Dance of Democracy in Ignorance - The New Indian Express

Dance of Democracy in Ignorance

Published: 16th April 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 19th April 2014 12:38 AM

On April 10, 2014, the media reported that Narendra Modi has mentioned the name of his wife Jasodaben in the affidavit to be filed along with his nomination form for the Vadodara Parliamentary constituency. The very next day, Hindustan Times [12.4.2014] reported Rahul Gandhi as saying that it took the BJP’s prime minister nominee—“who talks about honour of women”—many “elections” to admit that he was married. In Delhi, they talk about respecting women... but his wife’s name never found its way into the affidavit.” And Digvijaya Singh, one of the most loose cannons in national politics, even said that Modi should be booked for concealing in the past that he had married. Sections of visual and print media went to town with their views. But what shocks is the amazing illiteracy of these leaders, their advisers and sections of the media on the elementary rules of election law. It does not call for any great expertise to know that there was—and even now there is—no requirement in Indian electoral law that a husband, whether he is a voter or a candidate, must disclose his wife’s name. It is the other way round actually. It is the wife who, whether she is a voter or a candidate, must disclose her husband’s name.

The regulations on disclosure of family relations of a voter or candidate are contained in Rule 4 of the Conduct of Election Rules and the Forms 2 Part I, Part II and Part III. The regulations stipulate that these forms be filed at the time of the nomination. The first form [Part I] is prescribed for a candidate who is set up by a recognised political party. This form may be filed by the candidate himself or by his proposer. If the form is filed by the proposer, the form requires the proposer to give candidate’s name, his father’s/mother’s name or husband’s name [obviously if the candidate is a married woman]. If the form is filled by the candidate himself or herself, the candidate is required to enter his or her particulars in the electoral roll and no particulars of father or mother or husband is needed to be mentioned. Why? Because the electoral roll gives the names of the voter-candidate’s father/mother/husband. The Hand Book for Electoral Registration Officers issued by the Election Commission of India 2012 states that in the electoral roll “Father’s name should be entered in the case of men and unmarried women and the husband’s name in the case of married women and widows.” Nowhere is a wife’s name needed to be mentioned along with husband’s. And even where it requires that the names of the father or husband must be mentioned, the Hand Book says that that “is only for purposes of identification and need not be insisted on in all cases”. It means that if the name of the husband is not mentioned along with that of the voter wife, it is not fatal to the voter’s or the candidate’s rights. The Hand Book goes on to say that “where matriarchal system prevails, the mother’s name should be entered”.

If a person eligible to vote is not registered as a voter he or she can register himself/herself by filing a form [Form no 6]. See what the man or woman seeking registration as voter is required to disclose. In case of unmarried female applicant, name of Father/Mother is to be mentioned. In case of married female applicant, name of Husband is to be mentioned. [See the guidelines issued by the Election Commission for filling up application in Form 6]. If a married man seeks to register himself as voter, he is not required to disclose his marital status or name of his wife. Likewise, where a registered voter needs to correct his electoral roll, he or she can file a form [Form 8] for correction. In such a case again the regulations require the voter to disclose, in case of unmarried female applicant, name of Father/Mother. In case of married female applicant, name of Husband. QED: The regulations on electoral roll clearly stipulate the mentioning of the name of the husband of the voter wife, but not the name of the wife of the voter husband.

Is there no requirement at all then for a candidate who is married to mention his wife’s name? Yes there is no direct requirement. But indirectly yes—from 30.9.2013. Here is the story of how this indirect requirement evolved, not by any legal enactment but by the judgements of the Supreme Court. Following a judgement of the Supreme Court in 2003 the Election Commission mandated that all candidates must file an affidavit in the prescribed form [Form 26] along with their nomination disclosing amongst other things his/her assets and liabilities and those of his/her spouse and dependents. The candidate, if he was married, was required to furnish the details of the PAN and Income assessment status of the wife and income returned by her in the tax returns. But for almost a decade, this affidavit was regarded as information to the public and leaving any part of the form blank or with a hyphen did not lead to rejecting the candidate’s nomination. Most candidates, particularly males, used to leave the details of their wife blank unless the spouse had a tax PAN or taxable income or furnished tax. This was the regulation effective till September 2013.

That was why when Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh filed nomination for Rajya Sabha from Gauhati on May 10, 2013, he did not mention his wife’s name against “spouse” and just mentioned “nil” under the column PAN and N/A [Not Applicable] under the columns tax returns filed and income disclosed. Why? Because his wife neither had a PAN nor filed returns or disclosed any taxable income. The understanding of the law at that time was that a male candidate was required to fill the details of his wife only if she had had any tax record or taxable income or assets. It is clear that when Narendra Modi filed his nomination on 29.11.2012 his advisers ought to have advised him precisely like how Dr Singh’s advisers would have had advised the PM five months earlier. Therefore, like Dr Singh, Modi did not mention his wife’s name and also filled the column regarding his wife’s tax particulars with a hyphen. Neither Modi nor Singh in their affidavit denied having married. They only indicated by the manner of their filling the form that there was no tax record or income or assessment of their respective wives. By not mentioning his wife Gursharan Kaur’s name Dr Singh would not have meant any disrespect to her. How could it be then that Modi had disrespected his wife by not mentioning her name?

But things changed on 30.9.2013. By its judgement dated 13.9.2013, the Supreme Court made the prescribed particulars in the affidavit mandatory for accepting the nomination. The court ruled that no column in it should be left blank. Consequently, on 30.9.2013, the Election Commission noting the Supreme Court, notified that the candidates are required to fill up all columns therein and not leave any column in the affidavit [form 26] blank. It does not need a seer to say that when Modi had left the columns blank in the affidavits filed before 30.9.2013 he did not violate any rule. But even now the requirement is not that Modi should mention the name of his wife. He is only required to give the details of her tax particulars, if he had them. In fact he has mentioned his wife’s name—which is not a requirement. So, when Rahul Gandhi says that despite his professed respect for women Modi’s wife’s name was never found in his affidavits, he knows neither the rule that existed when Modi filed his nomination earlier on 29.11.2012 nor the new rule notified from 30.9.2013. Rahul seems to think that the Election Commission wants the candidate-husband to mention his wife’s name to show his respect to her. He does not know that the commission only wants to know whether the candidate’s wife has a tax record or taxable income, not whether he respects her or not. More. That media allowed Rahul to get away with his illiterate remark without questioning or exposing him shows its ignorance at the least or complicity at worst. Is it just Dance of Democracy? Or Dance of Democracy in ignorance?

S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues. Email:

comment@gurumurthy.net

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