PUCL Bulletin, June 2001

PUCL Delhi:
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:

  1. "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).
  2. "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).
  3. "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 present seminar.

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 their power.

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 and participants.

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