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Lok Satta Times Septmeber 2002 Issue

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There is no police station which is free of political interference
Citizens' Campaign for Electoral Funding Reform


National Coalition for Electoral Reforms
Lok Satta's Initiative

FDR /Lok Satta have been advocating that national rejuvenation effort should be centered round the key issues of electoral reforms. Free and fair elections are the starting point of a functioning democracy, and are the key to resolving to-day's governance crisis. In order to forge a national alliance for electoral reforms, Lok Satta appeals for leadership and guidance from concerned citizens and activists in mobilizing public opinion through non-partisan citizens' initiatives to monitor elections. The appeal of Lok Satta (in the form of a letter) is published in full to facilitate debate and collective action.

* * *

Dear

Sub: - Citizens' Initiatives for cleaner elections - national coalition for electoral reforms.

Foundation for Democratic Reforms (FDR) is a non-partisan think tank and resource centre dedicated to governance reforms in India. FDR sponsored a people's movement Lok Satta. The mission of Lok Satta is to promote peaceful, democratic transformation of Indian governance process and to enable India achieve its full potential through good governance.

Lok Satta emerged as a major civil society influence in Andhra Pradesh. While governance reform goals are national, we have consciously decided to limit our grassroots work to Andhra Pradesh. We believe that major civil society initiatives can be launched by credible persons of impeccable track record in their State, and who have the advantage of knowledge of local language and intimate acquaintance with local conditions. We have designed and implemented several grass-roots programmes for collective citizen assertion with considerable success. People's Watch movement for better delivery of public services and against corruption, Swarajya movement for specific governance reforms at the State and local level, and Election Watch movement for effective monitoring of elections by citizens are the most important initiatives. Lok Satta now has over 100,000 members and far more significantly the movement has wide name recognition and enjoys passive support and goodwill of about 15% - 20% of the State's population.

Lok Satta is increasingly convinced that the national reform effort should be centered around the key issue of electoral reforms. Free and fair elections are the starting point of a functioning democracy, and are the key to resolving today's crisis. A fair degree of consensus has been achieved on the contours of reform over the years through the efforts of various committees, statutory bodies and activist groups. The political class is at least theoretically committed to electoral reform, and will find it difficult to openly resist genuine reform. Most electoral reforms can be achieved by a mere law of parliament and certain procedural changes. Electoral reform, concerning local governments need legislation only at the State level. Given these factors Lok Satta has been earnestly striving to forge alliances nationally to build a genuine and effective movement for governance reforms with the main focus on electoral reforms.

Accordingly we are sharing our concerns with credible activists and thinkers across the country. Our experience in Andhra Pradesh shows that carefully designed citizen activism in monitoring elections, unearthing irregularities and focusing public attention on the practical reforms needed are the best ways of building a movement and furthering the cause of reform. We have discovered, for instance, that in urban areas about 40% of the electoral rolls are flawed - either the eligible voters' names are missing, or the ineligible and fictitious names find place. Post-election surveys in cities indicate that over 20% of the votes cast are probably bogus. We have designed and implemented an elaborate and transparent programme to screen candidates for criminal record, and identified and publicized names of 45 candidates with verifiable criminal record. It electrified the State and gained wide-spread national attention. The recent judgement of the Delhi High Court directing the Election Commission to collect and disseminate information on criminal record of candidates is based in part on Lok Satta's documentation of criminal record of candidates. Lok Satta organized live public debates and common platforms in a structured format in over 130 Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies. A live State-wide television debate too was conducted for the first time in India. Over 10,000 volunteers were trained in the techniques of Election Watch.

The impending elections to Legislative Assemblies in the States of Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal give all of us a priceless opportunity to mobilize public opinion in favour of electoral and governance reforms. We seek your leadership and guidance in organizing citizens and launching Election Watch movement in all these and other States. FDR and Lok Satta will be happy to share our insights and knowledge and provide training and other inputs. We will do everything possible to facilitate the launching of Election Watch movement everywhere. But the actual leadership and effort must come from activists and public opinion makers in each of these States. We believe that these citizens' initiatives have a realistic chance of coalescing into a national movement for electoral reforms. Without non-partisan grass-roots activity based on painstaking research and insights, mere advocacy is unlikely to yield results. Genuine non-partisan activism is more likely to unite people for a common cause.

We propose the following steps in pursuit of the goals outlined above:

1.       Identification of public opinion makers, activist organizations and movements in each State.

2.       Initial meetings to arrive at consensus and draw up the detailed programme.

3.       Training of about 20-25 activists from each state (FDR/Lok Satta will be happy to provide free lodge, board and training. Travel costs should be borne by the participants.).

4.       P reparation and printing of Election Watch manuals for each State. (Lok Satta will assist the efforts, but translation will have to be done by local activists).

5.       Setting up an Election Watch Committee in each State with the involvement of eminent and credible non-partisan citizens - jurists, media persons, civil servants, activists, academics and thinkers.

6.       Setting up a National Secretariat to assist the efforts in each State and to help share knowledge and experience.

7.       Taking up sample surveys to focus on some of the obvious, indefensible, easily remediable flaws in election process.

8.       Prepare a few media capsules and launch a media campaign.

9.       Planning effective follow up action to build a National Platform for electoral reforms.

FDR and Lok Satta are not funded organizations and as a principle we do not accept foreign funding. Therefore there are severe resource constraints. However, FDR/Lok Satta will provide all back up support and help initiate the process.

We will be grateful if you could participate in this effort and provide your leadership and guidance. We would appreciate if you could indicate your willingness, fill out the enclosed proforma and mail to us. The enclosed literature will give you a broad idea of the work of FDR/Lok Satta. You may also like to visit our website: www.loksatta.org to get more details. We will be glad to furnish any additional information you may require.

In view of the urgency and importance of this effort, we would appreciate an immediate response.


With warm regards,

Dr Jayaprakash Narayan
National Coordinator

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