The first phase of election has just been over. The campaigning was marked by insane allegations, sickening propaganda and false promises. Rival politicians hurled invectives, repeated lies and openly sought votes on the basis of religion and caste. One would think that the Election Commission (EC) might bring some sanity, but it failed miserably. Seizure of some cash and liquor and admonishing habitual offenders have had no salutary effect. The situation is going to get worse in the remaining six phases.
If the EC could lock up the unruly and corrupt candidates and disfranchise parties such as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference (NC) that vow to break away from India, elections would be a joy to participate in. But the EC has been saddled with a Model Code of Conduct (MCC), which is toothless and was doomed from day one, for it was designed deliberately to be only a model and not a set of rules.
It really makes no sense that in a vibrant democracy, you begin regulating rallies, road shows, public meetings and use of loudspeakers, restricting distribution of liquor and black money, gagging opinion and exit polls and suspending launch of welfare programmes and development activities, even if it is for a brief period. Perhaps, the EC believes that since voters’ pick of candidates is finalised only after election dates are announced, it is necessary that they are kept insulated from the persuasive influences. Even party symbols displayed near booths or on cups supplied by the IRCTC are not acceptable because voters may get swayed. This is absurd.
People make their choice after five years of continuous scrutiny of the conduct of their government. They make a mental note of how far promises have been delivered and whether old faces can be trusted for another term or their rivals be given a chance to outperform them. They also weigh the cost and benefit of allowing their caste, religion and pedigree to influence their preference. That’s the reason political birds of the same feather do not always flock together. The choice of voters takes time to crystalise and cannot be suddenly altered by frenzied speeches and a few bottles of liquor and money. When the voter stands in the queue, he has no ambiguity and does not need an MCC to protect him from changing his decision.
Let elections be celebrated as a festival of democracy with no restrictions on how parties organise their campaign. Imagine the huge benefit that will accrue to maids, labourers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, petty contractors, tour operators, etc, giving market economy a boost. The EC needs to take just two simple steps: Ensure that every legitimate voter casts vote peacefully and prevail on the Supreme Court to direct that each party will compulsorily field 10 percent of its candidates who have verifiable annual income of maximum `1.2 lakh and MPs who do not spend 75 percent of their constituency development funds will be debarred from contesting. The unruly lawmakers will oppose the move, but it will make voting enjoyable and make MPs scared.
Former special secretary,Research and Analysis Wing