is reasonable to presume that the criminal antecedents,
financial details and educational qualifications are relevant
to citizens before deciding on the desirability and competence
of a candidate. The issue here is that people have a fundamental
right to know about those who formally seek elective public
office. This entitlement cannot be questioned or surrendered.
Disclosure is not disqualification. Disqualification of
candidates is governed by Sec. 8 of Representation of the
People Act, 1951. Disclosure is merely to help the public
to make informed choices.
the question of privacy. Certainly we have no right to pry
into the private affairs of individuals. But the moment
a person seeks power over public affairs, he must make public
that part of his life which has a bearing on his public
duties. Where there is a clash between individual right
to privacy and the community's right to proper representation,
the former must yield to the latter.
are disclosures really necessary? Don't people knowingly
vote for criminals and corrupt people anyway? True, many
known criminals are elected. But disclosure does two things.
It makes the candidate's record the key issue in public
mind. Elections are fought on many issues, and candidate's
antecedents are often relegated to the background. Disclosure
puts the spotlight on the candidate. And parties will be
compelled to defend their choice of candidates. This will
in turn force parties to rethink. All parties have decent
elements. Disclosure norms will embolden them to resist
nomination of known criminals and those with undisclosed
assets. LOK SATTA's disclosure campaign in Andhra Pradesh
forced parties to desist from nominating criminals afresh,
though established politicians with criminal record continue.
Criminalization has thus been arrested, though not reversed.
Disclosure and media and public pressure do make a significant
difference over a period of time by changing parties' behaviour.
but is disclosure sufficient to cleanse elections? Not at
all. Disclosure is a significant and necessary step, but
by no means sufficient. There are no panaceas to set our
system right. Several far-reaching changes - funding reforms,
political party regulation, proportional representation,
and clearer separation of powers - are necessary to make
our political process transparent and accountable. Disclosure
is one important instrument in the overall scheme of political
reform, and could hasten the reform process.
the ball is now in people's court. People's voice and civil
society pressure did make a difference and made disclosures
mandatory. Now the Parliament cannot dilute disclosures
as they are part of our fundamental rights. But we still
need to do two things. We need to publicize the candidate
details, encourage more informed voting and bring pressure
on parties. And we need to focus on the other important
goals of political reform. Strident criticism, wringing
our hands in despair, and unending cynicism will not do.
If we want a better India, we must work for it with clarity,
good sense, and optimism. A few well-meaning citizens cannot
carry the burden of the whole nation on their shoulders.
We need active citizens, not inveterate critics.
democracy is about people. We are the true sovereigns, and
all public functionaries are our servants. Parliament and
government are subordinate to our will. An overwhelming
majority of people is in favour of disclosures. In a people's
ballot organized by LOK SATTA - first of its kind on such
a scale - nearly a million people participated, and 98.4%
of them supported disclosures. There can be no further argument
on the subject. People want it, and they shall get it. Vox
populi, Vox dei!