximum limit. In smaller States, it is even less than Rs.10 lakhs. It can even be Rs5 lakhs in small States. The minimum expenditure for Parliament is Rs25 lakhs. But it is common knowledge that actual money spent on elections to assemblies and Parliament is eight, ten or even a hundred times. These are mere figures of which we cannot take cognizance, but the fact is that a lot more money is being used. One possible option is for the law ministry to rationalise this expenditure ceiling. But how much will be “rational” is of course for our seasoned Parliamentarians to decide, because they know where the shoe pinches. But it is true that this is a problem we need to deal with.


At a forum, somebody asked me about money power and my spontaneous response was that there is both good news and bad news. The good news is that every political party is united to fight this menace because every political party feels that in this competition of money, they are being dragged in and are becoming victims. By the way, we look at paid news too as a part of money power. The bad news is that since most of it is black money, the Election Commission has no magic wand to erase black money in 30 days. We may deliver the biggest management event of the world within 30 days, but to think that we can control money power in 30 days will be very presumptuous on our part. It would be very unfair to expect us to do so in 30 days, but we will try and we are trying.


What have we done for this? We have set up a new division – Election Expenditure Monitoring Division with a senior office from Income Tax Service and we are trying to rope in the entire network of Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT); the entire income tax machinery will become the part of the election machinery during the election period. They are experts in controlling money, expenditures; they know the accounts otherwise people know that the officials of the Election Commission have all the power for 30 days and from the 31st day, they become ineffective; they are without power and become toothless which is true but in those 30 days, we will try and do whatever we can do. We will put some fear of god into the people who are using black money; we will unleash all our observers on them. We will have video teams; we have devised a whole lot of instructions and very detailed guidelines have been prepared and we will try them now in the first elections which is coming in Bihar because that is the first in line. Let us see how it works out and we will fine-tune them. If we cannot erase it, we will make it difficult for them anyway.


I would like to conclude with another bit of information. We feel that public participation in democracy is not to the extent as it should be. Our overall turnout in general elections is about 58-59%, which is fairly decent compared to many countries, but it needs to be more. We have found that in many places, voters do not come forward to get themselves registered; they are not alert. By the time they wake up, just a week before elections, things become so late. We are then flooded with lakhs and lakhs of applications, which become impossible to process. We would like this to be a round-the-year activity. We have appointed about 800,000 booth level officers, a service that has come to your doorstep. There is no service of the government which comes to you knocking on your door, offering the service. You do not have ration cards coming to your house, nor do you obtain your driving licence that way. The only service which comes to your house is your right to vote. Somebody comes to enrol you and give you your photo identity card. Even after this, if people are not availing of the service then that is surely something which is required by way of public participation.


We have set up a division called Voter Education and Participation to increase public participation. We have found that the youth particularly, are not participating in the process because when we analyse the electoral roll, the biggest shortcoming is in the segment of 18-21. It shows us that when people turn 18, taking the 1st January of that year as the base year, they don’t know that they have become voters or they don’t know what to do when they become voters or are ignorant about the process, or perhaps they don’t see any credibility in the system. We need to dispel all the three by voter education programmes. We have therefore, set up a Voter Education and Participation Division and we are taking up very systematic programmes to involve them.


Finally, I’d like to mention that 25th January is our foundation day. It is very interesting to know that the Election Commission was born a day before India was born as a republic. Obviously, the framework of the constitution has a special message to send to the nation about the importance of the election and the process. On 25th January, we celebrate our foundation day. From next year onwards, we are going to celebrate it as a National Voters’ Day where the youth who turned 18 on 1st January 2011 would be identified and would be enrolled in the electoral rolls. Their photographs will be taken and on 25th January, in one million parallel functions across the country, 20-25 youth of every booth will be given the photo identity card which will give them a sense of empowerment that they have a right now have become voters and have to vote. About 20 million voters will be added in just one stroke. Recently, when I called on the President, I requested her to lead this movement to which she kindly consented. She agreed that in the Rashtrapati Polling booth, she would herself present 20-25 cards to eligible voters. Similarly, the Vice-President, the Prime Minister, ministers and governors down the line to the last booth where a sarpanch would participate in a function, which will become a festival of democracy. Sometimes, we regret that because of the Election Commission, the festive spirit has been taken away as there is so much of discipline. I think what we have taken away by one hand, enforcing too much of discipline against the defacement of public properties, we will restore through this process of National Voters’ Day where the whole nation will simultaneously participate in this activity.


With these words, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you once again and particularly FAME, for giving me this opportunity to voice our concerns. We shall always look forward to guidance from people who know the subject and who have experienced it. With total openness of mind, we look forward to receiving your suggestions and guidance in the matter. Thank you very much.




Thank you, Dr. Quraishi for sharing your experiences. In the first seminar, Honourable Justice Verma had spoken on the reform agenda and there were several suggestions he had made. Now, I look forward to Justice Venkatachaliah carrying the initiative forward and his observations on the specific reforms that we should take up this year and the specific roles that he expects institutions, NGOs and the civil society to play.




Hon’ble Minister, Mr. Lyngdoh, Chairman of FAME, Dr. Quraishi, Chief Election Commissioner, Dr. Anil Seal, former commissioners, chief commissioners, former attorney general, members of Parliament, very distinguished invitees and participants; after listening to Dr. Quraishi, I think I can die in peace with a sense of satisfaction that everything is beautiful around us. We are not debating reforms of the Election Commission, but something different. We know that the Election Commission of India has a splendid record of service in promoting rectitude in the process. In fact, I have tried at least 50 election trials in court; nowhere did any impropriety on the part of those who conducted the elections come into question. This is a little more systemic. On one occasion, the Chief Election Commissioner moved a petition before us in the Supreme Court to stay impending contempt proceedings in which they thought that the conviction of the chief election commissioner was imminent. The case had been listed for a bench of a High Court at 3’o clock on a Friday. Whenever a matter is listed before a court at 3’o clock on a Friday, the parties are very apprehensive because the bail is not available on Saturdays and Sundays. Then I requested the irresistible Mr. G Ramaswamy, who was the counsel: why didn’t he ask his chief commissioner to go there? He said he would not come back. The point I wish to make is that the Election Commission of India has certainly made us proud. We have no doubts in our minds about the work they have done and the quality of the officers who’ve occupied that office. I have known some of them personally. Mr. Gopalaswami was my secretary in the Human Rights Commission, we know his worth. Mr. Krishnamurthy is a personal friend of mine; they are simply wonderful human beings.


But our problems are a little more complex. Democracy is not an easy institution. That’s perhaps one of the finest inventions of human genius, this institution we know as democracy. What is the purpose of social organisations? Why does one become a member of a social or a political organisation? One expects that the organisation will provide the highest opportunity to each member for attaining his/her best self and the promise of this opportunity is what philosophically and practically binds each one of us to the organisations we chose to be part of. If there is a breach of this promise of providing the best opportunity of realising one’s potential, the association cannot continue. Of course, everybody can’t become a chief justice, chief election commissioner or a prime minister or whatever. But there must be an opportunity for a person to try and realise his highest self. If this promise is broken, the right to disobey sometimes becomes a duty to disobey. Mahatma Gandhi said that on an occasion. Political philosophers and thinkers have often raised the question: “when does thise right become a duty?” I think somewhere, some-whence, somehow, sometime; we have clearly achieved a position of this kind in this country.


I must have seen some 60,000 complaints against abuse of authority in the National Human Rights Commission. I as a lawyer for twenty eight years must have conducted some 30000 cases. My father’s was the busiest trial office in our State. I must have examined 6-7,000 witnesses in court ¯ all small-time cases but never a dull moment. The problem today is something more difficult and something more complex. In the next ten years, the world is going to change beyond recognition in the next decade. It has often been said that the 20th century was the century of America, while the 21st is going be to that of China and India. Actually, it is nobody’s century. It will be century of new physiology, new biology and new science. With the kind of changes that will be ushered in lifestyles and thinking ten years hence, man’s life in this planet will not be the same again. Tremendous changes are happening and it requires great leadership and great thinking to lead a country of this dimension into the next decade and manage the forces of change.


What have we done? Democracy, they say, is the temple that man has built for the spirit of liberty. It has been aptly said that man’s inclination for justice makes democracy possible but his disinclination for justice makes it necessary. This system of democracy is too subtle as Dr. Quraishi rightly pointed out. It involves responsibility of the citizens too. We currently see a turnout of about 55 per cent in most elections. There is a fundamental question about the democratic representation and legitimacy of our law-making bodies. There is 55 per cent turnout in the elections and 25 per cent of votes polled and in some cases, 13per cent, to elect the candidates to office. One can see how this large amount of voting, representation of people, their hopes and fears expressed in the form of casting of their votes have been frittered away and wasted. More persons are voted against a returned candidate than what the returned candidate was able to get. 68 per cent of the sitting members of the Lok Sabha have been elected under minority vote. This is the problem or the crisis which we are facing. It is not the way in which the Election Commission has functioned. I think, given the present standards of efficiency and corruption, the Election Commission perhaps is one of the most shining institutions of probity and efficiency. Let us admit that. I have seen our institutions of justice, courts, judges, having spent 60 years as a judge and have known what kind of system we administer, even within my own institutions. I have also perceived the way in which the Election Commission of India has functioned, especially in the last 20 years. It has done splendid work, of which there is no doubt. I must very respectfully convey the congratulations and gratitude of the citizenry to these eminent men; Dr. Quraishi, Krishnmurthy and Gopalaswami and others for the work that started from Mr. Seshan. They have brought forward a new culture of functioning in the Election Commission.


But that is not the full story. The problem has been depicted by Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov wherein, the Grand Inquisitor asks this question: “shall we leave their right to determine what is right that is the common people and risk rebellion, revolt, dissent, murder or take it away from them, give them entertainment, circus?” This is the dilemma; if you have democracy, this is the part of the story where you have the risk of dissent and revolt. How do we manage this kind of ebullience or dramatic changes that we see? We also see the dramatic preponderance of the power of the State or the individual. How do we become the arbitrators of this dispute? These are all very difficult questions which one cannot answer in just one seminar or by making a law. It is not done. One does not have any ready theme amongst lawyers and judges; what comes handy is a seminar on judicial reforms or law reforms. That is an over-baked cake and whenever such things happen, it is customary to exchange old familiar views. In fact, one Lord Chief Justice who had come to India had remarked that law reform is akin to making love to an elephant ¯ one cannot manage it. Even if one does succeed, nothing comes out for two years. When we wondered who would host the next seminar and asked the Chief Justice of Hong Kong, he said that if he were to commit himself without his governor’s consent, he would lose his job. When we asked the Chief Justice of Brunei, his reply was that the Hong Kong Chief Justice might lose his job but he (the Chief Justice of Brunei) would lose his head if he were to do that! That is the kind of dilemma law reforms agenda presents. We always had this.


But ladies and gentlemen, the problem is a little more acute. We have a real problem in this country in notwithstanding its excellence in many fields. For example, is not rigging or booth capturing, though that has been happening and some solutions have been found for it. In fact, in one State, the voting was exactly according to the voting list. Some 500 people were supposed to have queued up, exactly one after another as if by some divine compulsion, they had found themselves accidentally in that queue, in that order. When somebody asked the chief of that as to how it happened, he replied that the questioners don’t know the culture of our people, they all come together. That may be fine, but how do they stand in the same way according to the list? Of course, it is too good to be true, but the Election Commission was quite alert about it.


The real question is a little more fundamental. It is symbolised by the question that was put to Dr Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly. Somebody asked him why we had a constitution of this elephantine size. Of course, it was a lawyer’s paradise. Dr Ambedkar replied that he was not apologetic about it. He did make observations about the choice of the forms of the government, the Parliamentary and presidential systems. While saying that he was not apologetic about the constitution’s size, he quoted George Grote, the Greek historian who had emphasised principle of constitutional morality. Dr Ambedkar’s view was that constitutional morality is a mere top-dressing on Indian soil. Every institutional mechanism has to be provided in the constitution. This is what I tell my judges when they voice the opinion that it is a totally executive function. I tell them that they have no concept of the Indian constitution. There is nothing like a purely executive function; the constitution has put all this in one place, even the civil services. Other details of administration are put in the constitution. Ambedkar had said this in the Constituent Assembly when he had clearly spelt out the features he wanted to be in the constitution, bound in the centre of constitutional justice.


Whether judges consider a particular thing justiciable or not is another question but to say that it is a purely executive function must invite some fundamental reservations about that kind of concept. In fact, a couple of months ago, the UK unveiled a slew of proposals to bring about fundamental changes in their election system, particularly the first-past-the-post-system. The UK wants the Australian model wherein the second preferential vote is to be transferred till a candidate achieves 50%+1 vote. Regarding this, the United Nations had asked in a referendum the definition of majority, a fundamental question. How does one define a majority? Only by a candidate getting a majority of votes? For instance, there may be ten candidates and votes bagged by them are distributed amongst them. On an average, an Indian legislator or Parliamentarian gets elected perhaps by no more of 25-30% of the votes polled and the rest 75% of the votes are cast against him. How do we address this? We have had a great debate with a professor from United States who had conducted a seminar with us. I’ve learnt that he is now the Minister for Strategic Planning in Brazil. He is Professor Roberto Unger, a thoroughly humourless and unsmiling gentleman, who has been very firm and scathing in his stern assessment of Indian democracy when he said that we are fast degenerating from a constitutional democracy into a populist one. This is the biggest problem today; it is not a problem of the Election Commission; but of this country.


What is a constitutional democracy? In a constitutional democracy, the majoritarian impulse is controlled by institutional safeguards. We have got institutional safeguards and yet there are people who want to throw it away. We must recognise the fact that politicians view a sanction as merely punishment, or going to jail. The opinion of the society is something which he thinks he can do away with. This is the problem where the concept of sanction has to be understood in a different sense. It is a public sanction, a public revolt, an expression of dissatisfaction. Politicians pretend not to recognise it because it does not suit their agenda. Therefore, the problem is of institutional safeguards under threat. This is how a constitutional democracy gradually degenerates into a populist democracy, which is one step away from mob rule. This happened in Germany, but it came back. That is because according to Professor Roberto Unger’s classification, Germany is a high energy democracy. He has also given the definition of low energy democracies, which would ideally suit countries like India and her neighbouring countries. If a low energy democracy slides from a constitutional democracy into a populist democracy; it is just one step away from mob rule, it can never come back and will wallow in that State. In fact, in Mr. Krishnamurthy’s book, he refers to an author who said Indian democracy will be in the same condition, although according to that author, all other democracies in this region would fail. This author predicts that they all will perish democratic institutions of Nepal and Bangladesh will perish. It is not easy to sustain a democracy of this kind.


Louis Brandeis once said one can either have democracy or concentration of wealth in the hands of a few; one can’t have both. We must understand the implications of this. 85 per cent of our national income is shared by the top quintile, i.e., the top 20 per cent of Indian population enjoys 85 per cent of the national income. The bottom quintile has only 1.5 per cent; the rest of the 14 per cent is shared among the three other intervening quintiles. It has also been said a country can’t be both ignorant and free. If we are not free, there is no question of our being a democracy.


The problem is there are some fundamental things which can be set right. What is the harm in thinking, trying an experiment wherein unless one gets 50 per cent+1 vote, one will not be elected? What is the scenario today? Out of the 25 per cent votes a candidate gets, 10 per cent is of catchments, the other 15 per cent votes are bought. I have seen voters carrying a 1,000-rupee note, going to a beedi shop and offering to buy a pack of beedis. The man cleverly says that he does not have change for this. He asks for “whatever change you have” because some candidate has given him a crisp and crackling 1,000-rupee note. We have seen this happen, it is not mere perception. When this happens, the result is a pervasive sense of cynicism pervading the people. One cannot get over that. A long time ago, C. Rajagopalachari, when in prison in 1922, had written in his diary: “swaraj, immediately after it is achieved or a long time thereafter, will not be greater happiness for people and better government. Elections and their corruptions, bureaucratic indifference and tyranny of wealth will make the life of the ordinary Indian a real hell.” These were the very words he used. Rajagopalachari further said: “for these parched fields of political and democratic areas, you require the rain, the monsoon of purity. The rain drops which make the monsoon are the individual character.” This approach may perhaps be a little philosophical or spiritual.


But people and their sensibilities have been numbed by the realities of today. Disenchantment and disillusionment with institutions of democracy have brought in a sense of cynicism, which, at such crucial times does not generate a spirit of reconstruction but only unleashes a tendency of destruction. When one is in that State of mind, this kind of raindrop purity is certainly not sufficient to help. One has to have a solid constitution, legal foundations and the means of enforcing them. We did get people in the Election Commission who have been doing this task. This country certainly has people who can do that. Of course, “get the best man” is always the slogan of the amateur in politics. There are no “best” men. The systems must assure that such individuals can come to the fore. Any system can be subverted by bad men but a system can also be sustained. Today, the ability of information technology is such that one can control and supervise anything by imaginative processes. Management can ensure that; this is exactly what we thought we discussed in the Constitution Review Commission. We gave great priority to this discussion and said that it is possible to make this role.


The British proposals are a little bit difficult to apply here. They say that the second preferential vote should be transferred to the other candidates, while the bottom ones are to be thrown away. It is very difficult for our rural voters to make this kind of a choice. The French model is nearer. If nobody gets 50% in the first round, they have a run-off between the top two in the second round. The Election Commission said that we consulted them in the Constitution Review Commission and they said it is feasible with present-day technology. What is wrong in having this as a trial? A candidate cannot buy 50 per cent+1 vote as nobody has that kind of money. To cite an instance, an American gentleman who came to India with his girlfriend wrote a letter some thirty years ago in newspapers. He had come to Delhi during the days of the Holi festival where milk laced with bhaang was being sold. The American asked for a glass of bhaang. The seller said he would give him a glass but would not serve the lady as he didn’t know how she would behave after an intake of this drink. The man took out a high denomination currency and put it on the table and asked the seller to serve a glass. The bhaang-seller thrust this high denomination currency back into the American’s pocket and said that he didn’t have enough money to buy his principles. This experience made that American write a letter. Alas, God does not create such men anymore; God perhaps is tired. Today, you have to enforce those principles by a strict legal regime.


This is where Dr. Moily comes into the picture. It is not the Election Commission, which has done a splendid job. But one can gauge the enormity of the task, if one reads Dr. Krishnamurthy’s book. The cover page itself shows people clambering onto an elephant, which is to take them across to some inaccessible place, which can be reached only by an elephant. There is only one berth for one person. It is all very noble, thrilling and very exciting. But the basic thing is ¯ what have we got today? Worse, we have made people cynical. Ask anybody from the former chief justice of India to a rickshaw driver about the State of administration, about the honesty or purpose of your administration. How do the police conduct themselves? How do individuals with authority deal with fellow humans? What kind of psychic domination we want over others? Some people want money, some want psychic domination on fellowmen. Mahatma Gandhi had once said: “I am really amazed at how people think they are big by humiliating others.” This kind of culture must go and everybody must take responsibility for it. This is one area which is crucial. We need to correct this and put proper people. We see that representatives vote themselves to ever increasing salaries and perks. There must be some debate about this. Of course, we shouldn’t grudge our members of Parliament more pay, provided they do the nation’s work with the spirit in which it is to be done. There is demoralisation of the whole system and people overestimate the degree of demoralisation. We can’t blame them for it. This is where the total lack of democratic representation, legitimacy of our Parliaments and legislature comes in. How do we cure it? We can adopt the 50 per cent+1 vote system. How we achieve it is something the lawmakers must think.


Secondly, the biggest achievement of the Indian democracy is that in a pervasive atmosphere of lack of democratic spirit around this area, we are surrounded by countries which they have their own political problems. That India has survived as democracy itself is a great achievement. When in 1947-48, universal adult franchise was announced; they called it the biggest gamble in history. If one sees the contemporary newspapers, one can discover that the Americans were cynical about it. They said it wouldn’t last. But on 13th August, 2007, Newsweek brought out an issue of India’s 60 years of independence in which there were two articles. They reluctantly admitted that Indian democracy had come to stay and was a robust democracy. But they mischievously said it was the rowdiest democracy in the world and the most chaotic. I think we might agree that it is both chaotic and rowdiest, but still a democracy. A populist democracy is still a democracy but one step away from mob rule. It is almost happening in some States. This is preventable, not by mere expressions of purity, as one expects purity of character in people. Our systems are rotten, and yet we ask people to be charitable. This is not at all possible. We must try the system we have. The arguments of some of the sections which we put across are that some of the minority groups felt that if it was 25 per cent; their 5 per cent votes mattered for the selection of a candidate. These minority groups are losers if it is 50 per cent as they would then have no voice in the outcome. There may be some merit in that proposition. Maybe that may load their votes. One can think whatever one wishes to, but there are certain apprehensions. But the fact remains that a candidate who wins with only 25 per cent votes, where he has been elected in a minority vote has had the majority voting against him. The issue is much more than the greater number of people voting against him. It is a vote being wasted, i.e., trivialised. No democracy can afford to trivialise its majority votes. This is the problem of the democratic implications of this step.


How do we do it? The Election Commission cannot do it. They can only conduct the elections according to law. In fact, once Mr. Ashok Desai argued before me that the Election Commission has no power to fix timings for the canvassing of elections. What he meant was that students would be preparing for their examinations, old people would be sleeping; therefore, at 10 pm, canvassing must be stopped. Mr. Desai is a blunt lawyer and admitted this is the part of the police power of the State and not within the power of the Election Commission to do implement. I am inclined to agree with him, but at the same time, disinclined to clip the wings of the Election Commission. Our view is that it is not unrelated to that purpose; we put it that way and got away with it. There is subtlety about this argument and the beautiful manner in which Mr. Desai presented it as a constitutional lawyer still rings in my ears.


Ladies and gentlemen, we have said all that we had to say in the constitution. This is a matter in which we put our heart and soul into it and held those things to be necessary. All this has been said before; it has to be said again and again as Stephen Spender said because nobody listens and nobody wants to listen. This is the problem. There are politicians whom I personally know, are no less noble than anybody else and have a burning desire to bring about change. They can’t bring change within their own parties and confess that things have gone beyond their control. Any party or politician unilaterally committing himself to some values is committing political harakiri; it is a unilateral electoral disarmament. There are people in various parties who are right-thinking. Why don’t they arrive at some consensus? Unfortunately, today, what we see is the politics of vengeance and retaliation that has overtaken us. We have not been able to achieve in the political sense, a common identification of common national interests. Even the major political parties have not tried to locate areas of national common interests. Political rivalries prevent this.


India’s late Vice-President Mr. Krishna Kant used to tell us about the power of the negative vote. We did not think much of it then but today, personally, I think it is a very potent weapon. If criminals are arrayed on all sides, if one party sets up a criminal candidate, the other party sets up a greater criminal to neutralise him and win that portion of the vote. Therefore, people must be able to judge that they are all scoundrels. This negative vote is a very important thing, which I think in the Indian context, must assume greater importance. Mr. Clegg of the UK’s Liberal Party and Deputy Prime Minister has advocated fixed Parliamentary terms, on which he wants a referendum. The UK speaks of abolishing monarchy by May 2011. They want to change the election system. As a matter of fact, the British judiciary has silently undergone such great changes which Mr. Desai as an ambassador would not even have imagined could happen. The Lord Chancellor would wear three hats, he would sit on the Woolsack, sit in the House of Lords and also was a minister; he defied all Diceys’s concept of separation of powers, but today silently, quietly, they have done away with all these kind of things.


I want to conclude by saying that the problem is we are not able to discuss things dispassionately among political parties. In arriving at the larger interest of the country, they are hamstrung in doing it on account of party rivalries and animosities. The political culture has degenerated into politics of personal and political vengeance, retaliation and insensitivity. There is very little endeavour about what touches the people and how we should take the world forward.


Why cannot we follow the example of the European Union? Noted historian Niall Ferguson has said that a thousand wars were fought during the last 500 years in Europe. Every four years, there was a war, big or small. How did the continent unite? The first major step was by Helmut Kohl in reuniting the two Germanys. The Deutsche Bank, which is the most professional bank, predicted very adverse economic consequences of unification. But Kohl said that he would rather have a European roof over Germany rather than German roof over Europe, which Hitler had wanted. When that unification happened, how did they achieve this? They set up seemingly, inconsequential supranational treaty bodies like the Human Rights Commission, the Transport Commission and had got people from the respective countries who were opinion-builders there. Gradually, over time, these supranational bodies began to act independently with their own sources of power in their own States and became the European Union. They have the same common currency and almost had a common constitution. UK leader Nick Clegg’s anxiety is how to get out of the European Union, which is one of the issues on which he wishes a referendum; the British certainly have their own peccadilloes. But some such arrangement in South Asia is absolutely necessary if we wish to get over the last thousand years of fissiparous politics.


Sadly, there are no Statesmen at all. There are clever politicians and in this atmosphere, a politician has become a clever broker for the anger of people. He is a no more than a clever agent for the anger of the people. He is not able to think or act beyond this. No doubt, there are some brilliant people in politics, more brilliant than we find in the judiciary. But they don’t have time or inclination and also face pressures. The preoccupation of the immediacy of their problems is such that they are not able to think beyond. We must solve this 25 years down the line. We must have a South Asian Union, where the India’s North East could become the centre of this Union. We can have beautiful golf academies where people of Far East Asian countries can play golf and enjoy life. It is said that the land is so fertile in India’s North East that by the time one sticks one’s walking stick in the ground, goes up the hill and comes back, the stick would have sprouted crops. That is the kind of beauty of this great land.


Dr Quraishi has spoken about the diversity of this country. It is one of the greatest gifts of mankind that we have this beautiful diversity of languages, practices, art and culture. We have successfully united them in the common bond of constitutional justice. One can imagine the difficulty of constitution makers, as they debated such issues at a time when the country was burning in the carnage of the Partition. Going through some of those debates, one can perceive the spiritual heights they had reached. Some of the Constituent Assembly debates were simply outstanding, coming from otherwise common people. For instance, even a small thing like the right of the person professing the Sikh faith to carry a kripan had to be accommodated as an ex-proposal in the constitution. We can imagine the kind of difficulty they had and how they got over it.


We are wasting this great opportunity and this excitement of building one of the most beautiful countries under the sun because of this kind of fissiparous dirty politics. I think the law must grow up in a hurry, as must the ministry, in order to bring about certain changes it will be remembered for. Thank you very much.





Thank you, sir. I now invite Dr. Veerappa Moily, Hon’ble Minister of Law and Justice for his address.




Honourable Justice M N Venkatachaliah, Dr S Y Quraishi, Dr. Anil Seal, Shri J M Lyngdoh, distinguished members present and friends, we have had a most absorbing inaugural session. In fact, I have come here to listen rather than speak. We have already heard of the achievements of the Election Commission, an institution which we are proud of. Justice Venkatachaliah has given a panoramic view of the agenda before us on electoral reforms. This is a dynamic subject, much discussed; a huge distance remains to be covered. I am quite optimistic that en route we will find solutions, implement them and again march forward. In our democracy, elections are an act of faith in ourselves, our republic and our constitution. There was no dearth of people who had doubts on this when we adopted electoral democracy. I don’t want to go into the details of all that, but it is true that our own people lacked faith. Once, long ago an Oxford-educated civil servant who when asked to supervise the polls in Manipur, wrote to his father that in future, a more enlightened age would view with astonishment the absurd farce of recording votes of millions of illiterate people. Mind you, it was one of our own civil servants who wrote this. Against all these odds, an enlightened leadership of the country and more so, our election commissions have had more faith in our people. The right to vote was granted to every citizen in our country, whereas, it was not so in many developed or developing countries. Even in France, the UK and the US, the right to vote was first extended to men who were rich and educated whereas we had given universal franchise to all, of which we are proud.


I would like to touch upon only a few points as we are yet to come out with acceptable solutions or the formula for electoral reforms. In fact, laws are embellished and defined by attitude, not territory or process. Everyone involved in the election process should have an attitude of democratic ethos. That is the basic foundation, whichever position or institution one serves. The time has now come for India to build democratic institutions and all of us should subscribe to it. We cannot discredit our institutions. If we want people to reiterate faith in our democracy, we need to build such institutions. The Election Commission is one such institution other than the judiciary, Parliament and the political system. By decrying our institutions, we are eroding their credibility. We need to carry out en route corrections wherever necessary.


Let us now sort out the issues before us. As a minister, I can reassure you that whatever proposals can be accepted, I am prepared to take an initiative on that. In fact, I participated in the last seminar organised by FAME and thereafter we could introduce a number of laws, many of which have become Acts of Parliament. From today, you must give us the agenda, not one of decrying institutions, or losing faith in them, but to reiterate our faith in them. Whatever rectification is required, we are prepared to acknowledge it and definitely take that agenda forward.


There are issues like criminalisation of politics. You are probably aware that governments have tried to build an agenda on this issue but the political consensus among all political parties has proved elusive. But nonetheless, we need not lose faith. However, whatever we do should always be within the ambit of the law of the land. I don’t think we can take any step which does not synchronise with the law of the land. If you can debate on that, exercise your minds and come out with solutions as to how far we can improve them. I am prepared to take forward that kind of an initiative.


There are issues like simultaneous elections for union and State legislatures. I think we need to address that because governance ultimately becomes the casualty. I was told that in a given year, there are as many as two or three elections either to the Assembly or otherwise. Still more, I think we need to rationalise the process of elections so that the governance can follow. Otherwise, instead of constitutional machinery, we will have populism. Knowing that, we need to address that question very seriously.


We have many major issues. I agree with the Chief Election Commissioner Dr. Quraishi when he said that earlier criminals or vested interests used to influence the government and electoral outcomes. Now like a tiger tasting human blood, they have tasted power themselves and think of themselves becoming ministers. Now they have gone a step ahead when they believe they can capture a State itself or power at the centre. How to fight such influence wielded by such elements, which is made possible because of criminalisation of politics? The involvement of criminals in the electoral process is the soft underbelly of our political system. The growth of crime and violence in society, the encouragement given to the mafia in many sectors is due to a number of root causes. We need to go for a systemic change. This malaise cannot be addressed piecemeal by a single circular of the Election Commission or any other institution. There has to be a major shift in our policy and systems.


I can also say with regard to the State funding of elections, we have not come to an appropriate acceptable formula. One is the minimalist system and the other is the maximalist system or pattern. We are all looking forward to you to discuss on that, come out with that because we have examples of many countries that have practiced it and come out with public funding aspect and we need to address it very seriously.


We have election petitions but the judgments will come practically only when the next term is nearing. I don’t attribute everything to judiciary alone but we need to address that very seriously. If we want to retain any credibility going of election petitions and decisions thereon, we need to have quicker disposal of cases by the judiciary. Either the judiciary has to take this responsibility or we may have to go in for a separate forum to definitely expedite decisions. This is a matter which we need to address.


One more thing which I would like to talk about is the areas where there are no clear cut flaws in the system. I am not talking about the day-to-day work of the Election Commission but we have found that there is a plethora of such orders and various instructions issued by the Election Commission of India, which need to be converted into definite laws wherever necessary. I don’t say everything can be implemented. But wherever necessary, changes have to be brought in, though they should not be misguided missiles being fired in every direction to the detriment of a healthy democratic process.


A candidate who has stood for elections should not be a suspect. But it cannot be a universal application. Many times we feel that we are suspects when we stand for elections. That kind of a feeling on the part of a genuine legitimate candidate is not good for democracy. We need to address that. Ultimately, we have to clear the air and make the democratic ethos prevail. We need to revisit some of these aspects. Otherwise, mere elections will have no meaning. If we really want to attract genuine candidates who can fight in a healthy tradition, we need to create that kind of an environment. I am afraid that we do not have that kind of an environment.


Corruption and hypocrisy are the inevitable products of democracy, as they undoubtedly are today. This was said by Mahatma Gandhi. These are the two things which are destroying the democratic edifice of the country.


Another thing I would like to talk, mention is ethical standards for holders of public office. Whether the code of conduct which has been laid down by the judiciary and adopted is enough to control or regulate things is a matter of debate. I think we need to very seriously go into this and anxiously look forward to suggestions on this score. For my part, I am eagerly looking forward to the outcome of today’s deliberations which is being attended by most eminent persons. We have ideas but need to transform those ideas into actions in order to create healthy democratic institutions in this country.


I am definitely confident that enlightened groups like this will provide a background for national consultation on comprehensive electoral reforms, which we would like to hold within one or two months so that we will concretise all that is being debated and discussed in this forum and also all over the country.


With this, I conclude and thank FAME for coming out with such debates which will definitely enliven the debate on electoral reforms. Thank you very much.




Thank you, sir. I now request Dr. Anil Seal to address. He brings a unique perspective of looking at Indian elections and the Indian democracy from within and outside.  With his background as part of the Cambridge trust which has been holding the CECs of the Commonwealth countries meets, Dr Seal can enlighten us with some of the practices that may be followed in other Commonwealth countries.





Mr Lyngdoh, Dr Quraishi, Honourable Minister, distinguished Chief Justice, colleagues, commissioners and all our friends from the select but embattled community of those concerned with electoral democracy, I am conscious of the huge amount that could be said about the workings of India’s unique democracy from the perspective of the Commonwealth as a whole.  But on this occasion, having taken account of the importance of the topics addressed at this meeting, I propose to say very little from that perspective.


This seminar underlines the window of opportunity to take forward, and consolidate, India’s achievements in the electoral and constitutional field.  Today’s seminar underlines how much remains to be done.  A review of the past shows just how much India has to congratulate itself for its achievements, particularly in the running of elections and how glaring, nevertheless, are the faults of the political system of which the elections are only a part.


Everyone is well aware that India has a strong constitutional framework for its democracy, an exceptional Election Commission which is the envy of the Commonwealth and a great deal of which to be proud.  At the very outset of today’s deliberations, I was left wondering why, when the Election Commission successfully organises hugely complex elections for almost 700 million voters every five years or so, someone did not have the bright idea of giving the Election Commission the task of organising the imminent Commonwealth Games in Delhi.  I realise that a nod in this direction has been made by putting Dr MS Gill, former CEC and now Minister of Sports, partially in charge.  But no one can believe that this, by itself, has been quite enough!  But I must mention something I saw not very long ago when I was passing through Luton, a small town not very far from Cambridge.  There I saw a white van, with the logo ‘Patel and Patel, Builders’ with the message inscribed underneath that read as follows: ‘You have tried the cowboys, now try the Indians’!  In brief, this is the succinct message we in Cambridge have received from nine annual gatherings of our conference on electoral democracy, where key Commissioners from many countries of the Commonwealth have discussed matters of common concern.


Everyone agrees that the Election Commission in India is a wonderful and unique organisation.  Indeed, our conferences have shown just how mature a democracy India has become; and in the league of Election Commissions and the organisation of elections, the United Kingdom, rather than standing forth as mother of all democracies, is proving to be the new boy on the block with something of a banana republic about it, at least in organising elections.  In saying this, I beg forgiveness from Karamjit Singh, Commander of the British Empire and sometime Commissioner for running elections in Northern Ireland and more recently in England.  But it surely tells us something that the United Kingdom has had to import Karamjit Singh from India to remedy weaknesses in the British system – although Karamjit would claim he is not an import, but a home grown product from Coventry.


But leaving such frivolities aside, in the Election Commission India has an institution which, just as the Supreme Court in our judicial system, safeguards the rights of the voters.  Our elections are run outstandingly well and many Commonwealth countries have a long way to go before they can emulate India in this matter. 


But elections are not only about the processes by which politicians achieve their mandate.  They have critically to do with results; and the results are encapsulated in the quality and public commitment of the politicians who get elected.  Here, as we have seen, is the nub of the problem.  It will not do simply to say that a country and its people get the politicians they deserve.  Everything we have heard from distinguished participants today underlines how very important it is to make people aware of their right to vote and the need to assess the promises and special pleading of politicians.  This is the context in which FAME’s activities and the reforms which we have discussed today are of vital importance, not so that we are overawed by the difficulties, but because, as Dr Moily has aptly reminded us, we need to look at the next stage in this journey.  There will be plenty of opportunities at other times to look at the Indian experience from the perspectives of other parts of the world.  So that is all for another day.


In the end, as we were so aptly reminded by the Chief Justice, it is the people, empowered by having a vote, who are going to improve matters.  The significance of the gathering today is that it underlines how important it is for the future of this country constantly to look at ways of improving the electoral process and of maintaining the integrity and independence of the Election Commission.  The Commission and electoral democracy have had a great past in the last six decades.  This century may well prove to be India’s, but only if its elections and its system of governance continue to work well.  The message today is that while much is wrong, we have heard many influential voices to show us the way in which some, at least, of these wrongs can be righted. 


Finally, I wanted to say that FAME, a relatively new institution, is already doing great work, particularly in addressing the young people of this country in whose hands the future of democracy lies.  It is helping to organise elections for the Youth Congress, a very encouraging development.  Young people – who throughout the Commonwealth tend to show their disillusionment with politics – are in India being inducted into the political process and are electing their officials.  There is huge potential in this ‘bottom-up’ way of selecting politicians.  If even a handful of candidates for election to Parliament come by this route from the ranks below, this perhaps is the most encouraging political development since the early 1930s when the Congress party constitution last underwent such fundamental changes. This is a cause for optimism.  It is also remarkable what a few men, who include such electoral luminaries as Mr KJ Rao, Mr James Lyngdoh, and others of our distinguished ex Chief Commissioners, are capable of doing.  It is worth remarking how the office of Chief Election Commissioner not only attracts outstanding people, but is larger than the persons who occupy it.  The Election Commission is bigger than individual Chief Election Commissioners – a heartening fact.  Let us hold firmly to this anchor, look forward to reforms and have a measure of optimism for the future – even in these troubled times, and the Commonwealth Games notwithstanding!






Shri Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition, Rajya Sabha

Shri A B Bardhan, General Secretary, CPI

Shri N Gopalaswami, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India 

Shri Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Sr. Journalist


Manjira Khurana


Good afternoon, distinguished panellists, delegates and friends. Welcome to the First Session of the Second National Seminar on Electoral Reforms. This session is a specific session dedicated to “money power and paid news during elections”. If one looks at India, one is aware of this reality. We have called eminent personalities from different fields, from the polity, media and the Election Commission, to talk on these issues and also answer questions. This session will be an interactive session where every panellist is expected to speak for ten minutes. I take the liberty of asking Paranjoy Guha Thakurta to moderate the session. I invite on stage Mr. Arun Jaitley, Leader of Opposition, Rajya Sabha. Mr. Jaitley, whom our generation knew first as a student leader from the Delhi University, the General Secretary of the students’ union and subsequently, the Union Minister of Law, is today one of most respected and enlightened figures in politics with an admirable command on the political process and all things law.


I also invite Shri A B Bardhan, the General Secretary of the CPI. He has been in politics now for the last 60 years and more and is a respected figure, in and out of Parliament.


I invite Shri N Gopalaswami too, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India, who is also a constitutional expert. He has been writing and his recommendations are well known.


Finally, I invite Shri Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a senior journalist for 33 years in all walks of the media, print or electronic, and our moderator for this session. Thank you.




Thank you, madam. We will ask the three speakers to make their opening remarks and if they confine their opening remarks to ten minutes then there will be more time for discussion. I ask Shri Arun Jaitley to open the proceedings.




Thank you very much Paranjoy, for inviting me. My special thanks to Mr. Rao to speak on this subject which I distinctly remember, in the similar meeting last year also had incidentally come up for discussion. But most people believe that it is a phenomenon of last few years. I had noticed it in some States about 10-12 years ago. This phenomenon used to work in a very simple manner. Various media organisations would ask a political party for a lump-sum package. In fact, they would ask all political parties. I have seen this multiplying in the last five years and it has been operating broadly at three levels, though the situation is different from State to State. There are still some States which are free from it. Some media organisations absolutely have no qualms about directly approaching a political party or its representatives asking for what they call a ‘news package’. They make available their channel or newspaper to that particular candidate or party, saying that the slant will be in his or her favour, but they tell the same thing to rival political parties too. Most people may dislike my use of this phrase, but the relationship between the media and politicians is literally one of a blackmailer and the blackmailed, where one is left with very little option.


Politicians are the most criticised lot in Indian public life. Certainly, many of them suffer from serious flaws and aberrations. But the media or the judiciary are revealed to have those flaws too. In case of politics and politicians, at least the saving grace is that public life and politics is an institution that submits to accountability. Politicians can be hauled up in legislative bodies, in the media and many forums. The other two institutions are comparatively and significantly unaccountable. They do offer bland generalisations that they are accountable to readers and to the people, but these are mere phrases that are deployed. Effectively speaking, the media and judiciary have no level of accountability.


There is a second layer in which the so-called more respectable media organisations are involved. They don’t ask for an ‘electoral package’. In the 2009 elections, I saw some of the respectable television channels resort to what is called ‘election premium in advertisement rates’. This is something which has not come up for discussion in the newspapers that I have seen. This premium raises their advertising rates for political advertising about Rs800-1000 per second. Therefore, for commercial advertising, the rate would be far lower. The same rate would be applicable if a political party wanted to put up an advertisement before the election. But what was Rs1000 or 1200 earlier would certainly become Rs10000 for a 10-second period during election time for political parties. I have no doubt if that the Competition Commission has any jurisdiction, or if any anti-trust body has the powers, it could crack that. It is almost like a cartel and the Broadcasting Federation has so decided that none of them will reduce the rates. I need not name the channels, but in this dealing between the political party and the channels, I can say that there was almost no exception to it. The marketing and advertising people of those very channels, who, in their editorial face would pontificate against paid news, indulge in those deals. Therefore, the struggle between them was how to break the cartel. At times, we succeeded and at times, we didn’t and at times, people had to succumb.


There is a third layer tendency which I have seen. This tendency is to set up news channels which are regional and city-based. They may be cable, if not satellite, and most of their owners are either real eState developers or alcohol traders. For them, the big revenue earning period is the election period. A lot of State level channels which have come up in the region in the States are an outcome of this tendency. This is going on across State borders. This cancer, which was seen in one or two States earlier, has spread in the last five years. I had the opportunity to discuss this issue with some owners of media organisations, where I said that ‘didn’t they realise that there was a huge loss of credibility’. Their answer to me, by a very leading organisation was that in any case the politicians had to pay the journalists; now the media organizations made sure that there would be “single window dealing”. This is one case where a powerful institution vital to a democracy, but a completely non-accountable institution is absolutely unrestrained from indulging in such practices. And everybody is in the business of flattering that institution and therefore, the menace goes on.


This was discussed in Parliament and I too spoke on it. The solution is not very easy. People love to abuse politicians, but nobody likes to criticise the media. The general refrain is that all politicians who pay must be taken to charge. So, in a relationship between the blackmailed and the blackmailer, the blackmailed must be taken to task but the other “gentleman”, i.e., the blackmailer, must go scot-free. I think there is a solution possible but there is also a huge legal constitutional problem.


First, let me suggest a possible solution and then come to the constitutional problem which arises in India. Whether the Election Commission, any other agency or tribunal does it, we need to have a regulator who will regulate media coverage during election time. The Election Commission is most suited body for this. Paid news is media corruption as the media doesn’t tell the reader such coverage is not news. This is like a paid advertisement. It affects the human mind. It is not only buying commodities. Its effect is not limited to the pocket but affects the human mind as well. It influences the entire character of polity. It makes the moneyed more powerful. The candidate can effectively violate the spending limits in the electoral guidelines. There is a violation of the Income Tax Act because the money spent is mostly of the ‘other’ colour, except for the news premiums which are in legitimate colour. This is how it was devised by the Broadcasting Federation.


This body, whether it is the Election Commission or a special tribunal, once it comes into a funding, must ensure that three things must happen. There must be exemplary financial penalties on the media organisation indulging in such practices. Regulators don’t send people to jail but the world over, the kind of penalties by the anti-trust agencies will be millions of dollars, if not more. For an anti-competitive practice in India, one can go up to a fine of Rs 50 crores. If this is implemented twice or thrice, we will find this menace disappearing. If, instead of making a quick Rs 20 crores extra, one ends up paying Rs 50 crores for having resorted to this practice and if some leading media organisations have to pay such penalties, the others will run scared.


Obviously, whatever is spent is added to the expenditure of the candidate. We don’t think in terms of amending the definition of ‘corrupt practice’ including this as a corrupt practice, itself independent of the expenditure itself. But here, we will encounter a legitimate problem. As of today, the constitutional law in India may not permit this. In the United States, they treat commercial speech too as free speech. We have not done that in India. Initially, in the 1950s, five judges of the Supreme Court said that advertisement and commercial speech was not free speech. It is trade. And in case of paid news, it will not only be trade but trade with an unlawful purpose. But somewhere down in the line in the 1990s, two judges of the Supreme Court disregarded those five judges and said that in US, the commercial speech was treated as free speech and in India too, commercial speech must be free speech. This is a serious problem because according to this ruling, paid news in India will also have constitutional protection. And therefore, if it has constitutional protection as free speech has, even though it may be illegal, whatever restrictions one can impose will only be under what the constitution permits under Article 92. Whatever I am suggesting may not be permissible under Article 92. These are not issues of security of slaying of public order or defamation. Unless we bring about a basic change i.e. unless either that view is reconsidered or amended, taking the next step to stop this practice is going to be difficult.


As a final point, my contention is that the expenditure of an individual candidate has gone up. Today, an individual candidate contesting for the Legislative Assembly or Parliament in States where this menace exists, with proliferation of newspapers, local channels and so on, has to spend more than 50 per cent of his total expenditure under this category. I remember two instances. Several years ago, a candidate told me that the newspaper said that they had “stitched a deal” with his party, but each candidate also had to pay them separately, which he refused to pay. Next day, a photograph of this candidate’s relatively modest house, photographed from an angle in colour on the front page of the newspaper claimed this candidate had not declared all his assets and yet had a palatial house. It was shot in a manner that a modest house looked huge. The candidate had no option but to go and pay the next day.


The second is an example I came across in 2007. A bye-election for Parliament and State Assembly elections were being held simultaneously in Punjab. I asked the candidate for Parliament election about the State of his finances. He said he didn’t need any money because the Assembly election candidates were spending money and were taking him along, so he did not need money. But when a few days later I asked him, his response was that he had only one item of expenditure. He found that none of the newspapers was reporting his candidature; only his rival was being covered and he had been “advised” to “make the payment”.


If this malaise is not curbed, the manner in which it has spread in the last few years and the character of the media holdings that have altered, especially at a particular level in the States, this problem is going to become more acute. Thank you.




Thank you very much, Mr. Jaitley. That was a very excellent exposition of the problems, He has set the tone and I have a number of observations. As the only representative of the media on this panel, I have a number of observations and certain facts to place but shall await my turn. Now it is Mr. Bardhan’s turn.




I think one aspect of money power has been very well put by Mr. Jaitley. I shall try to illustrate further through examples. A colleague of mine was twice Member of Parliament from one seat. The third time he stood, which was in the last elections, for ten days, he found that there was no mention of his candidature in the press even though he was a sitting candidate from that constituency. When he enquired about this, all the media outlets told him that he had “not paid his dues” and must pay them. He was compelled to pay just in order to find a mention in the press that he was a candidate from that constituency. I am talking about Andhra Pradesh which in other aspects of money power too, is earning quite a name, along with Tamil Nadu. I only mentioned these two States by way of an example. It doesn’t mean that other States do not share this character.


Let us come to the other aspect. In fact, Justice Venkatachaliah mentioned that nowadays there are certain parties and candidates, who along with the distribution of the voter coupons to the voters, also enclose a 500- or a 1000-rupee note in that very envelope or distribute them by going around. If there are five voters, every voter has to be paid. So in a house with five voters, there will be five 500-rupee notes. This has been a huge abuse in Andhra Pradesh. I recall that I had an occasion to call up the Chief Election Commissioner, who assured me that they were trying to intercept this practice to the extent possible. This is not the police duty of the Election Commission and so they asked the police commissioner to intervene. I was later told by him that Rs40 crores had been recovered by the police. That was fine, but my next question is simple and to the point: Rs40 crores were recovered, but nobody was prosecuted because nobody came forward to say it was he who was responsible for those notes to be sent. Nobody was penalised. Nothing was done. This is a question which I would ask Dr. Quraishi to solve in the coming days. How is he going to prevent it?


As early as 1957 I contested my first election and my total expenditure for getting elected in the erstwhile Bombay State was only Rs2000. After that, I have contested a number of times, and the figures have kept climbing into lakhs. Now it is not even in lakhs. Though Mr. Jaitley did not mention figures, I shall. One can’t think of contesting a Parliamentary election unless one is a crorepati. One can’t think of contesting an Assembly election unless one is able to spend at least Rs40-50 lakhs for each constituency. Elections are going out of the reach of the common man. You talked about democracy, sir. If democracy gets vulgarised in this fashion, if this threat to democracy is not realised by the Election Commission, I don’t see how this great institution that we have built will survive.


Of course, it is not the fault of the Election Commission, which is trying its best. This has something to do with the system. Money power is undoubtedly there, as Mammon has been installed as the chief idol in the temple of democracy. Now, persons with money alone can contest elections. We shall experience this phenomenon in the coming Bihar Assembly elections. I do not know how we are going to check it. Quite apart from caste and muscle power, money power will also be a factor which we will have to take into account. Of course, it is a combination of muscle, caste and all that in Bihar. Money power may not be that much of a factor but when one goes down, this will become more apparent. The next election will include Tamil Nadu in which we will find money playing a huge role. So much so that in the last elections, a big party with whom we were also associated, told me that he can’t feed the candidates. That party is not a small party at all, not lacking in wealth. But this individual said that he couldn’t match the wealth being splashed by the ruling party in the election. They said that in certain seats, they had simply given up. This is what is happening.


All the good things that have been said about the Election Commission, our election process and our democracy are accepted but slowly these threats are building up and unless we look into them, our entire election process will become a flawed process and will fail to be representative at all, of the people’s will. Even today, what is it? Is it not a fact that out of the 543 candidates elected, more than 325 are crorepatis? Is it not a fact that many of them are not only crorepatis, but are also in the Cabinet? Thus, is a Cabinet of crorepatis. And few people who claim to be ‘only’ lakhpatis may be only telling us about the tip of the iceberg and not revealing the iceberg itself. These are questions which all of us sitting here must now address ourselves. I speak on behalf of a certain group which Dr. Quraishi points out as the fifth group ¯ the group of the much-maligned politicians. Dr. Quraishi, of course, spoke in a defensive manner; there are bad guys but all are not so bad. It so happens that this Parliamentary system cannot run without these bad guys too. That is the manner in which he spoke, though I don’t see why he didn’t mention the people.


Ultimately, it is the people who will have to intervene in all these issues. The whole question is not so much about the Election Commission but the system in which we are operating. I do not want to go into that question further because that will turn into an ideological and political question and this is the not the forum to discuss that. But unless that system is changed, nothing much can be achieved. We have a good Election Commission operating in a bad system. The commission has done yeoman work in a multilingual, multi-religious, and multicultural country. In such a heterogeneous country, it has been able to operate the whole election system. It has almost come to stay but I don’t think it will stay much longer if the required changes do not happen. I am always reminded of what Dr. Ambedkar said in his final speech in the Constituent Assembly when putting the whole thing to vote. He affirmed that we have a very good constitution, one based on the “one man, one vote” principle. Whether it is Tata, Birla or anyone else, all have one vote. But then it is a system where there is political equality, a system of great economic and social inequality. Unless that is also addressed, the entire system, the political system, the Election Commission and the Parliamentary democracy that we enjoy will all be in danger. That is all I want to say as far as this issue is concerned. Thank you.




Thank you, Mr. Bardhan for your comments. I request Mr. Gopalaswami to speak.




Thank you, Mr. Guha Thakurta. I will take off from what Mr. Bardhan has mentioned. Towards the end, he said it is that the people who have to intervene and do something about it. I am really apprehensive because if one of the instances that I had seen is any guidance, one begins to wonder whether the people at all will do it. Mr. Bardhan spoke about how in Andhra Pradesh, they distributed money during elections. But Andhra doesn’t appear to have “learnt” anything from Tamil Nadu. There are “better” things Tamil Nadu is doing. The examples from Tamil Nadu go a bit further; two would suffice here. One is of a bye-election in Tirumangalam. I was on leave for a couple of days and was in Chennai on personal work. On television, I saw that some people had stopped persons who had earlier distributed money. They had snatched the money the other party was distributing. When their vehicle returned, they were stopped. I thought it was a great thing that they would appreciate what these people had done in apprehending that money and then taking it away from them. But the next day, what I read in the newspaper was an absolute shocker. People had collared those individuals asking them how they dared stop the money being distributed. It is “our” money, how can you stop it? They wanted that money to be brought back to be given to those people who were distributing it so that it could reach them.


Another example is of a village. When the money was being distributed, the workers of this particular party knew a couple of households who were voters of the other party and therefore avoided those houses. Those people came out and demanded to know why they had been avoided. They were told that they “belonged to the other party”, to which they replied that if they were given the money, they would vote for them instead!


Now, it is not money but cash coupons that are distributed in Tamil Nadu. One gets coupons that can be encashed in shops designated for it. The Andhra Pradesh players probably do not know of this but soon will, and put it in practice. Under the circumstances, how can one expect the Election Commission, in those 15 or 30 days, to find out who distributes coupons to whom?


I recall the 2007 elections in UP. In Bareilly, one of the candidates asked to meet us alone after the customary meeting with the candidates is over. When he met us alone, he told us that he didn’t want to mention it in others’ presence, but money was being asked for by the newspapers. We sifted through the published news items. Those were still early days for Hindi newspapers, as they had not learnt all the tricks of the trade. The word ‘advt.’ was inscribed at the bottom of the page in the smallest of fonts. It was actually an advertisement but the manner in which it was presented made it look like news, though they give the game away at the end saying that it was an advertisement. We immediately instructed the observer that as the word ‘advt.’ was written and it was an advertisement, it had to be charged at per column centimetre rate and added to the candidate’s expenditure. A few days later, the ‘advt.’ disappeared. They had indeed learnt their first lesson.


There was another instance in Madhya Pradesh in 2008. The media writes about some candidates while some are blanked out. People from the CPI for instance complained to us that they were candidates from a particular constituency but there was not a single word about them for the last ten days in the newspapers simply because they had refused to pay the money newspapers had asked for. This was raised to a fine art by the media in the 2009 general elections all across the country, except Tamil Nadu. In Tamil Nadu, it has become a direct dealing with no media being needed. In any case, most of the media, both print and electronic are owned by political parties. So any money that has to be doled out is done directly so that it reaches directly. It works better this way as the ‘benefits’ reach the common man directly, as compared to all the government schemes.


In such a situation, the Election Commission can only do so much. It cannot transgress its jurisdiction. There are restrictions of law and more importantly, before we pass an order, it has to stand in a court of law. The Commission cannot pass an order when there is not enough tangible material. We know that money coupons and even direct cash are being distributed, as well as the rates. In fact, in a recent bye-election in Tamil Nadu, the party that didn’t dish out money earlier had also joined the bandwagon, but I wish they had not because they were quickly ridiculed. This was because the more ‘seasoned players’ dished out Rs1000 to each voter. So how dare this new entrant even think it could get away by dishing out a ‘mere’ Rs500? That was the general refrain.


In last year’s meeting, Mr. Jaitley had remarked that we don’t see the connection. It is in those States that have done economically well in the last 10-15 years that a lot of money is being distributed. By that token, possibly Dr Quraishi may take heart that the coming Bihar elections may not present a problem of this kind, but one does not know. Muscle power can be met with muscle power by deploying the paramilitary or police, but money power cannot be outmatched by money power. If unscrupulous politicians distribute Rs1000, the Commission cannot distribute Rs2000 to make citizens vote honestly. It is simply not possible. This really falls in the realm of Parliament and politicians and as Justice Venkatachaliah said, this cynicism can really undermine democracy. I would urge the Commission to pass some absolutely impossible orders. I am told Mr. Seshan used to occasionally say that he would make two drafts on a particular case and would issue the order on whichever draft appealed to him. We must try and do something like this; there will be no evidence but if you sense that there is something wrong, try and pass order if that is possible. It would only mean that next time around, the other party will be cleverer, as it always happens. Unless there is a meeting of minds among political parties and in Parliament, I don’t think this particular problem can be really taken care of by the Election Commission. This is my understanding.




Thank you very much, Mr. Gopalaswami. As the only representative of the media on this particular panel, I am suitably inspired by the speakers before me, and especially the former Chief Justice of India Shri Vekatachaliah. I wish to start my presentation on a philosophical note and I do not know whether it has something to do with the fact that more than 80 per cent of the population of this country adhere to Hinduism. As a practicing atheist, I have always been amazed by our nuanced sense of morality ¯ how easily we distinguish between the “more corrupt” and the “less corrupt”, between the “corrupt and efficient” and the “corrupt and inefficient”. Woh paisa khaata hai magar kaam nahin karta, which in our parlance is a terrible species of human beings.


Having said that I completely agree with Arun Jaitleyji that the media is guilty of not just corruption but hypocrisy of the worst kind, because it feels that it has the right to criticise everybody else, but no one should slow the microscope on it. I want to place certain facts before this esteemed gathering. I was a member of the sub-committee of the Press Council of India of which I am a member in July 2009. Me and my colleague K Srinivas Reddy put together a 71-page report running into 36,000 words and a revised version was given to the Press Council of India on All Fool’s (April 1) day this year. Thereafter, there were heated debates in the Council. On the 31st of July, the Council in its wisdom put together a 36,000-word note which is being circulated in this folder that the audience has, where on the last page, in the footnote one can find a mention that the full report of the sub-committee has been placed on record as a reference document. The problem essentially was that this 71-page report, which runs into 36,000 words, is not an official document. But the wonders of the modern information technology being what they are, the report is available on half-a-dozen websites. In fact, it entered the public domain soon after it was e-mailed to all the 26 members other than the chairman, secretary and the two members of the sub-committee that prepared this report. We had an interesting situation where this 71-page report, which names many names, is not “official” but is available in the public domain. As a member of the much maligned fraternity of the media, perhaps only after politicians, we must admit that there is now a portrait of the ugly journalist.


There are three or four points I want to make. As Mr. Jaitley rightly pointed out, this goes beyond individual corruption. We are not talking about giving the journalist a bottle of whisky or taking him to a five-star hotel, but are talking about the institutionalisation of corruption in media organisations. Secondly, this is going beyond that as here, we are naming names. Bennett Coleman Col. Ltd. Says “the leader guards the reader”. It is this group, the leader who started with the media Page 3 phenomenon of giving huge prominence to actors, models, film stars and society events. It has then gone on to private treaties and private financial agreements. If one thinks that treaties are signed only between two countries, one would be wrong. Actually, they are also signed between advertising companies and media companies.


The third domain which we are talking about is political paid news. The most unfortunate part of the whole story is that the leaders themselves have taken the lead in lowering standards. Let me name them. The maximum number of allegations we received was against the publishers of Dainik Jagran, not just India’s largest and most widely circulated newspaper but one of the worlds’s most widely circulated newspapers, which has over three million copies and 30 editions. Then came Dainik Bhaskar, Hindustan, Amar Ujala, Lokmat, the Marathi paper and also the third- or the fourth-largest circulated newspaper in the country, and Eenadu and Sakshi among other publications. One will find all these names there. But why did a powerful section of publishers ensure that this report did not become public? This was because not only were there names, but allegations were attributed to individuals and every attempt was made to revert back and receive the response of the person or organisations against whom the allegations were made. I wish to name certain names here. Mr. Bardhan’s party colleague Atul Anjaan has compared media-owners to tentwallahs. There is an interesting tribe of professionals, particularly in northern India, who erect pandals and tents for marriages and festive occasions. As Mr. Jaitley pointed out, their rates go up tenfold on the days the festivals and wedding season. On other days, their rates are normal. On festive and wedding, their rates go up because the demand for their services has gone up ten or twentyfold. This is exactly the phenomenon. The media owner is not only a blackmailer but also a tentwallah who understands the laws of supply and demand.


I also want to add to what Mr. Gopalaswami has said. He is absolutely correct. In States where the media is highly polarised around political lines, the phenomenon of paid news is curiously, relatively lower. For instance, we know that one cannot expect on Jaya Television channel any criticism of the AIADMK just as one cannot expect on Sun Television channel, any criticism of the DMK. We don’t see this phenomenon of rampant political polarisation in States like say, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.


I want to come to some specific points. SEBI has brought out this whole issue of private treaties. I refer to the circular of 8th June of the Election Commission of India. All along, the Commission has asking the Press Council of India to define paid news. We kept telling the Election Commission of India that it is not a problem of definition; one may or may not have that fig-leaf about the disclaimer ‘advt.’ being in such a small type that one needs a microscope to look at it. The issue goes much beyond that. Who decides; who lifts the bill or who has the power? As a member of the committee, we spoke to dozens of people and documented dozens of examples. They were two cases of which in one case, a newspaper owner apologised. The representative of HT Media apologised but by then, the damage had been done because on the day of the elections in 2009, in the Banaras and Patna editions, there was a banner headline saying, ‘wave in favour of the Congress’; ‘Congress ki lehar’. The following day, there was a disclaimer saying this was an HT marketing media initiative. They admitted that it should not have happened and said that it was on account of an overzealous marketing executive of the paper, who was subsequently reprimanded. That was their official position and they proclaimed this was against their ethics and they should not have done it. But the point is interesting. This happened on the day of polling, the actual day of voting. This is again a curious anomaly. This may be a minor matter but television channels have to stop broadcasting election-related news when the cooling off period begins though newspapers can continue. This anomaly can easily be corrected. Be that as it may, in this instance, HT Media apologised. Others too named a few names, like Mr. Rama Rao of the Loksatta Party of Andhra Pradesh. He said that only when he paid Rs50000 to the representative of Eeenadu, did the paper start writing nice things about him. Rama Rao kept asking the Eenadu guy to give him a receipt but the latter refused. Rao then made a complaint to the returning officer but the returning officer did not make a note of his complaint. Now, it is a pending election petition.


These are two concrete examples; a candidate of a political party revealing how much money he had paid and to whom, and another case of a media company apologising. In most instances, politicians have a love-hate relationship with the media. One day, they bash the media but of course, they need the media too.


The same is the story with media organisations. The love-hate relationship continues but we need to note two points. Mr. Quraishi talked about the 8th June report wherein the setting up of the District Committees was mentioned. District DEOs would be responsible for determining which is ‘paid for’ content and which is not. What is not very clear is the constitution of this committee. What kind of people would sit in these district committees? What is disproportionate coverage of the speech or the activities of a particular candidate, which could influence voters and yield electoral benefit? Here, I am reading straight from your circular. It says that the candidate should be served with notices by the DEOs to explain his or her stand as to why the coverage should not be treated as an advertisement. I think that this needs to be flushed out and specified. This is my humble suggestion.


Secondly, I belong to a body like the Press Council of India, which Mr. Arun Jaitley very charitably described in the Rajya Sabha, as a toothless wonder. Others are less charitable and they describe it as a toothless tiger which cannot even whimper. But the brief point is that the Election Commission does not have punitive powers. It has no powers to penalise anybody even after it finds that individual or organisation guilty of any malpractice. When the Election Commission kept asking us to define paid news and we said that it was not an issue of definition, we come to the question of who takes responsibility or charge.


How do we move forward from here? One of the reasons why we went out of the way to name names was because we thought by doing so, we could shame them. We may have achieved our goal to some extent. We may curb these factors but as you know, this report is in the public domain though it is not an official document.


I will give you two examples as I think adding a bit of wit will also be appropriate. I quote the late Prabhash Joshi, who mentioned this. Mr. Lalji Tandon who is from Arun Jaitley’s party (the BJP) and a Member of Parliament from Lucknow, has often been derogatorily described by the media as Lalchi Tandon, a greedy person. He once publicly claimed how he was instrumental, not just in Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee becoming a Member of Parliament but also in the late Narendra Mohanji head of the Jagran Prakashan Group becoming a member of the Upper House of Parliament. Tandon said that these people had the gumption, the cheek to ask him for money. He said he didn’t blame the young man who came to ask him, as he (the reporter) was doing his job, but Tandon refused to pay. Mr. Tandon didn’t make this comment in the confines of his drawing room, but in public. He said he had refused to pay but still won. When we asked the representative of the Dainik Jagran what the paper had to say to what Mr. Lalji Tandon had said, the latter replied that as Tandon was a senior political leader, whatever he said would be quoted, as was this particular Statement. But the newspaper’s stand was that they never asked for any money. We asked the journalist whether he was suggesting that Lalji Tandon had lied, to which he merely said that they had “never asked him for money”. Thereafter, for every query put, this was the standard response, which is documented in this report.


There are many other examples; if only it was not so deadly serious one would actually laugh at what was happening. Mr. Bhupinder Singh Hooda was pleasantly surprised when Punjab Kesari published his huge picture on the front page with a report of the speech he’d made some days ago. He was puzzled as to why a speech he had given a few days earlier had been published in a daily newspaper. He called up the Punjab Kesari office and asked why they had done this. They replied that they would get back to him. Later, he was told that this was no news but an advertisement. At that point of time, Mr. Hooda was apparently not aware how his own esteemed colleagues were “paid”.


Mr. Jaitley’s point about constitutional issues is something the legal experts present here should debate on. All I have to say is that there are sections within the Indian media that have still not been corrupted. Some journalists showed us a newspaper bearing the same date and day, claiming on the same page that the two competing candidates were going to win the seat with a huge majority. How could that happen? We also have had journalists who were at the forefront of putting together the circumstantial evidence that you will find in the 71-page report. Let me be very clear ¯ we don’t have the powers as the investigating committee of the Press Council, we did not conduct any sting operation, and we don’t have the powers of the Income Tax department nor police department or the CBI. What has been put together in that 71-page report are scores and scores of circumstantial evidence. Will these people be shamed after they have been named? Maybe I am incorrigible optimist but I would still like to believe that there would be sections of the Indian media which would ¯ contrary to what Mr. Jaitley has suggested ¯ actually believe that even if they earn some short-term profits or quick profits, their long-term credibility might suffer. I am hopeful.


The media is too important to be managed by the media alone just as politics is too important to be managed by politicians alone. I would urge all of you gentlemen to raise your voice against this malicious practice which undermines democracy in our country. I may have painted myself into a corner after 33 years in this profession. The last article The Times of India published of mine was on 15th August about a music festival and they paid me for it. I am still around and there are many people in the media who are not corrupt. Their hands have to be strengthened, and the institutions responsible for democracy too must be strengthened. I believe media is one part of it and can only hope that with pressure from the rest of the society, the less corrupt elements in the media would be able to not just survive but continue. Thank you very much for your patience.



The floor is open, ladies and gentlemen. If any of you want to ask questions to any of the panellists, please identify yourself. Please keep your comments short and questions pointed.

Q: Sansar Chandra, philosopher: How can we expect society not to be corrupt when our economic outlook is corrupt? When the economic philosophy is corrupt, we are bound to have a corrupt society and corruption will spread to all the institutions of the society. The West believes that human beings can own property whereas according to our philosophy, this is fundamentally wrong. Indian ethos is described in the Ishopanishad, which clearly says that God alone is the owner of property and we are mere trustees. We have to modify Indian laws so that everybody is aware that they are trustees and act in that way. Only then can corruption be tackled.

Q: K Mahesh, government servant: We all know that the press is the only institution in democracy which is not accountable. It can criticise even the judiciary and other institutions of democracy. We need to give concrete suggestions and my first suggestion is that if all the editors of newspapers must agree that they would post details of their immovable properties and shares they hold in companies on their websites. To start with, we can make a request to them. It has to be done on a voluntary manner. This is one suggestion we can take forward, including the political parties who could recommend this.

It was said that the Press Council of India is a toothless tiger. Of course, it is a toothless tiger but why not strengthen it? Why not amend the Press Council of India? It just focuses on the print media and does not include the audio-visual media, which is as important as print and needs to be included under the provisions of the Press Council of India. The power to impose pecuniary penalties should also be given to the Press Council of India and its infrastructure needs to be improved. This institution needs to be strengthened. I want the panellists to respond on if they could voluntarily disclose their assets including their shares on their website.

A: Arun Jaitley: I think the best way to not solve a problem is to go for suggestions that look very attractive but achieve very little. I have always held a very unpopular view that declaration of assets by candidates may be a good step, but it is not the end, because it is a very small, if not meaningless step. Eventually, what happens is, you declare what you have disclosed in your tax. The honest politician in India pays all his taxes and discloses everything because he has declared it in his income tax. The dishonest politician in India does not declare it in his tax and therefore does not do so in his affidavit either. Those in the judiciary pass judgements and those who make such suggestions think that they have cleansed Indian politics by mere declaration of assets. Ultimately, it is the correct assets of honest politicians that are being declared; the rest are being grossly underStated. It does not achieve much as it is a limited step. I don’t think it solves all the problems.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta: I would like to add something to this issue. About five years ago, Bennett Coleman Co. Ltd. started whole private treaties. In 2008, by their own admission, they had about 170 or 180 companies in which they held shares. It was India’s biggest private equity investor. We know that there is a mutual back-scratching. Two things happened, which took the sheen off this whole private treaties business. One was the collapse of the share market. The Sensex is no longer sexy; it was 21,000 in January 2008 but has not reached that level even today. But there is another point. The Income Tax Department valued the transactions on the date on which the transactions took place for the purpose of calculating the assessable income for the purpose of levying corporation tax. This took some of the sheen out. On 27th August, the Securities and Exchange Board of India made it disclosure by the media every article, every editorial comment that appears in any newspaper mandatory. Newspapers should mention whether that company has any shareholdings, the percentage of shareholdings and if there are any agreements such as nominees of the media companies on the board of directors. To the best of my knowledge, this circular, in my opinion has not been followed. You can pick up the copy of The Times of India, The Economic Times or the Hindustan Times and you will find many of these 170 companies were listed on the website, but articles about them do not mention it at all.

Mint is one publication which has made an exception. They say wherever there is an interest, they do not disclose the percentage of shareholding nor do they disclose the facts. For instance, will HT Media of which Rajan Bharti Mittal is a director, mention that in every article about say Bharti Airtel? This is the question. This is a mandatory guideline. SEBI had asked the Press Council of India many months ago; it has come. The question is the effectiveness of the guidelines.

Q: Wing Commander Guha: One of India’s erstwhile Prime Ministers had once said that, “I will hang black-marketers from the nearest lamp post.” Today, those lamp posts are not found.

Q: Pramod Chawla from National Network for India Trust: I gathered at a recent sammelan that we now have 423 television channels and 70,000 journalists in India. I also recollect very vividly that when met the former home minister Shivraj Patil and told him that he would have to declare his assets, he replied that I had to be joking as most of politicians’ assets are benami. I asked him to at least make a beginning. I told him that he was also filing the income tax returns and so was I, he should at least declare that much. A beginning has to be made. I have also told Dr. Moily that the ARC recommendations have been thrown out of the window. Democracy in India today is in the mortuary.

Q: Venkat Mahajan, Consultant in Information Technology and Chain Management at JNU: We are all aware that the world is changing very fast. Unfortunately, practically all our institutions are almost perhaps a couple of centuries old. They were not designed or built to take care of technology. We did not have TV, telephones or the Internet. Today, we have a representative democracy. What does that mean? In the good old days when disheartened, rich or poor could go to Parliament House and it was believed that those who were elected would represent the people. But members of Parliament do not care after being elected. We have talked a lot about this but when MPs are elected to Parliament they do not even bother to attend. What they debates, how productive they are, whether they debates for something else, whether they have the capability to debate is a huge question. All that they do is to vote in favour of their party, which votes for extraneous considerations and actually represents money power in politics. We have couple of trillion dollars in Swiss banks, which is basically a portion of our black economy. The black economy rules elections today and this is what the State of affairs is.

What is the other way? Technology today empowers us; it has changed the rules of the game. Somebody talked about 500 channels; we could probably have 10,0000 channels. We have got television and Internet. Each person can have his own channel. He does not need big money. All he needs is an idea, a PC and he can get started. With this we can change the rules and don’t have to keep a track of who has done what. We can straightaway do things. One is to go for direct referendums. Secondly, we can democratise the media by this.

Q: Sudev Tiwari: My question is addressed to Mr. Arun Jaitley. What are your compulsions that even notorious criminals share a dais with you, share your company, are able to contest elections and enter Parliament with impurity? If this trend continues, it is by no means impossible that even a highly wanted international criminal like Dawood Ibrahim may become the country’s prime minister. This particular meet has some of India’s professional journalists and committed political representative like Mr. Jaitley. Why then do you not do something about this malaise? On the contrary, you appear so helpless. I, a very small fry by comparison, can deliver results in the position I am and quit my position if I fail to do so. If those who occupy the position of power cannot deliver results, why then should they be there at all?

A: Arun Jaitley: I will just respond to the limited suggestion made because I see a big danger from the nature of queries. At times, we see cynicism at its best. We don’t want criminals sitting next to us. It is voters like some of you who elect them. The State of Uttar Pradesh had a phenomenon. There, almost 40 per cent of the candidates used to get re-elected and 50-60 per cent of the sitting candidates used to get defeated. A number of candidates contested as independents. 40 to 50 per cent of sitting candidates of political parties were re-elected; 40-50 per cent were defeated, but 80-90 per cent of the criminals who contested were all re-elected. One possible reason that I have analysed, particularly in the case of UP and Bihar, is that after parties got divided hugely on caste lines, caste started providing a social sanction to a caste criminal. If one picked a candidate who was a vice-chancellor, a very distinguished man and the second choice would be an individual from the mafia, but carrying the tag of a particular caste or community, the mafia person would have better chances of being elected because caste provides him a social sanction whereas the vice-chancellor candidate does not have that social sanction. This process has continued. I think the only silver lining I have seen in these two particular States where this phenomenon is large is the last 2009 Parliament elections in Bihar. This is perhaps the first election after many, in which most of the mafia who contested lost. Therefore, we don’t invite them to sit next to us. This social sanction to such elements must end and this question must be seriously addressed by me, you and all political parties that the voter should not elect such elements. Some political parties do give tickets to them while some don’t, but the difficulty today is that even those political parties which excel in giving them dole out the explanation that they are not in the business of losing elections but are in the fray to win elections. And as long as caste gives criminals the social sanction and people support them, what does one do?

Originally, I had seen that this phenomenon was applicable only to one or two castes particularly known for their strong-arm methods. But over the years, it has spread across caste-lines to most castes. Castes that were earlier considered more submissive have also caught on to this factor of social sanction for criminal elements. This whole issue really will have to be looked into from this particular viewpoint. It is not that people are becoming very enamoured of having criminals sit next to them.

A: Gopalalswami: There is one comment on what Mr. Arun Jaitley said. I think it would be very useful if 49 (O) negative voting is brought in. Second, 50%+1 must be made the winning vote. This is my suggestion on some of the issues.

A: Arun Jaitley: Since we are discussing this, I want to join issue. This sounds very attractive in a seminar but if one looks at the real character of the polity, post-1984, no single party has ever obtained a majority. We have entered the business of coalition governments. Per se, I am not against coalitions; there are many assets which coalition governments can have, but if we get into the process, I am not so sure if an alternative system will ease political instability. And at a crucial juncture, socially and in terms of economic development that we are in, this may add to instability.

I will give you a practical illustration. In 1971, there was a Parliamentary select committee to examine changing over to other forms of electoral systems. There were the JP, Tarkunde and other committees with various other reports. About 8-10 years ago, I think the Election Commission or the Law Commission too put forth this proposal when Jeevan Reddy was there, to suggest changes to this. We looked back at all the reports. Between 1970 and 2010, one basic change is that all post-1991 political parties have been caste-centric, i.e., the new parties which have emerged in this case. The age of structured political parties in India is diminishing. Parties with internal democracy are seeing their space shrink. There is the phenomenon of one family or one individual controlling the party. The late Chowdhury Charan Singh had once beautifully put this in Hindi when he said: “duniya mein party leader banaati hain, hamare yahan leader party banaate hain”; wherever he goes the party goes with him. The paradigm of politics has changed in India. Parties are centred round an individual who more often than not, is identified with a caste. There is a succession growth close through his family. Barring two or three structured political parties, all others are headed in this direction, especially from 1991 onwards. Today, if we were to switch over to other forms of systems — this possible suggestion Mr. Gopalaswami made is one of them — I am not so sure if it will have an impact. The caste impact has made its presence felt in some States, where if one were to ask somebody how voting takes place say, in a State like Uttar Pradesh, they say that there one has castes, not parties. One has as many political parties as the castes themselves. I am not so sure if today we were to think in terms of a changeover, it wouldn’t add to instability by having a larger number of parties sending their representatives. We may even have parties sending only two, three or five MPs to Parliament, adding to the already existing instability.

A: A B Bardhan: I have a couple of comments to make as far as political parties are concerned. I am, of course, talking of the established political parties, those that have not come into existence as a result of propriety rights of other parties. There are individuals running the party and down the line it is their kin or relations running those parties. First of all, I think it is we who must decide. Established political parties decide not to put up candidates who are criminals. This is a conscious step that has to be taken. If you know they are criminals, don’t put them up as candidates.

Of course, no party wants to lose elections but there is always a possibility that one may lose one or more elections. What is the worst that can happen in an election? One either wins or loses. The heavens will not collapse if one loses. We are all used to losing. But let political parties not put up criminals as candidates.

Secondly, we must arouse the people’s consciousness not to vote for elections. This is a must. Some criminals are more winnable than vice-chancellors and other honourable citizens. Therefore, there is no point in putting up vice-chancellors; they simply don’t get elected. Such people are the best candidates for the Rajya Sabha, with due apologies to Arun Jaitley. I have been of the opinion that he should have always contested for the Lok Sabha.

Third, I want to forcefully put forth a proposal. The suggestion of a 50 per cent+1 vote is something which I am absolutely wedded to. If it can succeed in so many countries, why can it not work in India? We are always used to managing mega events, even this run of elections can be managed by the Election Commission as well as any other. 50 per cent+1 is an excellent idea and must be implemented. It is the law in some countries even in the presidential elections in many countries, where the president does not get elected unless he has 50 per cent+1 votes. This is not the case in the first-past-the-post-system. We are copying the Anglo-Saxon system. Democracies that are not Anglo-Saxon have a different system. I can tell you with confidence that the 50 per cent+1 system cannot be manipulated by mafias and criminals. It is difficult for them, because most of them get elected on the basis of caste. And caste candidates can get elected only when there is more division among the voters.

Finally, I would like to suggest that we should also think about some proportional representation. The system of proportional representation is working in a number of other countries. European countries have them and it is prevalent in many other countries too. Though it is difficult, but at least criminals will not get elected. Small minorities will be elected and it will give them some confidence.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta: It is always a pleasure to find the Left and the Right agreeing on certain issues, more so, when we are supposed to have a fractured polity. I want to just make an observation on two points that were made by Mr. Chawla and Mr. Mahajan on the proliferation of television channels. 423 channels of Indian origin have a right to uplink. If one includes those with down linking facilities, the permission given by I&B ministry is 600-plus. We are the only country in the world where one can get 600 channels. It is interesting the dramatic transformation. Till 1991, we had only on broadcaster. Twenty years later, we are the only country with 600 broadcasters.

I would like to make one point on the issue of television somebody raised, about the Press Council of India not having the powers to regulate electronic media. The laws of capitalism tell us that if we have one monopoly producer making soap, it is a worse situation that having ten people. Good competition is good for the consumer. The media is not like other products. As Mr. Jaitley said, it is not just food for your belly but food for thought. But the media in India is also a classic example of how the intensification of competition has actually seen a lowering of the ethical standards. This is one observation I want to make.

Q: Anil Seal: Mr. Thakurta, I want to bring this discussion back to money power and paid news during elections. What we have gone into is essentially, looking at how we might improve matters generally. But we may come back to the main issue. You mentioned papers, television channels owned or dominated by political parties; those fall under paid news. In many countries, advertisements in main newspapers put in by the incumbent government are the main source of revenue for the media. So really, all news is paid. The question is: how do we indicate to the voter what the past of a particular channel is? If there is a code of conduct that declares which papers are backing who and who owns them, then that gives us some information. Those which are set up independently and not owned by anyone are trying to get in on this act in order to make money and try to survive. They have also to declare themselves in the advertisement. But essentially isn’t the phenomenon right across the board? It will be never be simple, as it is a hugely complex way of declaring what interest. Is it an immediate interest because someone is given money or is it a long-term interest whenever the party requires it?

A: Paranjoy Guha Thakurta: You are absolutely right. At least, I do not disagree with you one bit. The issue is one of disclosure, of transparency. Let’s have a disclaimer even if it is a fig-leaf of a disclaimer. When we a buy a packet of potato chips, we know what is supposed to be in it. That is what the law of land says. We should be able to differentiate between what has been paid for and what has not been paid for.

Dr. Anil Seal: Then we come to the point which is hugely important point. Now there are in fact, thousands of ways in which people at large can say that there have been disclosures made as to who owns the newspaper. These disclosures, nine times out of ten are lies and more lies, but there are communities and people who can say that such and such politicians or newspapers are telling the truth because we know he is a leading figure, he has asking property and we also know that this newspaper is offering. It is in fact, information which will undermine all these fig leaves.

A: Krishnamurthy: I want to make two observations. One is proliferation of political parties in India, particularly on the basis of caste and language, which is because of the first-past-the-post system. If that can be tackled, I think proliferation can be checked to a large extent.

The second point is about the media. The advertisement code which is required by the government says that no political advertisement can take place in the electronic media. When it was brought to the notice of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, they said that they were unable to enforce it. They say that throughout the country, there are more than 30,000 operators in various districts and hence, they will not be able to regulate it. These are the inadequacies of the existing system.

Q: Nitin Pujari, representative from an organisation at Bhopal: We are working on facilitating money on welfare schemes to reach the end point. I have listening to everybody and it seemed everyone was passing the buck to each other; politicians point to media, the media to the public, i.e., the electorate. This is the environment now. People who are real stakeholders also include the leaders, judiciary, Election Commission, media. This menace is everywhere. Which place is free from it? Who is not responsible for it? Each one of us is.

This has been happening for quite some time and the more we are trying to cover up things, the more it is increasing. We may work out ways and means to curb media; they will probably have new ways to take it further. It is a very basic question of our environment. When we fought for independence, there was a sentiment among people that obtained us independence. My suggestion is for two things that can be worked upon: participation and transparency.

Q: Manjira Khurana; volunteer of FAME: I am a representative of the ‘aam aadmi’ because I hold no official position. I have just one request. Let this just not be another debate. We may have specific points in a session but it is obvious that it is only a comprehensive package of reforms which can deliver a solution, be it negative voting, 50 per cent+1 voting, proportional representation, or cap on party’s expenditure.

Q: Satbir Bedi: Members of Parliament agree very quickly when it comes to increasing their own salaries in Parliament. Keeping these issues under the carpet is also an implicit agreement that explicitly we continue to disagree and not discuss things.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta: We will close the question and answer session now. I am going to ask the three panellists to respond. I will give my suggestions. If we cannot empower the Press Council of India then we must set up a regulatory body which can be funded by the government but should be autonomous, truly independent of the government as well as the media, like the Election Commission, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, and the office of the Supreme Court. If we can set up such a regulatory body, if we can have Federal Communications Commission, an office of communications among other regulatory bodies, why not have such a body for the media? I am not advocating a return to the days of the Emergency, but we should have an ombudsman and self-regulatory mechanisms. If people step beyond the proverbial Lakshman Rekha then we need a regulator, empower that regulator, make it truly independent despite being funded by the government. This is my only suggestion. As to the problem of who will appoint the regulator among other things; these are issues on which we can have a separate discussion and debate. For the ten years, this discussion has been going on and I am sure we can have one more. I now request the panellists to give their closing comments.

N Gopalaswami: All I can say is that we are not sufficiently empowering the Election Commission because there are limitations. One has to think of solutions with the political parties, the stakeholders on this issue; otherwise, it is not going to be easy to tackle this.

Arun Jaitley: I shall just make two comments. One, when we make specific suggestions it is also essential that things happen in Parliament. It is a very popular but a very dangerous phenomenon, because democracy cannot be the tyranny of the unelected. Democracy, after all, involves a process where State assemblies, Parliament and hundreds of people are elected and therefore to imagine that they do nothing, do not attend the house and only increase their own salaries, is a wrong impression which people have. But since politics and Parliamentarians are in the business of asking for votes, they have a right to be criticised and have an obligation to take it in this manner.

As far as appointing a regulator for media, the Press Council etc., I don’t think that really is the answer. We have hundreds of channels and thousands of newspapers. I think they balance each other out and therefore, all news would have to be scrutinised. I don’t think as a democracy, we ought to get into this. Paid news is a problem that has cropped up. We have to put our heads together and see how we can stop it. There is a specific suggestion I had made and I don’t want to get into this further as there is a constitutional complication, as I see it. Only when the government, agencies like the Election Commission, the State governments, Parliament, all political parties, media organisations and civil society organisations put their heads together and debate it at length can we find a specific answer to this specific problem.

A B Bardhan: I am reminded of a story of Tagore. The more regulators we appoint, the more we will have to appoint regulators over those regulators. Tagore in his story wrote that his milk had more water and less milk, and the more he tried to stop it by appointing some people to supervise the milkman, the water content went on increasing.  I am also against appointing more and more regulators. Who is supposed to appoint these regulators? The same commission? Let us not get into that.

Ultimately, I hold this position that it is the system that has to be changed, not the Election Commission or some rules here and there. But the transformation of the system is a very tall order so let’s not get into that debate.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta: Thank you Mr. Bardhan

Venkat Mahajan: All are rightly saying that the system needs to change. We are about hundred people here in this room discussing this subject. Parliament will not have time to discuss this. I am sure the proceedings of the programme are being recorded. Can we have it on You Tube or Facebook and continue the dialogue?

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta:  This dialogue will continue after the lunch-break. There is one more panel that will meet for another session. It has been my honour and privilege. Mr. Bardhan’s comments reminded me of what my former head of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission had once said. He said he had a milkman who said he had two kinds of milk. One, milk with water and the other without water and the rates of both were different. Though he was not, in his opinion, indulging in any unfair trade practice because he would openly tell the consumer which one was adulterated milk and which was not. At the end of the day, we are all arguing for greater transparency. We conclude this discussion now.



Dr. Bhure Lal, Chairman, EPCA

Shri T S Krishnamurthy, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India

Shri T K Viswanathan, Former Law Secretary, Govt. Of India

Shri P P Rao, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India 

Manjira Khurana 

Distinguished panellists, participants, friends, I throw open the second session now. This session is on Strengthening Indian Democracy – The Way Forward. Again, we have eminent personalities. We have a law secretary, a former CEC, a Supreme Court advocate and a very interesting multifaceted personality Mr. Bhure Lal, the chairman of EPCA, on the dais. I request Mr. T S Krishnamurthy, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India and Vice-Chairman of FAME to please take the dais.

I request Dr. Bhure Lal, who is known for his stint in the Enforcement Directorate, having worked with two prime ministers, to come on the dais. Mr. Bhure Lal is a member of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee and we are very happy that he is associated with FAME.

I also request Mr. T K Vishwanathan, Former Law Secretary and Shri P P Rao, Advocate, Supreme Court of India to come up on the dais.

I request Mr. Krishnamurthy to act as the moderator of the session to lead the discussions. Each speaker has about ten minutes and the moderator should take the discussions to a logical conclusion and also invite questions from the audience. I also request Mr. Krishnamurthy to sum up the deliberations. Thank you.


A very good afternoon to all ladies and gentlemen. We are very happy to proceed with the second technical session. The topic is Strengthening Indian Democracy – The Way Forward, which is a very vast subject. But I hope the focus will be on electoral democracy, otherwise we can spread to so many areas for which the time available to us may not be adequate. We have eminent people to speak on the subject. We have Mr. P P Rao, an advocate and a constitutional expert; Mr. T K Vishwanathan, former Law Secretary, though they have omitted to mention that he is now the Advisor to the Law Minister. Dr. Bhure Lal is of course, well-known for his forthright and blunt views apart from having decorated many posts in the Government of India. I now request Mr. P P Rao to start the ball rolling. When he speaks, you would know how competent he is on the subject that he is going to speak on.


Thank you Mr. Krishnamurthy, esteemed panelists, friends, ladies and gentlemen. The topic of strengthening Indian democracy is a very important one. Though it strikes a positive note, mere criticism or cursing the doctors is not enough; we must try to light a candle in times of darkness. We have heard the views of eminent persons in the pre-lunch session and there is any amount of literature available on electoral reforms itself. There is no dearth of recommendations; well-meaning, well-considered and well-thought out recommendations. We had the Chairman of the National Commission review the working of the constitution in the forenoon session but what is lacking is implementation. Reforms have to come through law and laws have to be enacted by Parliament. Most major political parties in their election manifestoes promise reforms and when in power, they get paralysed and the promised reforms are not carried through. To my mind, Indian democracy survives principally due to two institutions — the judiciary and the Election Commission. Even in the judiciary, occasionally, we hear allegations of corruption. But I have not heard anybody alleging corruption on the part of the Election Commission. The Election Commission has been exceedingly doing good work; the same can be said about the Law Commission and about the constitution. This organisation established by former chief election commissioners and other officers connected with the Election Commission like the Secretary distinguish themselves by their character and the selfless work they have put into and discharging this onerous task to the satisfaction of all concerned, not only in our country but elsewhere too.

The first point I would like to State is that your organisation has great credibility. This is your investment — kindly make use of this asset. I have seen a study by the Centre for Media Studies, which says that the present Parliament consists of more persons with criminal antecedents than the previous ones. It also consists of more persons who symbolise money power than previous Parliaments. There was a time when Indian politicians came from a stock that had taken active part in our freedom struggle, and did not have to share power with criminals. Today, even the cleanest politician is forced to share power with criminals. This is the unfortunate State of affairs. The result of this is that terrorism is spreading like nobody’s business. Another danger to democracy is that even educated youth are getting sucked into terrorist activities due to frustration. They don’t find opportunities which should go to them.

What do they do? They are taking to arms. There is open rebellion and defiance of authority. Every day, we see this in various parts in Jammu and Kashmir. Terrorist outfits have spread to different parts of the country to the extent that the terrorists’ have their sway in certain belts. Democracy is receding and governments do not run in those places. You can see what is happening in Chattisgarh every week, or how unprepared we were when the terrorist attack took place in Mumbai on 26/11/08.

Our country suffers from lack of good governance. The constitution speaks in the name of “We, The People of India”. We are supposed to be the supreme sovereign authority in the country. What is the power that is given to us? During election time, citizens simply go to the polling booth, choose one of the candidates and have to be content with what happens thereafter. Clearly, this has to change. We have excellent recommendations already in place. How to make Parliament act on them? This is the real problem for which I have a small suggestion. This body has the goodwill of many persons in the country; honest people, men with character and integrity. Kindly connect them and build up public opinion. Only under the pressure of public opinion can we make the Parliament work and on electoral reforms. This is a must and we have to do it otherwise, we are going to face very serious turmoil.

In a recently memorial lecture at Shimla, covered by The Tribune, I had the occasion to speak on the theme of Working the Constitution. I reiterated in that lecture, what C Rajagopalachari wrote in his presidential diary only 25 years before independence in 1922. It is worth recalling Rajaji’s words. In 1922, C. Rajgopalachari wrote in his presidential diary: "elections and corruption, injustice and the power and tyranny of wealth and inefficiency of administration will make hell of life as soon as freedom is given to us. Men will look regretfully back to the old regime of comparative justice, an efficient, peaceful and more or less honest administration.” He added, “Hope lies only in universal education by which right conduct, fear of God and love will be developed among citizens from childhood.” Good governance is a must if democracy has to survive.

Good governance is absent today. Why do people rush to courts? We can see people in large numbers because courts are unable to dispense justice because of lack of good governance. If there is good governance, the number of files would be much less. Today, it is the government itself that is the biggest litigant. It is a promoter of litigation; by arbitrary actions, it drives people to courts. Is it a wise policy for any government to fight its own employees in court or allow its employees to go and fight it in the court? I think no wise master should allow his employee to fight in some other forum. It should be sorted out in the house. Why can’t they have a judicial ombudsman in each department to sort out the grievances? As the late Nani Palkhiwala had so aptly put it, for every post, be it that of an electrician, driver or even a chaprasi (peon), a modicum of qualification or eligibility is required but there is absolutely no requirement for a legislator except that he should have attained 25 years of age, should be a citizen of India and should not suffer from any illness or mental disease. He is then deemed fit to rule and legislate for the whole country. This is the whole tragedy of it. Even Jawaharlal Nehru in his days, felt the need to induct experts into his cabinet. The present Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh was inducted by the late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. It is quite obvious that there is a need to include more experts and individuals of character. I am aware that Parliament will find it difficult to change things and quite frankly, the majority of them don’t want to change things with a few exceptions, whose voice is not heard. Today, even a clean prime minister cannot drop a corrupt minister from his council of ministers unless he is prepared to risk the fall of the government as long as the corrupt minister enjoys the support of his colleagues in party. We can see these kinds of things happening. Things have to change and it will have to change only by the pressure of public opinion. All of us have to work for that.

I want to make a couple of points. The Election Commission at least has the power to amend this insane order. Why should we have so many political parties in the country? Why can’t we tighten laws a bit and raise the norms? What is the distinction between a national party and a State party? A party which does not have a presence in even four States is called a national party and continues to strut about behaving like one. The term “national party” must have some meaning; its numbers in Parliament must be close to at least the half-way mark or must have a presence in many States, or both. Otherwise, we must have a three or four-tiered classification like State party, multi-State party and national party. There are parties that have a presence only in two or three States, like the CPI (M). At the most, it can be called a multi-State party. Why should it be called it a national party? What is “national” about it?

The status of a national party should be confined to only two parties at the most, taking the largest two parties in the country. Secondly, I am all for the mandatory winning margin of 50 per cent+1 votes and negative voting. Krishna Kant, India’s late vice-president used to indulge in lengthy discussions about these things. In one of his convocational addresses at a university on this topic, he felt that if these two things were carried out, our democracy could be purified to a great extent. The British divided us and ruled us, no doubt, but it was limited to a two-fold division of Hindus and Muslims. But today, our rulers have shamelessly divided us manifold; caste against caste, community against community. What was the Rath Yatra all about? Was it not for mobilizing a particular community which was bound to evoke reservations and apprehensions in the minds of the other community? Let us remember that unity is the goal of the constitution. Fraternity is mentioned in the Preamble of the constitution. Our duty is to promote unity and fraternity. But what are we doing?

The ship of democracy is sinking. I am clear in my mind that only pressure of public opinion can save this. Here, the media has a great role to play but unfortunately, the media is not using its freedom in a responsible manner. Paid news, a serious menace, has already been spoken about at length and I do not wish to say add more to what has already been said, but if the media misuses its freedom, then we are losing an important pillar of democracy. Democracy in that case cannot stand for long. What then are we left with? A few NGOs like FAME, and individuals who are intellectuals with character and are respected even today. My appeal is to try to raise voice of public opinion, mobilize it and if we are already doing it, the need of the hour is for us to do it in a bigger way. Organizations like FAME have the goodwill of all patriotic citizens of this country, who pray for some organization that will be able to voice these concerns and dump corrupt politicians who assume power through muscle and money.

Long ago, in 1988, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, one of the great leaders of this country and a highly respected political figure, had delivered the Deshraj Chowdhary Memorial Lecture where he analyzed the polity of our country. He had then said that anyone who enters politics today eyes only ministerial berths and power and pelf, and is not bothered about serving the country. Rather than the nation’s prosperity, it is their own prosperity they pursue. Friends, things are going from bad to worse. I am glad that FAME has taken the initiative, which I wholeheartedly support. I shall be most happy to contribute whatever little I can. We have to save the country and cannot allow the ship of democracy to sink further. Thank you.



Except for your passionate plea to save the sinking ship of democracy in India, the only saving grace is we are probably slightly better than our neighbouring countries. But that should not be any major consolation to us. This seminar is an opportunity as the earlier panellists mentioned that there is a window of opportunity available, at least at this stage, to strengthen democracy. We note that some of the points that Mr. Rao has made were mentioned by Justice Venkatachaliah too namely, the observations of C Rajagopalachari as to how India would fare independence. Thank you very much for your passionate plea. I now request Mr. Vishwanathan to offer his views. Mr. Vishwanathan is a very quiet person for a bureaucrat, but he has lot of inside information in the law ministry. I am sure he will be able to give us some highlights of the government’s views on the reforms.


Thank you, sir. Dr Bhure Lal, my respected colleague, Mr. P P Rao and other distinguished participants, Mr. Krishnamurthy has mentioned that I have lot of inside information. I have been associated with the Election Commission ever since I joined legislative department two decades ago.

We have been serving the Election Commission, which is one of our brand institutions and one that which we are proud of. I have handled many election commissioners and chief election commissioners, some of whom are present on the dais and in the audience. We are very happy because the Election Commission is one of the institutions which have withstood the assault of politicians and has continued to do a great job. I can vouch that the Election Commission is a on a very strong footing; it is not amenable to any influence. The present topic is very relevant, and as my colleague Mr. P P Rao put it, there is a total failure of good governance and in fact, lack of governance itself.

The greatest challenge which Indian democracy today facing six decades after our having attained independence is the challenge of reforming our electoral system. Article 81 (2A), as you may probably be aware, mandates that seats may be allotted to each State in such manner that the ratio between the seats so allotted and the population of the State is — as far as practicable —the same for all the States. In practice, for various reasons and due to the constitutional phrasing, we have a distortion here. We have elected representatives representing more than ten lakh electorate in some parts of the country while in some other places, they represent only one or two lakh populace. There is have such a wide disparity that it resembles fluctuations in currencies, where a dollar and a rupee are not equal. In a democracy with one person having only one vote, one MP or MLA should represent the same number of voters in all parts of the country. This is a need and can be achieved only when we look at the more fundamental problem of how we reform our system by ourselves. We have to have a constitutional mandate which mandates that after reaching a certain level of population, every State has to be broken up so that we maintain this democratic balance. If we think the powers of State governments would be are compromised because they lose out in this population exercise, we can have a senate-like institution empowering the upper house which would reflect the views of State governments. These are all the things on which we have to deliberate.

 A former law minister, whom I do not wish to name, had once said that the lawyers are not interested in legal reforms and politicians are not interested in electoral reforms. That is true. I have been facing requests for electoral reforms from the Election Commission, and it has been a marathon task to push cabinet notes. The standard refrain always, is that it has been the considered view of the government that unless there is an all-party political consensus, we will not move ahead. This consensus always eludes. Nobody wants electoral reforms as they clearly know what is in it for them. But in spite of this, starting from (the late) Dinesh Goswami’s report in 1990, many reforms have found their way into law. It is a great tribute to our system and the persistence of the Election Commission and public spirit. Take for example, the declaration of assets. In 1987, one MP, Satyaprakash Malviya brought in a private member’s bill that all MPs should declare their assets. It was considered blasphemous at that point of time. A few assurances were given, but there were many attempts to ensure that this did not get implemented. This was in 1987; things continued in the same fashion. With more people entering the political fray, there was a persistence demand that representatives declare their assets. In 1993, when the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments were brought into force, Panchayati Raj and urban bodies reforms was initiated, the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act was sought to be amended to bring it in compliance with the 73rd and 74th Amendments. Therein, a clause was put in that the Councillors would declare their assets in the 1993 Bill, i.e., the Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill.

Probably some of them did not notice it. The Bill was introduced in the Parliament but when politicians woke up, there was a great furore when the bill was going to be introduced. The home minister was simply not present. Some of us who were present in the official gallery were surprised as the speaker was calling and nobody turned up. The Bill naturally, was not introduced. In spite of that, due to the persistence of the Election Commission and other PILs, MPs today are declaring their assets. It is a different scenario now, but it has taken more than fifteen years. We find that it takes very long to effect reforms but it requires tenacity, perseverance and continuous hammering by public-spirited citizens. Therefore, I congratulate FAME for carrying this forward though results will not emerge overnight. It takes a long time and continuous debate.

As far as representatives of people are concerned, there is a total lack of performance audit. Looking at Parliament, one would not know the performance of MPs. We have a performance audit for almost everybody; even bureaucrats and judges have informal performance audits of their performance. But as far as elected representatives are concerned, there is simply no method of ascertaining out their performance in Parliament. The principal function of our legislators is to make laws, but very little time spent in enacting legislation. We find that laws are pushed through and it is very difficult to get legislation enacted with any meaningful debate. If any meaningful debate does take place, more often than not, the proposed law does not get through. Fortunately, to some extent, due to the committee system, there is some amount of examination and deliberations on the bills that are being brought forward in Parliament.

There are mechanisms like recall in other countries where people can have their representatives recalled for lack of integrity. We must consider similar systems in our country now, because their time has come. We too have expelled some MPs. We have to recognize that the judiciary is now under strain and have to think of new mechanisms to deal with how to improve the efficiency of Parliamentarians. We also have to give serious thought to referendums. Right now, we don’t have the mechanisms to gauge people’s will. Elections alone cannot be taken as an answer for certain issues, as this premise is no longer valid; there have to be other mechanisms too. We talk about increasing numbers in Parliament, but Parliamentary time for the question hour has not increased. It has always been one hour every day, which is lost in bickering and not even two-star questions have progressed in every session every day. It is clear that our governance is going nowhere. The present century is the age of new means, especially the electronic media and communication. Everything is compressed; even business models are continuously evolving. Why don’t we have arrangements where questions and answers can be recorded? It need not happen at the same time from 11’o clock in the morning till 5’o clock in the evening, when disruptions are there.

The Lok Sabha TV channel can be used to great advantages, for deliberations in order to make people aware. Mr. P. P. Rao must pardon me for saying so, but many lawyers and judges are not aware of the speed at which laws are now being enacted. Society is changing very rapidly and we have to respond, but most lawyers are not keeping pace with events and do not know what laws have been enacted in Parliament daily. These are also issues that must engage us.

I know the Election Commission has been passionate about negative voting. Mr. Krishnamurthy is quite convinced of it wants negative voting to be introduced. The government did not accept it because it leads nowhere. There will be negative voting against a majority of the representatives in Parliament. These are issues on which people have strong opinions and there is public opinion on the behaviour and conduct of our Parliamentarians.

I congratulate FAME for taking the lead and hope that they will think along new lines. The need of the hour is for thinking of radical ideas. For some time we toyed with the idea of the list system, but blind masses do not take us anywhere. Of course, it is impossible to expect results overnight. Public awareness has to be channelized as there is increasing public anger, especially against the judiciary and Parliamentarians.

I congratulate Mr. Lyngdoh and Mr. Krishnamurthy for taking the flame of FAME forward. We are also proud of our election commissioners and chief election commissioners, who are doing a great job. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share my thoughts with you.


Thank you very much, Mr. Vishwanathan for throwing some light on how the government reacts to our proposals. I now request Dr. Bhure Lal to offer his views. Dr. Bhure Lal has been in the government and after his retirement, he is the chairman of the monitoring committee in the Supreme Court relating to properties in Delhi.


I wish to State quite clearly before this august gathering that everything is permissible in this country barring governance. It is my contention that there is a “performance audit” for legislators too — their lung power, the shouting in Parliament. The subject of this seminar is democracy – how to safeguard and strengthen it. Democracy is probably perceived to be a form of government which offers an individual to develop himself to the best of abilities and opportunities. (The late American President) Abraham Lincoln who famously defined democracy as the government “of the people, by the people and for the people, had probably envisioned that democracy is a number game in which numbers of elected representatives would enthrone or dethrone a government. Lincoln must be turning in his grave seeing the plight of democracy in this country. Democracy now has become: buy the people, (live) off the people and far (from) the people.

Democracy today has become a crass game to buy the people. We may pat ourselves on the back and boast that we have conduct regular elections in the biggest democracy. Are we not aware of what elected and supposedly enlightened MLAs were recently doing in Jharkhand? A sting operation revealed how money power nakedly played its role. Can we call this democracy? The practice of buying the people — or their representatives — is not happening for the first time, as it has happened earlier too. We have failed to take stock of the situation and plug this weakness which has all but destroyed the democratic space in our country.

The regime virtually lives off the people because once legislators are elected, they make do for themselves and he has no connect with their electorate or the people who elected them. Naturally, this may even result in bad legislation. Laws like FEMA and the Master Plan 2021 have already been amended almost forty times a year. What kind of laws are we enacting? Despite the constant terrorist threat, it was only the Mumbai incident a couple of years ago that made us realise that there is a terrorist threat and we must do something about it. Such is our retrograde thinking. The security laws and apparatus in the US are very stringent. After 9/11, they enacted laws which treated such offenders at par with national offenders with a punishment up to 20 years. We, on the other hand, have made even terrorist acts non-cognizable and bailable offences.

Democracy in our country is also far removed from the people, their needs, interests and aspirations, as voters are remembered by politicians only when elections approach. Otherwise, politicians are not bothered about the people.

Democracy, if it is to survive must have economic equality as far as possible. Imagining about political democracy without economic equality is an impossibility. The earlier session of this seminar made mention of the stark fact that more than 50 per cent of the country’s Members of Parliament are crorepatis. Their average assets would some Rs5.5 crores. How do we expect democracy to survive in the country when according to the government’s own estimate, 80 per cent of the country’s people live on a daily income of Rs20? The poorest of the poor survive on Rs9 per day. What meaning does the right to vote hold for such people, if at all it has any meaning? We should have attained a reasonable degree of economic equality by now, but all that we see is huge concentration of wealth, money and power in this country in a few hands while the vast majority is treated as dumb-driven people.

Have we ever given a thought how these elected representatives multiply their wealth? If we were to simply cast a glance on statistics, we will find that some of these elected representatives have registered a growth of a shocking 8000 per cent in their personal wealth in a period of a mere five years. India is no exception to political corruption that may be happening elsewhere too. It is corruption on a grand scale that is driving the electoral process in a wrong and dangerous direction. Henry George had said when democracy becomes corrupt, the best gravitates to the bottom, the worst floats to the top and the vile will be ousted only by the viler. This is exactly what is happening in this country.

Democracy presupposes government by majority. The right thing to do is to ensure a majority government in the country. It will be a misnomer to call India a democracy in the present, because despite claims of being the biggest democracy in the world, our policies manifest themselves only in meaningless schemes and meaningless planning. We have not been able to render good to our masses. What or who are the representatives of people truly representing? People are being ground by poverty every day but those elected continue to prosper. This is not a democracy that will result in anything good for the people. To call it a misnomer would be no exaggeration. For instance, in a recent bye-election, a candidate polled only 7.3 per cent votes of from the electorate in the constituency. It is a fact that more than 90 per cent of the MPs get less than 50 per cent of the votes polled. How can we call it a democracy at all?

33 countries have enacted laws to make voting compulsory. Why can’t we do the same in the country? Why can’t we amend Article 51 (A) of the constitution making voting compulsory? 50 per cent plus one vote must be fixed as the minimum target for getting elected. This will take care of many problems, especially that of caste, money and fissiparous tendencies that can cause disintegration. It will be the right thing to do. Otherwise, the quality of administration is sure to go down further. Poverty will spread, unemployment will remain and people will resign themselves to the State of things, or worse can happen.

Jasbatein mohabbat ka dil se tu izhaar na kar, Pehle bhi bahut vaade kiye hai, aur jhoote ikraar na kar.

(Speak not more sentiments of love; you’ve already made many false promises, don’t beguile us again). But this is what our politicians give our people — false promises.

 Shraap dekar yeh janata ko loot lete hain, note dikhakar yeh gareebon ka vote loot lete hain.

The earlier session also mentioned the fact that in certain States of our country, along with election slips, currency notes of Rs500 or Rs1,000 are enclosed to entice voters. Money flows from Swiss bank accounts and or course, businessmen liberally contribute for elections. These are things we must put an end to if we wish to safeguard democracy in this country. Otherwise, what Doug Larson said, ‘democracy is a system that gives people a chance to elect rascals of their own choosing after fixed intervals’, will be the only norm remaining in our country. We don’t want to see rascals to represent us; we want to see true representatives of people. Only then can the uplift of people be ensured. Let us recognize the fact that elections and the political process have degenerated to a great extent.

Today we see rampant casteism and communalism, which have done us great harm. The caste system has divided society into Dalits, backwards, forwards. Caste has become a certificate of sorts, indeed, a blank cheque to criminals to join a party and get elected. It can happen only in a country like India that a person like Dr. Manmohan Singh loses elections but someone like Mayawati wins elections. To implement their policy of Divide and Rule, the British had set up three commissions: the Morley Minto Commission (1880), the Montagu-Chelmsford Commission (1890) and the Simon Commission (1927), which categorized our country as a “conglomerate” of various castes, religions and cultures. The British decided that there would be caste-based constituencies for Dalits or Harijans. Mahatma Gandhi resorted to a fast unto death to annul this decision. But after 62 years of independence, we are dividing our society further and further. Where will this domination and madness of caste end? Politicians do not want a change to be implemented as it will adversely affect their prospects. They are there because of the 50 per cent caste determination. Their constituency is ensured and they know that they will get elected, irrespective of whether they perform or not. Naturally, they are least interested in any reform in this regard.

It is not only in the matter of elections and voting alone that damage has been inflicted. Services have been caste-infected and communalized. If a person is a civil servant and is posted on caste considerations, where will his/her loyalty lie? Will it lie with the Constitution or with the caste which is giving him/her some reward? The country’s public services will cease to be neutral. The tools and instruments of democracy will become blunt and the good of the country cannot be ensured. Sadly, even the judiciary is not free. I would like to quote what Fali Nariman wrote in the Indian Express (September 9, 2009): “Today, the greatest problem with our courts and High Courts particularly, is the problem of caste. If you are a lawyer belonging to a particular caste, appearing before a judge of that caste, you will either lose or win depending upon your caste.”  If caste is doing us such damage, why are we sticking to this? Why can’t we make a bold decision on that count? Our constitution lays down the aim of achieving a classless and casteless society. Why can’t we decide that there will only be two groups in this country — the haves and the have-nots? If there are to be reservations, they must be only to the have-nots, to which nobody can object. Caste will cease to be a political instrument in that case. If we extend benefits to the poor, nobody will object because the poor of every caste would be included. But if we are categorize people by caste, we are only creating more cleavages in society. Our objective must be to do away with the system and ensure that only the right types of people are in the right places. The institution of caste, which is causing us great damage, should vanish.

Praise of the Election Commission is well merited. It has indeed done a commendable job. But is it satisfied? Has it achieved the ultimate? Or is there something more that remains to be done? The Commission can be called a reservoir of power. During M S Gill’s (former Chief Election Commissioner) tenure, the Supreme Court had laid down that wherever the law is silent, the Election Commission has the right to take a decision which would be legally valid. Has the Commission done so? We have become permissive of coalition governments and all sorts of opportunist alliances and are only playing second fiddle to the government. The Commission too, looks to have become an extended hand of the government. This has to be set right. The Election Commission must be an autonomous and neutral body. The question remains: how are the election commissioners appointed? I would like to go to the basic root. If it is a political appointment, can they remain neutral? Will they be honest to their task?

The necessity and the need of the hour is that the Commission should be neutral, independent and should not be a political body. Otherwise, what happened in the matter of the appointment of Chief Vigilance Commissioner will easily happen in the case of Election Commission too. Is the Commission ready to deal with certain contingencies? Can it prevent unstable and mutually quarrelling coalitions coming into power in this country? If the Commission plays a partisan role, it cannot stop such things from happening. We are witnessing today the role of drug cartels, the moneyed class and of those who openly propagate anarchy. There is an absolute lack of transparency, which, along with accountability, responsiveness and rule of law can be ensured only if we have people of character and integrity in the right places. The present well-entrenched political parties will not permit reforms, which are badly needed.

I shall also add a word about the judiciary. We are familiar with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha case. We also have the Supreme Court judgment on it. The apex court has taken a view and going by its implication, the one who gives the bribe must be hanged but the one who receives the bribe can go scot-free. Can’t the Supreme Court review this judgment suo moto? What justice is it if the bribe-giver is prosecuted but the bribe-taker is allowed to go free?

The present system has failed to deliver. One can see on televisions, the unruly scenes that take place in Parliament. We have witnessed the cash-for-vote scam in Parliament, when an MP openly displayed bundles of notes. It was alleged that each vote — alleged to have been bought to save the government in the no-confidence vote over the nuclear deal — had cost Rs9 crores, and it was only the first instalment that was displayed in the Supreme Court. Politicians have become smart in taking refuge behind certain favourable sections articles of the Constitution. Therefore, there is a need to change the Constitution, something that needs intense deliberations. But in the meantime, let us not pat each other on the back as if we have brought heaven on earth. Things are not rosy at all. Thank you.


Thank you very much, Dr. Bhure Lal. We are well aware of his very strong views, particularly on strengthening democracy and by his own actions, he strived to do that. We must compliment Dr. Bhure Lal for pointing out we have what is a misnomer of a democracy. Most of us would agree with him to a large extent, particularly in view of the fact that though many of our economists claim that we have our strong economic fundamentals and our growth rate is excellent and so on but unfortunately, the ground realities are such that they are not strengthening democracy at all. Inequality has increased in a big way and it is indeed time to point out that we are still lagging quite behind on social and economic equality parameters, in spite of all the promises made by the constitutional founders.

I wrote a book sometime back, titled The Miracle of Democracy. It was not a name I wanted, but my publisher insisted on that very name. My original title was Amazing Democracy. But today, if I were asked to look back and see which out of “amazing” and “miraculous” would have been a more apt title for my book, I am probably more inclined to feel it is a miracle that we continue to be a democracy. Many people have given different descriptions and have different views of India’s democracy. But if we really look at the fundamentals of our democracy, it is exceedingly fragile and delicate. It is soft, distorted, perverted and sometimes pernicious in spite of the fact that it has many bright features. But as an individual who looks forward to what is going to happen to our democracy, I have very serious misgivings and apprehensions as to how we will survive.

A recent editorial in one of the country’s leading national dailies carries a comment about the caste census which has now been agreed to by the government. The editorial mentions that the constitutional fathers wanted a casteless and classless society but our present Parliamentarians seem more interested in strengthening divisive forces in the country. I am doubtful whether twenty years hence democracy will survive, if we do not take corrective and timely action soon.

As far as looking forward to strengthening of democracy is concerned, there are four areas in my opinion, where we can and ought to concentrate. On the legislative side, I feel the recommendations sent by the Election Commission notwithstanding, the adverse situation that Dr. Bhure Lal mentioned needs to be addressed. The present confusing scenario of our electoral system has only strengthened divisive factors. In the earlier session too, I had said that these present first-past-post-system has resulted in a proliferation of political parties. We have a political party which has only two of its members elected to Parliament because of its caste arithmetic and yet has the gumption to demand a cabinet post. Such individuals are willing to compromise with any political party. This is the State of affairs. If two-member party in the Parliament can influence decisions, it is only because first-past-post-system has produced these kinds of distortions. I strongly believe that whatever be the alternative, be it 50 per cent plus one vote, proportional representation, mixed system or any other, there is an urgent need for reform. Politicians will not agree to this because they have enjoyed the fruits of the present first-past-post-system and will not upset their own apple-cart. The so-called political consensus, which Mr. Vishwanathan mentioned, is an official excuse for not acting. It is a pity that we do not have a leader who can tell all these parties that they are wrong and we should change.

The second set of changes required is both with regard to the police and civil services in India. As Mr. P. P. Rao had earlier mentioned, democracy can be strengthened only if the quality of governance improves. The governance deficit has been increasing in this country. The existing inequalities are too glaring to be ignored and it is necessary that these are checked. Otherwise, Maoist violence, Naxalite violence, other kinds of violence as we currently see in some States is bound to increase. Unfortunately, the seriousness of this issue is not addressed at all.

I would like to stress on the need for police reforms. Unfortunately, police all over the country has been used as a tool by the politicians to settle their scores with their opponents. The Supreme Court has delivered a judgment for implementing the recommendations of the Police Commission. Unfortunately, no State government seems interested in doing so and the Supreme Court has appointed a committee under a retired judge to look into the reasons why State governments are not implementing these recommendations. This has been going on for more than two years. Time seems to be a casualty in all these matters.

Many among the audience have spoke about judicial reforms and therefore I don’t have to overemphasize the issue. The minimum we should expect in judicial reforms is that cases must be settled at grassroots level in one year’s time.

In Singapore, for example, the liquidation of companies is completed in one year. There, it is simply mandatory. In India, we have companies under the process of liquidation for fifty years. I see no glimmer of hope in spite of all these changes that have been brought in this regard, as the liquidation procedure continues to be an extremely delayed, distorted and tortuous affair.

The media is the last point I would like to emphasize, though we have had an entire session on paid news. Is there any significant realization on the part of the four pillars of democracy namely, the legislature, executive, judiciary and the media that they have to set their own house in order? My own feeling, even many years after retirement, is that none of them is serious about democracy. This is a very unfortunate Statement to make, but it is true. But can we sit idle? There is an urgent need for change. Otherwise, we may face violent outbursts similar to what is happening in many countries.

One can be proud that Indian democracy has been vibrant but its vibrancy is gradually diminishing. If this trend continues unchecked, we may not have the India our constitutional founders dreamt of, but a totally distorted polity in its place. But seriously, I am worried about the continuance of the country as a single entity after 20-25 years if we do not arrest these tendencies. Changes are possible, but those in authority are not inclined. When I quit office, I met the Prime Minister and told him that I was aware of his limitations as the head of a coalition government, but requested him to at least air his views.

For a better future of this country, we need urgent changes now. None of the political parties are likely to agree but at least the message must be disseminated so that it can possibly lead to some kind of a movement later on. The prime minister said he would consider all my views, but I am yet to hear from him on this. The point is unless people take this up seriously, this status quo will continue.

I shall conclude with what Woodrow Wilson, US President during the First World War, said: “liberty has never been given by any government”. Similarly, I don’t think the government is really serious about democracy and good governance. It is for the people to constantly agitate, not by violent means, but peacefully, and compel the rulers realize that in the long run, democracy is the only way for us to survive. Thank you.

TS Krishnamurthy


I now request the audience to interact.


Floor Discussion


Q: K Mahesh, Government Servant: I share the views of Dr. Bhure Lal. We should not pat ourselves on the back. The topic should not be strengthening India democracy but rather saving it. With deep respects to the Election Commission of India, we should also not pat them on the back. I tell this to Mr.  Krishnamurthy and others who are present. We have discussed about dangers to Indian democracy. We have already entered that phase. In fact, in more than 180 districts, Naxalites have virtually a free run. People have begun to relocate the struggle outside the framework of the Constitution. We have the entire North-East affected by separatist movements. In Kashmir, the Indian army is the only symbol of Indian democracy. If this is the State of affairs, it is not a question of how to strengthen the democracy but how to save it.The issue is also one of providing a level playing field to every individual, rich or poor, so that even ordinary citizens are able to contest elections and get elected to public office without the use of money and muscle.


We know that the Election Commission has the power to register political parties, but not the power o deregister them. We are also aware that there are many political parties that have registered themselves with the Commission, but have not contested even a single election. What is happening to their money? There is no doubt that such parties are indulging in all kinds of wrongdoing. The Election Commission can make enquires and look into it.


Mr. P.P. Rao talked about good governance, which is very crucial. But good governance includes not just governance by the government, the executive and the administration; it must also include good governance by corporate entities and by civil society organizations like the NGOs and the media. But of all the reform we are talking about, much more important than electoral reforms are reforms within the civil services. If this can be done, the huge backlog of cases in the judiciary would automatically go down. Today members of Parliament agitate even about petty local issues, whereas, Parliament is meant to debate serious national issues. The reason for this is the failure of the bureaucracy. An NCAER study twenty years ago revealed that the highest amount of black money is with bureaucrats, not politicians. Therefore, civil services reforms are a prerequisite for overall reform and are more reform than judicial or electoral reform. My specific question is: can we bring about legislation for inner-party democracy within political parties, which is very important. Secondly, the Indian caste problem, which plays a major role in our politics, has now been exported to other countries. In March 2010, the House of Lords in the UK gave its approval to a Bill that equates race with caste. Indians unfortunately carry their caste with them. In the US, a judge imposed a fine of $2,000 on a caste-based Andhra association, for wasting public time. And mind you, it is not the poor or underprivileged Indians who carry their caste identities, but IT professionals and other well-to-do sections of our society. It is we who are responsible for perpetuating caste. We should not blame the poor and underprivileged for this.


A: P. P. Rao: This observation takes us back to square one. There have forceful recommendations over time, for legislations in order to bring about inner-party democracy in political parties. There should also be adequate regulation of political parties so that they are not allowed to violate the interests of the polity and people. But here, the question would naturally arise: who is to pass and implement such laws? Clearly, those who have the power to make laws are certainly not interested in any reform, as it would adversely affect their selfish interests. It is only we, the people, who are in genuine need of reforms. Therefore, as I see it, the only way forward is unrelenting pressure of public opinion. Otherwise, things are going from bad to worse and that is the hard reality. Reforms are very much needed, but the reformers are nowhere to be seen.


The problem of caste has also been mentioned. Speaking in the Constituent Assembly, Dr B R Ambedkar had said that the very concept of caste is anti-national as they divide people and promote mutual jealousy among different sections of people. He was therefore, firmly for a casteless society and nation and wanted us to completely rid ourselves of caste. It is both sad and ironic that the vociferous political followers of Ambedkar today thrive on nothing but caste. I am sorry to say that even the country’s apex court, i.e. the Supreme Court is also responsible for perpetuating this State of affairs. Let us take the instance of its judgment on the Mandal reservations case, the Supreme Court ruled that caste can be used as one of the tools for identifying backwardness. To my mind, this was wrong judgment. How can the judiciary grant recognition to caste and thereby, casteism? After all, our constitution avowedly aims at a casteless and a classless society and such judgments turn those lofty aims on their head. That is the reality. I tried my utmost to convince the judiciary but could convince only a couple of judges. In the Bommai case (where the question of secularism came up), I had argued with equal forcefulness and the Supreme Court also gave its ruling that a political party cannot take up a religious issue to come to power. Promising to remove a structure and replacing it with another if elected to power is something that cannot be permitted under our constitution. But when it came to the Mandal reservations argument, the Supreme Court agreed with near-unanimity that caste is okay as one of the routes for identifying backwardness. The results of that judgment are there for all of us to see and suffer. Today, the central as well as all State governments without exception use caste as the only route to identify socio-economic backwardness as it has become a rich vote bank for them.


The effects of such a policy are also all too visible. On one hand, all State governments are fond of publishing full-page advertisements in newspapers, loudly boasting about their supposed achievements in the socio-economic field. But on the other hand, we find that the list of supposedly backward class continues to grow day in and day out. More and more caste groups have begun pressurizing the government to demand their pound of flesh. Extending reservations to every caste that demands them has become the only solution that politicians can think of, whereas the need of the day is genuine socio-economic uplift of weaker sections of the people.


Illiteracy, another burning problem, continues to suffer from neglect. Initially, the constitution had laid down a deadline of ten years for the country’s administrators to provide for mandatory education of every child up to the age of 14 years. That deadline expired long back, and today even 60 years have passed since independence, yet this goal is nowhere in sight. All we continue to do is provide more and more sops to castes that agitate for them in the hope of bagging their votes. We have to concentrate on genuine socio-economic uplift but do not seem to be doing so. Thus, we are going round and round in the same vicious circle.


A: T K Vishwanathan: There can be no two opinions on inner-party democracy or declaration of assets. For legislation to happen on this, a PIL must be filed and eventually, directions must come from the Supreme Court. As of now, political parties are least interested in inner-party democracy.


Q: J M Lyngdoh (former CEC): Pressure of public opinion would always be welcome. My suggestion is that we must include the system of referendum. Although, we do not have provisions for constitutional referendum, we can always go in for an informal referendum. After all, the country has more than 700 million cell phones, which can be put to good use on conducting quick referendums on most issues affecting the country. That would indeed build up powerful pressure of public opinion on the political class. For instance, if politicians find a million names behind a certain recommendation, they would be forced to act. I would welcome any step taken in this regard.


Q: Srinivas (Lawyer): We are busy discussing electoral and other reforms but find that the government itself is playing the caste card by including caste in its census. The phenomenon of caste is becoming more glaring and caste will play an even more damaging role. Can this forum take up this issue at the highest levels? 


A: Dr. Bhure Lal: Taking up the issue of caste is indeed a difficult task. The objective of the ruling establishment is to capture both administrative and political power using caste as a political tool. This has to be stopped. What we can do is to raise our voice through media and public forums like this and forcefully say that India is one country and not a conglomerate of castes. Politicians want to divide us further and further in the pursuit of their political objectives. A gentleman has launched a campaign called ‘Meri jaati Hindustani’ (my identity is Indian), which is a message that we must spread to one and all.


In 1871, a caste-based census was undertaken for the first time. When the census officials were de-briefed, it was discovered that different identified themselves by their respective names like Jatavs, Vishwakarmas and Naayis and so on. Strangely, in the next population census in 1881, many of these castes had upgraded themselves in the social ladder. For instance, Jatavs now called themselves Jats, Vishwakarmas became Sharmas and Naayis turned into Thakurs. During that period, the trend of social self-upgrading was very much in vogue. Ironically, this trend has reversed in the present times, as by lowering their social ranks, many caste groups actually stand to gain in the reservation stakes. In fact, many caste groups produce certificates of ‘backwardness’ so that they can become claimants for benefits under the reservation tent. This has to be put an end to, but unfortunately, no political party will be bold enough to take this step, as all parties believe in pleasing every section and shy away from taking any unpalatable decision. The only approach is to affirm one identity of Indian-ness and reject everything else.


Q: K J Rao, General Secretary, FAME: When Dr. Veerappa Moily has attended the last year’s seminar, he had promised some simple amendments to the law based on the recommendations made by the Election Commission in 2004. He had promised enactment of these recommendations but it is now more than a year. Mr. Krishnamurthy, when he was the CEC in 2004, had made certain recommendations which are yet see the light of the day. These were simple recommendations involving a few amendments to working rules and procedures, not major ones that would necessitate action by Parliament. We wish to know why there have been such inordinate delays. 


A: T K Vishwanathan: All those recommendations have been sent to the Parliamentary Departmental Committee, which is seized of the matter and still examining those recommendations.


Q: Venkat Mahajan: I have a brief question which follows up, on Mr. Lyngdoh’s recommendations. We keep blaming politicians but we are a billion strong country that claims to be a democracy. We also have made great strides in technology and today have over 700 million cell phones. Why can’t we use the television and the electronic medium and the power of communication to build referendums on crucial issues of national importance? It is immaterial if the media makes a few extra bucks in the process.


A:  Krishnamurthy: Unfortunately, the press takes up issues only if it is assured of hefty sponsorships. Nevertheless, we have to keep trying.


Q: Rajagopal, Retired Government Servant: Caste-based census, approved by the government, is likely to lead to more dishonesty and corruption as more and more groups would want to include themselves in the ever-growing list of backward class in order to grab benefits. Can FAME take up the initiative to stop this caste-based census?


A:  Krishnamurthy: We welcome your suggestion and will certainly place this before the FAME committee.


Q: Srinivas: Can we file a PIL on this matter under the banner of FAME, as this is at the root of all electoral and democratic reforms?


A:  Krishnamurthy: For the information of the audience, there are two matters pending before the Supreme Court for the last five years. One relates to negative voting, which I don’t know why the Supreme Court has still not taken up seriously. The other matter relates to promises made by the political parties in their manifestos, especially promises of gifting items like free television sets or other goodies if elected to power. If it is going to take more than five years even on such issues, we can only imagine what kind of a democracy we have.


Q: Anil Bairwal, Association for Democratic Reforms: Dr. Bhure Lal, quoting certain provisions has said that, if the law is silent, the Election Commission is empowered to make laws to fill the gap. We know that political parties are not interested in genuine reforms. My specific question is: can the Election Commission act on its own to pass laws where required and is the Commission considering doing so? My next question concerns Mr. Vishwanathan’s observations about inner-party democracies in political parties. He said that PIL has to be filed for the Supreme Court to give directions in this regard, but according to my knowledge, the Supreme Court had already, a few years back, made it mandatory for political parties to audit their accounts. But even this decision is not being adhered to by parties. Will the passing of a judgment by the Supreme Court be sufficient? What is to be done to ensure that the Court’s decisions are actually implemented?


A: Krishnamurthy: The Election Commission is seized of the matter. Some parties submit their audited accounts but many do not, whereas they are entitled for exemption from tax under the Income Tax Act if their audited accounts are submitted. Many parties do not submit their accounts on the grounds that they do not have income and others do not want exemption from tax. Many other parties use their party vehicle as a means of converting black money into white. I am unaware whether the Court’s direction was for accounts of parties to be made public, which happens to be one of our suggestions. When companies have to make public their accounts, political parties should do the same, something that has not happened so far. But this is not a requirement laid down by the Supreme Court. It was the government that introduced the provision under the Income Tax Act that audited accounts of companies will be exempt from tax.


A: Dr. Bhure Lal: The Election Commission has three duties to perform – mainly administrative, partly adjudicative and also legislative. In the judgment cited in the case of former CEC, Mohinder Singh Gill, the Supreme Court has laid down that wherever there exists a gap in the law, the Election Commission can take a legal view and proceed.


A: Krishnamurthy: It is true that the Election Commission has powers. In fact, the Supreme Court did mention that the Election Commission does enjoy certain powers whenever there is a legislative vacuum. When I was the CEC, I suggested amending the ballot paper forms so that negative voting could be introduced. I consulted the legal fraternity to ascertain whether I could do this without specific amendment to the existing rules. I was told by experts that if I did this on my own without recourse to the rules, there was every likelihood of my step being declared void by the courts. The reason is that there is specific provision under the Representation of People’s Act with regard to the ballot paper form. If the courts were to strike down my step, experts warned me that the entire general election would be declared void. We are supposed to operate within the ambit of the Constitution of India and the Representation of People’s Act. It is not as if the Election Commission has freedom to do anything and everything it wants. Mr. Seshan undertook a few initiatives like regulating the hours of canvassing and use of public address systems, which were done under the discretion of the powers allowed to the Commission. Mr. Bairwal has asked whether there are any areas where the Commission can intervene. Though the Commission does have certain powers under law, we have always been advised by legal experts not to overstep the confines of the constitution and the law. For example, if a criminal were to contest elections, the Commission cannot arbitrarily debar all types of criminals from doing so. The reason is that the Representation of People’s Act has certain provisions stipulating which types of criminals are debarred from contesting elections. The Commission cannot, on its own, introduce a law to debar such elements. Let us remember that the Election Commission of India has to work under the constraints of the Representation of People’s Act and the rules there under and the Constitution of India.


Dr. Bhure Lal:  I have a point to make here. Section of the Representation of People’s Act States that any laws concerning the electoral process must themselves be framed in accordance with the spirit of the constitution. No constitution in the world can permit any criminal to contest elections. I wish to ask the Election Commission whether it has at any time, approached the Supreme Court with a specific request that these are undue and rigid restrictions on the responsibility of the Election Commission to conduct fair elections? Section 8 (4) of the Act says that if a conviction has taken place in a criminal case, but the concerned individual obtains a stay from a compete4nt court, the sentence will be held in abeyance. Does this imply that his offence has been washed away? No, the sentence stands; in fact, High Courts have given judgment in this regard and it must be recognized and accepted that disqualification of such an individual begins the moment sentencing takes place.


Q: Three of the eminent speakers have opined that only those candidates who secure 50 per cent plus one vote should be held eligible to be elected to Parliament or Assembly bodies. How can this be made possible so that the common man comes to know who has secured 50 per cent plus one vote? Secondly, a lot has been spoken about the pressure of public opinion. But I wish to know how a common man can be able to exert public opinion on the rulers to bring about the desired reforms and changes?


A: P P Rao: For moulding public opinion, it is highly necessary to seek the help of others. It is also important to take the help of the media – (interruption by questioner: “I do not wish to depend on the media”) – in that case, meeting and interacting with others on as large a scale as possible is important. Individuals can also do a lot in this regard, meeting and interacting with each other disseminating the message by word of mouth, about the dangers facing the country and democracy and the need to act. This method can also go a long way in propagating the message and moulding public opinion. However, associations like FAME can certainly gather more and more like-minded people, interact with the media and use it to propagation the views of the people as a whole.


As far your question regarding the implementation of 50 per cent plus one vote, this has to come by law and we as individuals cannot do anything about it. All it requires is a simple amendment to the Representation of People’s Act, but politicians are not interested in it in spite so many recommendations.


Dr. Bhure Lal: We call ourselves a democracy, which in my view, means government of the majority. For instance, out of 100, a simple majority means a minimum of 51. In order to implement this rule, the government through the Parliament has to pass the required Act. 50 per cent plus one vote would automatically imply that any person wishing to get elected has to come out of the confines of his caste and clan and has to take all sections of society together and address their problems. Unless he does that, he cannot hope to be elected under a 50 per cent plus one vote dispensation. Money power will also not work here because no candidate can hope to purchase more than even 50 per cent of the electorate. The implementation of this rule will automatically diminish the role of money and muscle in the democratic process. This is a much needed reform and has to take place.


Q: The last Assembly elections in Assam saw candidates winning with even less than 25 per cent votes in their favour. Not only that, such legislators also formed, and are currently running the State government. I again ask: how can we the common people be able to ensure the actual implementation of this 50 per cent plus one vote reform?


Dr. Bhure Lal: Those who do not obtain at least 50 per cent votes will be automatically eliminated. Supposing no candidate gets 50 per cent, the top two candidates who draw the maximum votes, say, 47 or 45 per cent respectively should be made to re-contest against each other to determine the eventual winner. Others with lesser margin of votes, must however, be eliminated. This is a far more healthy system than the current first-past-the-post procedure.


Q: Chowdhury: Can this retrograde step of caste-based census be successfully challenged in a court of law?


A: P P Rao: It can be challenged. In fact, a retired judge of the Supreme Court has been in touch with me. He shares my opinion that this step will be disastrous for the country and wants me to take it up. My services are always available for this and we are working on it.


Q: Chowdhury: I wish to contact you in this regard because we will all be affected by this.


A: P P Rao: Yes, you can and I assure you I will lend all my strength in this fight.


Q: Shachi Chowdhary: I would like to make some observations. One is on the discussion regarding the provisions of the Income Tax Act, on auditing of accounts of political parties. As a Chief Commissioner of Income Tax, I happened to have jurisdiction, amongst other things, over 14 major national political parties. Barring a couple of them, a representative of whom was present in the morning session – Mr. A B Bardhan of the CPI – most parties do not comply with these provisions and violate one provision or the other. The auditing of accounts also provides an interesting scenario. Mush depends on the person doing the auditing and in most instances, the role of the auditors themselves leave a lot to be desired. This lacuna remains and as of now we seem unable to do much about it. No doubt, we have to improve upon this.


Secondly, discussions on corruption and electoral reforms are a very engaging subject. I was myself the Chief Vigilance Officer and had taken a tough stand against certain practices during my tenure, along with the Secretary, CVC, and had to pay a very heavy price, of which Dr.Bhure Lal and Mr. Krishnamurthy are well aware of. This happens to be a mafia system. I have been following the issue of electoral reforms and was an expenditure observer as a junior officer of the department in about 13 Parliamentary and Assembly constituencies in different parts of the country. My experience has been that most discussions on this subject remain just that. We all know who is responsible for enacting reforms but they are not interested. We seem to be caught in a vicious circle. How do we get out of this jinx? As citizens, we do not ourselves have powers to amend laws. We want to move forward but do not seem to be able to do so.


A: T K Vishwanathan: The judiciary has a proactive role to play in this regard. We were successful in getting the reforms on declaration of assets implemented through the judiciary. Therefore, we have to keep on hammering through the judicial process. One can wake up someone who is asleep, but not someone awake and yet pretending to be asleep.


A: P P Rao: I would like to make an observation regarding the declaration of assets. The Supreme Court has laid down that the voter is entitled to know the background of the candidate asking his vote. Therefore, the voter has every right to know the background of the candidate, his assets and his qualifications. But then, all political parties joined hands to conspire to nullify this judgment of the Supreme Court. The Congress, while fully being with other parties in this regard, took only a superficially different stand, and argued that it was per se opposed to the powers granted to the returning officer, and not to disclosure of assets per se. The NDA government brought an ordinance in this regard at a later stage. I was engaged by the Loksatta party to argue in this regard. My argument was that the court should add a clause necessitating the disclosure of the assets of the candidate when he had actually joined politics, along with his current assets at the time of contesting elections. Only then can people make an actual comparative assessment. I have myself seen that actual State of assets in this regard. Two potential chief ministerial candidates contesting an Assembly election from one of the southern States disclosed assets worth Rs233 crores and a slightly lesser figure respectively. I was left agape, wondering where from these crores had materialized. If only we had accurate information as to what their actual assets were when they had entered politics, we would have been in a position to carry out a more accurate assessment.


Q: Naveen Shukla, 4S, Bhopal: I represent an organization working on strengthening democracy and improving delivery mechanisms. I also represent responsible Indian youth citizen, and also the self-appointed auditors of media, muscle and money. We have heard many in the audience speaking of the need of auditing accounts and performance of political parties. I have two questions which are within the periphery of what we have discussed in this programme. Is it possible for this bench to create a credible people’s organizational platform of opinion makers to enable the common man to decide and choose whom to vote for during elections, especially for candidates with no past to hide and no future to eagerly look forward to? My second question is with regard to adequate feedback mechanisms, which is really a request to the democratic institutions of our country. India has the technology; can we, within the constitutional framework have a proper feedback mechanism, so that ordinary citizens can report on things so that there can be an actionable response? Suppose, I offered my services as an auditor and happened to see something untoward during election time, like cash being distributed, or any other unsavoury practice.  As a volunteer, I wish to know of the mechanism that would enable me to effectively report this matter with evidence so that proper action can be taken. Can this bench or this seminar provide us with such a platform?


A: Krishnamurthy:  Both suggestions are feasible but the question is: who will constitute this platform?


A: Venkat Mahajan: I will certainly do it.


A: Krishnamurthy: Since you have got your answer straightaway, FAME would only be happy to support such a cause.


A: K J Rao: We can all join hands and file a PIL.


A: Krishnamurthy: We must be very conscious while constituting such a platform.


Manjira Khurana


I request Mr. Krishnamurthy to sum up the deliberations of the day’s programmes so that we are able to glean what we have culled from the deliberations and what are the actionable steps available to us. I do not wish this programme to end as yet another debate, where we assemble, talk and disperse without having anything substantial to show until we meet again next year.


Summary Recommendations of the Panels by T S Krishnamurthy, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India


I have the onerous responsibility of summarizing the day’s proceedings. The message from this meet is loud and clear. Everyone realizes that phenomenal changes are taking place and enormous challenge awaits the nation. Many of us, who hold ideals in high esteem, feel helpless in moving forward. Justice Venkatachaliah spoke of the need for a true constitutional democracy with proper institutional safeguards, so that Indian democracy does not degenerate into a populist mob-rule. There is a pervasive sense of pessimism in the country, despite the many proud achievements that the country and its democracy have attained. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo and must act, if we really want positive changes in the country. FAME can provide a platform for reforms in electoral democracy, but this alone cannot be adequate for meeting all the needs of shaping our democratic structure. The European Union has often been held as an example of certain good things about democracy and its institutions. If the countries of Europe can come together putting behind centuries of mutual internecine conflict behind them, to form a union, howsoever imperfect and limited it may be, why cannot India’s States reach a consensus in order to forge a truly national outlook? But if we to look at ongoing developments in different States, I am afraid that we may not have any leader of stature who can provide such an outlook. Ultimately, it is the attitude of the people that will be instrumental in the building of democratic institutions.


Suggestions have been made for electoral reforms to extend to simultaneous elections, election petitions to be disposed off quickly and for regulation of the media regarding advertisements and paid news. There has been a consensus among the participants that such consensus is both desirable and essential. But like Alice in Wonderland, we don’t know which side to turn, as there is a plethora of suggestions. Though we may pride ourselves on having introduced universal adult franchise early in order to bring about political equality, doubts remain whether the dream of Dr. B R Ambedkar, of achieving genuine socio-economic equity can materialize in the present circumstances. There are conflicting forces in operation. Paid news and caste-based census, which dominate the news these days, are only the tip of the iceberg, promoting divisive forces in the country. Any amount of legislative action may not achieve the desired result, though legislative action is certainly called for. But ultimately, it is changes in both the electoral system as well as the regulation of democratic institutions that will provide the needed answers. I sincerely hope that the credibility of democratic institutions will be strengthened by voluntary agencies.


Some caustic comments have been made about the Election Commission itself. There is no doubt that during the last twenty years, the Election Commission has been utilizing or invoking the benefit of Supreme Court judgments.  But I wish to make it very clear that the Election Commission is not sovereign in all matters. The judgment itself provides adequate safeguards and holds that the Chief Election Commissioner cannot throw up his hands in despair helplessly and watch things happen, especially in areas where there is a legislative vacuum. If one were to look at the history of the Election Commission over the last fifty years, one can see gradual changes taking place to improve the quality and credibility of the election system. I do not claim that we have reached a stage of finality, as there are areas where qualitative changes can be brought about. Hopefully, the Election Commission will address these areas.


But what will bring about changes in the democratic set up are not mere changes in the electoral system. Democracy, after all, is not limited to only elections. It is a much larger concept, of which elections are only a part; they may be termed as the first step towards complete democracy. One has to agree that there are deficiencies, some of which can be cured legislatively and some, administratively.


To the extent possible, we have flagged these issues and various speakers have made very constructive suggestions for strengthening the electoral system as well the quality of democracy. Ultimately, the success of any democracy depends on good governance, as Mr. P. P. Rao so aptly put it. Unless and until we get good governance, the society and the country will continue to be plagued by strife and even violent acts of terrorism and disturbances, as is happening in many parts of the country now. There are many forces active that are questioning the very credibility of India’s democracy as it exists today.


While administrative reforms can be easily implemented by the force of public opinion, legislative measures can be only brought about by the Parliament. Let us recognise one thing very clearly – political parties are committed to maintaining the status quo. They are not interested in either a long-term perspective or a national approach. These can be only addressed by the people who have to keep on hammering these issues and bring it to people’s notice. But my personal view is that unless the election system is changed, the political parties, system and politicians are not going to give serious thought to change. It is necessary therefore, that the people keep hammering at these issues using all the means at their disposal.


But where will this end? I think it is the people who have the ultimate answer, as there are times where one indeed does get frustrated and becomes cynical. Sometime back, I, Mr. Gill and Mr. Lyngdoh had participated in a discussion wherein we were asked the shape of elections after twenty years. While Mr. Gill waxed eloquent about out strides in technology and the likely changes and improvements in elections, Mr. Lyngdoh posed a blunt question as to whether India would exist as a entity twenty years down the line. That indeed is a very significant question. I was not willing to subscribe to Mr. Lyngdoh’s views then and was optimistic that things would improve. Maybe they will, but I have grown a shade more cynical now, as the powers that be do not seem to be even serious about the problems that plague the country.


Despite our self-patting regarding our election system, the Election Commission, our democracy and our various achievements in the economic and other fields, we must recognize that our political system has weakened. It is weakening is a disturbing manner, and the sooner all stakeholders realize this, the better it will be, because it is a question of the continuance of the survival of the country. I think I have broadly summarized the issues and confident that FAME will encourage such healthy debates, and support any initiative, including our own to educate the people in this regard. Hopefully, our endeavour will lead to improvement of quality of democracy in this country. However, this is not a one day or an annual affair, but a continuous lengthy process. But we are confident that things will change and improve. 




I would like to very briefly present a couple of important observations of my own. Even a cursory glance at human history throughout various phases of time would reveal that 10-15 per cent of society fattens itself at the expense of the remaining 85 per cent, which usually languishes at the bottom. Democracies are no exception to this, and we find that not only in India but throughout the world, inequalities are becoming sharper. A book called We, the People, written by Huber, which talks about the American Constitution, says that the American War of Independence (1776) was fought by the majority of the poor people. On the other had, it was the feudal aristocratic class that funded the war by printing a lot of paper money. But, when the war was won by the Americans, those who had fought the feudal royalty, suddenly found themselves awash with a lot of easy money and wanted this situation to continue. On then other hand, the wealthy class, especially from colonies like New England, who were basically carbon copies of the British who had just left the continent, wanted to fatten themselves on the rest of the population. They feared that the printing of paper money would make the rich class the losers. It is said that they hit upon the idea of binding the poorer classes by writing a constitution, which is today known as the Constitution of the United States of America. A close look at this constitution will reveal that it is weighted heavily in favour of the US Senate, which we may be aware, comprises mostly of people who favour the status quo. The Senate was meant to block whatever the House of People wished to bring about. It is feared that the people can go berserk any time. Another institution of blockage was set up that was i.e. the US Supreme Court, which, in fact, has judges for life. These institutions have a definite purpose, which is to prevent anything radical coming up the pipeline. This then happens to be the Constitution of the United States that talks of “We, the People”, and is also the constitution from which the Constitution of India has drawn a lot from. In substance, Constitution of the United States is not what it appears to be. It happens to be a reflection of the wishes of the 10-15 per cent which lives off the remaining 85 per cent of the people.


Democracy, it is interesting to know, was not a respected idea in the age of the Greek civilization. Democracy and the right to participate in administrate was restricted only to citizens and slaves, foreigners and other categories of people were excluded from this system. Thinkers and philosophers like Plato had some very unkind things to say about democracy. In fact, they did not even believe in it. Democracy apart, communism survives in a few pockets in the world. Despite its claims of ushering in equality, communism has failed in getting rid of 10-15 per cent elitist stranglehold over the polity and economy. It came in with big promises of socialist equality, which its intellectuals propagated, but once its intellectuals were squeezed out of the reckoning by its more radical elements, when the generation of Lenin had passed away, all that was left were bureaucrats and dictators like Stalin. In fact, they were not very different from the bureaucrats that India has today, who represent no more than the top 10-15 per cent.


What I wish to stress is the fact that in the history of human affairs, we have never reached a situation when we have been really free of the stranglehold of the top 10-15 per cent exploiters. I certainly do no wish the audience to rest with this status quoist acceptance. This 85 per cent cannot be wished away, but what we can do is to awaken them and make them aware of the laws and their own rights under the same constitution and also make life as difficult as possible for the top 15 per cent exploiters. We can certainly do that. Whatever we have discussed today must be analyzed against this historical background for us to be able to move ahead. Thank you very much.


Concluding Remarks by Dr. Anil Seal, Director, Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre, Cambridge


In Cambridge over the last nine years, we have had commissioners from the election commissions of 50 other countries. We have had great opportunity to look at their problems and to gauge the State of affairs in India. You may think India has many problems, but if it is of any consolation to you, there are few electoral democracies in the world which are not facing all manner of crises. They include almost universally, a growing sense of disillusionment on the part of  some people with the electoral process, which is demonstrated in countries, even in the 32 countries where voting is compulsory, by a growing distaste for politics and a failure to participate actively in the political process. Coalition governments have been everywhere. In Karamjit’s little constituency that comes lies a little northwest of Europe which has left all manner of legacies in this country. If I were permitted to briefly digress, we have heard a lot about Divide and Rule.  As a historian, I am reminded of the Round Table Conference of 1932 when one of the Indian delegates pointed to all other Indian delegates and then turned to (the then British Prime Minister Ramsay) McDonald and said, “we divide”, meaning the Indians, and turning back to Mr. McDonald, said “you rule”. There was a certain “division of labour” in this Divide and Rule, which actually continues to this day.


Coming to this business about the inclusion of caste in the census, it is certainly being deployed as a divisive implement. But the extent to which caste is alive, well and doing deep damage to the democratic process today is extremely worrying. One positive manifestation of the right to vote negatively can be that people who can, should refuse to accept this categorization, which has really perverted socio-economic justice in this country, by refusing to categorize themselves along caste lines. There are people who claim to be backward, others who were Sankritised and now claim to be higher. It would be very interesting if people refused to accept this stamp which was one of the issues discussed.


Coming back to the problems everywhere, the main points that we have identified by listening to others is that in mature democracies, there is a growing sense among people that the process is no longer relevant. In emerging democracies, there is a very powerful feeling that the process is not leading to social and economic equality in redistribution. The Chinese are extremely worried that the advent of democracy would greatly lessen their ability to retain control of the levers of institutional and economic power, to prevent or partly continuing to improve, albeit marginally, the well-being of the majority of their people, who the regime feels, need political stability. There is a crisis in democracies the world over; it is not India’s alone as to the question what can be done, there’s been a rallying cry to mobilize popular appeal. It would be very interesting if everyone wishes to bring these matters to people’s attention and join without any cause an organization like FAME or any other civil organization and constantly disseminate these results. The 42 per cent who do not vote are not always the worst disadvantaged. There are many of them who are advantaged being pulled either way. They should express their concerns, not by joining Tweedledum or Tweedledee, as that would be simply joining this party or that and neither side would offer you any qualitatively different choice. But maybe, the system of negative vote can be made into a positive force by bringing all the concerns that were mentioned constantly and repeatedly to the attention of people who are in the saddle. One does not know the exact effect that will have, but as a historian of the Indian national movement and imperialism, I know it is precisely the concerns of few enlightened people that can well carry the day. There weren’t more delegates in the first ever session of the Indian National Congress, which was held in December 1885 in the Gopaldas Tejpal College House in Bombay than there are in this auditorium today. In fact, the members of that session ended up singing “Three Cheers for Queen Victoria” three times that day. Of course, I am not suggesting that we do that here today, but mind you, there were fewer people sitting in Bombay that day than there are here today. Well, we know what it led to later. If one is looking for renewal with some sense of hope, we would do well to remember that a committed few can convert the many. That indeed, is the essence of democracy. If we can persuade the people we have the cause and the mechanism to transform the ideas into something tangible, then there is no reason why we cannot move forward. Far from this being a session of despair, because there are only a few people present, this can in fact, become a platform for going ahead, because we have individuals with commitment and integrity like former election commissioners and committed activists who are all doing positive work in their respective arenas. That, I think is going to be the way ahead. Thank you.




Thank you Dr. Seal, for your Statement, which I believe was the most encouraging Statement of the day. I invite Mr. K J Rao, General Secretary, FAME, to deliver the vote of thanks and also briefly encapsulate the course of action FAME intends to follow over the next six months. This is an organization that does not confine itself to only holding seminars but is committed to actively pass on the baton to the next generation, especially our students and everyone else who will take the movement forward.




We are aware that the Indian electoral system suffers from two major diseases, as I put it. These are – money and muscle. Now, a third disease has entered the system, which is the direct doling out of cash to bribe voters. Something has to be done immediately to nip this in the bud, otherwise it will spread like cancer.


With the help of many committed NGOs and other similar organizations, some of whom are present here and the media as well, we can move forward with a clear agenda. We have always stressed on quality and not merely making up the numbers. Though I am not a legal expert, I propose that all NGOs should come together to file a PIL to put a halt to the practice of cash-for-votes. We have eminent lawyers like Mr. P. P. Rao and Mr. Mendiratta, and committed activists like Mr. Pramod Chawla with us to support this initiative. It is important for us to come together and plan our next moves.


As far as today’s programme is concerned, I am indeed happy that there has been participation not only from India but also from abroad. TIRI — Making Integrity Work — which stands for integrity is also involved in a major way. Mr. Karamjit Singh, former Election Commissioner of UK has been present throughout the programme.


I thank Dr. Moily, Dr. Quraishi, Dr. Anil Seal, Mr. Lyngdoh, Justice Vekatachaliah, Mr. Arun Jaitley, Mr. A B Bardhan, Mr. N Gopalaswami, Mr. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Mr. P P Rao, Mr. T K Vishwanathan, Mr. T S Krishnamurthy and particularly Dr. Bhure Lal and General Jhingan for their untiring efforts to make this event a success, under the guidance of Mr. Krishnamurthy, Mr. Lyngdoh and Mr. Gopalaswami. I cannot also omit the name of Ms. Manjira Khurana, who as the master of ceremonies has conducted the day’s proceedings in a most graceful manner. I thank her a lot for her stellar role. Although, the media has been a target of criticism in this programme, because of the phenomenon of paid news, I am pleased to note their presence in order to cover this event, for which we are grateful. We are also grateful to India Habitat Centre for their cooperation in making this venue available and to Mr. Arun Bhatnagar for having designed the concept. We acknowledge the help of the 4S team, who are maintaining our website free of cost. I thank the youngsters of this team for their efforts and commitment.


FAME does not take any donation from any source. We generate funds by conducting elections for the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India (NSUI). Help, of course, does arrive from various quarters including Dr. Seal, who has been instrumental in getting us generous grants. For all practical purposes, he is a part of the FAME, as are Mr. Karamjit Singh and TIRI. I thank them all for their support. We plan to hold our next seminar sometime at the end of January 2011 and as always, wish that people and institutions of quality and integrity should join us. Let us come together and take this movement forward in order to safeguard and strengthen Indian democracy.


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