Reforming the Election Law
By Gopa Joshi
Delhi-PUCL President Justice (retd) Mehrotra made the following statement
at the outset:
There are three contentious suggestions which have far reaching impact
on the rights of the people in governance of the country.
The present seminar
has been called to discuss these three suggestions:
- "Direct elections
should be held on the basis of adult franchise at the level of Panchayats
and other local bodies. Panchayats and other local bodies should elect
the Zila Parishads and they could together elect the State legislature.
These three could elect the Parliament and in the last analysis these
four could elect the Presdient" (Page 20).
- "The Prime
Minister and the Chief Minister in order to be elected should each necessarily
secure no less that 50 + 1 of the votes cast" (Page 20).
- "Once elected
the Prime Minister or a Chief Minister should be removable only by constructive
vote of confidence".
In support of their
suggestion the Commission has called it a Gandhian Model. Gandhiji in
his talk with Loui Fisher said "I realize that despite my views there
will be central government administration. However, I do not believe in
the accepted western form of Democracy with its universal voting for parliamentary
representatives". The concept of Gandhian model of polity and society
was entirely different Gandhiji believed in complete decentralization
of economic and political power at village Panchayat level, in the hierarchy
of governing authorities, the apex body was supposed to have only powers
in regard to Defence of the Country. The apex body was supposed to get
powers from the lowest level, i.e., village Panchayats. The first and
most important unit for development was village. Education, health, police,
housing and all matters relating to basic needs of citizens were to be
under the complete control of village Panchayats. Gandhiji's model for
building an Independent India was not even considered by the Constituent
Assembly. There was virtually no debate in the Constituent Assembly on
the question of indirect election for the Legislative Assembly and the
Parliament. Adult franchise was taken to be accepted norm for empowering
the citizens to elect their representatives for Parliament and Legislative
Assembly. One or two members feebly suggested that minimum educational
qualification should be added for entitlement of a person to elect their
representatives which was not accepted in discussion. To be fair to be
Commission I wish to add that they have themselves taken note of the argument,
which, is being advanced against the indirect election system.
"Those opposed to this approach, however, feel that it may become
easier to purchase/terrorise electors
.Their number is small that
it would be debatable if the cost of election would increase or decrease
on the proposed model elections".
The experience of indirect elections in the country is much more disappointing
than the direct elections. These days indirect elections are more easily
manipulated by money, mafia and state power than direct elections. Besides
the issue of indirect election the other two suggestion i.e. direct election
of Prime Minister and Chief Minister by MPs and MLAs respectively and
a vote of no confidence to be accompanied by vote of confidence and the
vote of no confidence to be given effect to only on passing the vote of
confidence have a very serious repercussion on Parliamentary form of government
and call for serious debate. The idea of direct election of Prime Minister
and Chief Minister by MPs and MLAs have also been floated in the new constitution
of Bharat circulated by R.S.S. These issues are open for debate in the
The eminent panelists will throw light on these vital issues.
Prof. M.P. Singh began by saying that there was no need for this commission
to review the Constitution. The Indian Constituent Assembly was an assembly
of great thinkers of the world. The Constitution they framed is one of
the best in the world. There has not been any flaw in defining the fundamentals
of the Constitution. Setting up of Commission is normally done in extraordinary
circumstances. Its Members are persons of undisputed caliber and dignity
and acceptable to all strata of people. Their recommendations are not
coloured by party or sectional interest but are guided by national interest.
These recommendations are made after profound research and wide consultations
with the researchers in the filed. He substantiated his argument by giving
the example of appointment of Royal Commission in Canada. He said that
he felt ashamed of the paper circulated by this Commission. This paper
neither reflects intellectual maturity nor shows any profound thinking
nor any social morality. Neither have read Gandhi's writings nor the writers
have an understanding of the Gandhian literature. They have clumsily combined
Gandhian ideas with American Separation of Powers and semi-Presidential
system of France. Watchdog Council and the Chief Executive has not been
defined nor has the relationship between the President and Prime Minister
been defined. According to the recommendations of this paper both the
President and Prime Minister would have the same constituency. On the
contrary, in France, President and the Prime-Minister have different constituencies.
Another important point raised by Prof. Singh is that the system of separation
of powers has been operational as an exception in the US only. In Bangla
Desh and Latin America this experiment has failed. The Commission has
not taken into account the experiences of other countries of the world.
Un-Gandhian ideas have been projected as Gandhi ji's ideas and incorporated
in the paper.
Justice Rajindar Sachar said that indirect elections are contrary to the
spirit of democracy. Gandhi always talked of village self-sufficient economy.
He was opposed to maintaining military infrastructure and centralized
government. Contrary to this, in the system recommended by the Commission
people's participation is eliminated. These recommendations resemble with
the Constitution formulated by the R.S.S. The Indian people have waged
prolonged struggle to get the right to overthrow corrupt and inefficient
government. The Commission wants to take away this right from the people.
Shri Kishan Patnaik said this Commission was unconstitutional and suggested
its recommendations should be opposed. Direct elections, he added, are
spirit of the Constitution. Constitutional Commission can not suggest
any change in the mode of elections.
He branded this suggestion as dishonest and anti-people. To camouflage
its anti-people character Gandhi's name is being linked with it. We should
demand withdrawal of Gandhi's name from these recommendations. He linked
this move to curtail people's rights given in the Constitution with the
unfolding of globalization. He said in the developing countries, including
India, the existing constitutional and legal system obstructs the road
to globalization. Any government supporting globalization would have to
change the legal and constitutional framework according to the needs of
the MNCs. As the BJP and RSS led government is ruling the country globalization
has been combined with saffronization. That is why during Vajpayee's Prime
Ministership such a Commission has been set up. Coming to Gandhi, he said,
his sole suggestion was decentralization of political and economic power.
Villages were to be the centre of authority. Right to vote was to be with
those doing physical labour. The suggestions of this paper are contrary
to the letter and spirit of Gandhi's writings. In all the developing countries
under the grip of globalization a typical political system-which gives
an impression of democratic system and operates like a dictatorial system
is being developed. Mexico and Bolivia are its two examples. The State
can, at any time take away people's rights and impose emergency. He also
looked at the suggestion of the Commission from class angle. It is in
the interest of the moneyed people to restrict the political rights of
the common people. Earlier too the common people did not have right to
life, but had political rights. Suggestions given by the Commission are
a conspiracy to deprive the common people of their political rights. He
instead talked of depriving the rich from right to vote. In this connection,
he referred to the Constitution proposed by the Samajwadi Party. In this
proposed Constitution, for a fixed period, landlords, princely families
and millionaires were not to be given political rights. He said that the
need of the hour is not to be defensive, but take offensive position.
In this connection depriving the rich from the right to vote could be
raised. He repeatedly reminded the audience that even if Congress comes
to power, the pace of globalization is not going to be arrested. Only
the form of legal and constitutional modification in India will not be
Hinduized. Hence, some radical measures should be immediately taken.
Surendra Mohan said, Gandhi in his book Hind Swaraj had dismissed the
Western civilization as unsuitable to India. It is an insult and injustice
to Gandhi to perpetuate industrialization and globalization in the name
of Gandhi. He expressed his apprehensions that indirect election would
facilitate the MNCs in such a system could easily buy the support of indirectly
elected people. This move to restrict adult franchise, he said, started
during 70s. Vasant Sathe raised this bogey. During 80s, Advani, Sathe
and Hegde started making environment for Presidential form of government.
During 90s a survey was done to find out whether people want adult franchise
or not. 65 percent were not in favour of direct elections. At the same
time (1994) Dharam Sansad formed by Vishwa Hindu Parishad wrote the Constitution
for India. (In 1973 RSS formed Vishwa Hindu Parishad. 1992, the latter
formed Dharam Sansad.) He also reiterated that the rich want to restrict
operation of adult franchise. Because, they fear that the poor, the workers,
the peasants could use their right to vote to pressurise the state to
adopt egalitarian policies. In 1970s the capitalist welcomed emergency.
Today the MNCs and Hindutva lobby both support undoing of direct elections.
At present, an individual participates in elections six times to elect
representatives from Village Panchayats to District Council, Vidhan Sabha,
and Lok Sabha. The total is eight. If this is replaced by indirect elections
then accountability to people would be eliminated. The movements waged
by people for equalitarian system have strengthened the Parliamentary
system. Capitalists support indirect elections because they feel threatened
by these movements for equitable-distribution of resources. The present
era is era of world capitalism. MNCs want to capture the economies of
all the countries of the world. Democracy restrict the pace of their advancement.
Hence the Commission to review the Constitution. The Central Government
did not get the approval of Parliament to appoint this Commission. The
regional parties are no less autocratic. Both A.P. and Tamil Nadu have
passed anti-people draconian laws.
Justice Ram Bhushan Mehrotra, before inviting comments from the house,
referred to General Ayub Khan's proposal in Pakistan to restrict direct
election to Panchayat level only. He added the government is dancing to
the tune of capitalists and undoing all legal provisions for restricting
monopoly of the rich by abolishing ceiling on urban land, by proposing
to amend land ceiling and Rent Control Act, which restrict the capitalists
and provide relief to the common people.
Bimal Bhai, Sarvodaya activist from Kanpur, saw a deep conspiracy in the
whole move. He said the rulers should search their hearts according to
the guidelines given by Gandhi in his last written document. Bimal Bhai
made a distinction between political power and people's power. All organizations
run on governmental grants would strengthen political power only. Steps
are not being taken to promote self-rule. Attempts are being made to hijack
loktantra. The era of globalization is the era of colonization. Today
the need of the hour is to unite the common people. Secondly, there should
be right to reject. This right would make people feel the strength of
K.C. Nahata, who has been active on the front demanding right to reject
said that this demand was rejected on the flimsy grounds- that it is not
practical. The excuse given was the vast majority of Indian people are
uneducated. He said his proposal was very clear - that at the end of ballot
paper there should be a column (X). A voter not convinced by any candidate
could exercise one's right to vote by ticking the cross. Thus dissatisfied
voter could tick mark this (X) and express one's dissatisfaction with
the candidates contesting elections.
Sajjad Ahmad Khan of Jharkhand Mukti Manch said that if the people of
India are supreme then decision should not be taken in closed rooms by
the government. There should be right to reject. No governmental decision
should be contrary to people's needs and aspirations.
N.D. Pancholi said that in the Constituent Assembly, there were people
adhering to Gandhian ideology. Previously, while framing the Constitution
they must have taken into account the Gandhian philosophy. The main demand
during the freedom struggle was right to vote. The British government
was slowly widening the scope of this right. But this was not enough to
satisfy the growing Indian aspirations. Hence, the demand for full independence
which meant full franchise. The Indian people have understood the significance
of this right. Therefore, the rulers are becoming increasingly insecure
and thus the move to restrict the right to vote.
The meeting ended with a vote of thanks to all the speakers and audiences