both view elections as mere power struggle, and power as
private property. Ideals and ideas, vision and policies,
institutional vitality and accountability have very little
to do with our democratic process. Understandably therefore,
the methods deployed to acquire power are judged only by
the success of the outcome, and not by the purity of the
means! The candidate disclosure issue which saw complete
divergence of opinion between the political elites and the
public is an illustration of this relentless pursuit of
power as an end in itself. The response of the well-heeled
and well-educated to this democratic deficit is one of despair
and hostility. But such hostility to political process can
only lead to one outcome - authoritarianism by invitation.
only have to look at Pakistan to realize what such despotism
does to a society. The only antidote to the ills of a democracy
is more and better democracy. What is needed is painstaking,
systematic steps to set our house in order and make democracy
real and meaningful. While we haven't done as well as we
hoped over the past 55 years, it cannot be denied that there
has been modest progress. And whatever be our failures,
democracy is not responsible for them. It is our own inability
to evolve truly democratic and fair practices, and failure
to adhere to them scrupulously which led to many evil consequences
- unbridled corruption being the most visible. The inference
is clear; we should quickly address our governance crisis,
and engineer democratic reforms.
even when such attempts are made, as a nation we don't seem
to take any notice of them. It is as if we have a masochistic
impulse which makes us love self-flagellation and ignore
anything which may improve our conditions. The stony silence
which met the Election and Other Related Laws (Amendment)
Bill, 2002 (introduced in Parliament in March, 2002) aimed
at significant political funding reform, is one illustration
of this apathy. This Bill is quite far-reaching in some
respects and deserves the serious attention of all concerned
Bill, if it becomes law, has five important consequences.
" First, every political party will be duty-bound to
furnish its accounts to the Election Commission every year.
Such accounts of donations and expenditure shall be audited
by the auditor approved by CAG, who will have access to
all vouchers and records.
" Second, parties may accept any amount of donation
voluntarily offered by any individual or private companies,
excepting foreign sources defined in FCRA. Individuals can
contribute any amount, but companies' contribution is limited
to 5 % of the average profit for the previous three years,
and all contributions are fully exempt from income tax.
" Third, the shameful Explanation 1 under section 77
of the RP Act, 1951 will now be substantially nullified,
and as a result all expenditure incurred by the political
party or a third party will come within the purview of expenditure
" Fourth, the government shall supply to candidates
of recognized parties copies of electoral rolls, voter identity
slips and other materials as prescribed by rules.
" Fifth, the EC can now allocate time to recognized
parties on the cable television network and other electronic
media (in addition to state media).
any sane democracy, such major political funding reforms
would be discussed and debated endlessly and disseminated
widely. Somehow, we seem to revel only in vituperative criticism
and have no interest in real reform. Happily these reforms
have bipartisan support. The Congress party initiated the
process with Manmohan Singh Committee, and the ruling combine
responded positively. The fact may be that the Bill leaves
scope for improvement. True, such a law alone will not eliminate
the incentive for illegitimate and high election expenditure
(either for ego gratification, or in anticipation of multiple
returns in a corrupt system), but it certainly provides
for legitimate means of funding, and eliminates the alibi
for political corruption on grounds of fund requirement.
a lot more needs to be done to make our democracy mature
and corruption-free. A shift to proportional representation;
separation of powers in states; speedy justice; empowered
local governments; strong, independent anti-corruption mechanisms,
and instruments of accountability - all these are needed.
But sensible funding reform is a key ingredient in any reform
agenda. Politicians need to be applauded for a welcome,
if belated, initiative. Let us condemn what is wrong in
politics, but let us not throw the baby with the bath water.
We need better and more democracy, and certainly saner and