Friday , 21 September 2018
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Electoral Reforms Need Of The Hour

BINAYAK DATTA

 

The two utterly vitriolic polls for the Karnataka assembly and the Bengal panchayats, last fortnight emerged as shrill wake-up calls once more. And they reminded me one more time with certainty, that our basics and systems desperately need urgent revisit to the drawing boards. Everything in this world has a price and a life of its own after all. Things that were good for us 70 years ago need not be the same any more today – they can certainly cry for drastic change. I am neither going to dabble in election results here, nor their analysis. I thought, on the other hand, I’ll look at the take-homes for me, as a reasonably educated, widely experienced, unbiased citizen without any psephological pretences whatsoever. I am sure PG Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster would have asked Jeeves once more, (what the BJP must be asking itself right now). “There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, do trousers matter?” and Jeeves would have certainly replied with his stoic “The mood will pass, sir!”

Bengal rural polls

My first take, both in Bengal and in Karnataka, is that our constitutional institutions decidedly need a new life – the life our Founding Fathers wanted them to live. In Bengal, we endured the harrowing site of the State Election Commissioner issuing a notification on one day only to be rebuked by the state government and withdrawing it the next day. We saw how threats, violence, chicanery and expletives ruled the roost. We saw violent obstructions to opposition candidates from filing their nominations resulting in a record 30 per cent seats going to ruling party candidates ‘unopposed’ – a feat incomprehensible in ‘democracies’ anywhere in the world. (The Supreme Court fortunately intervened and put brakes on these evil machinations of the ruling party there). We saw loss of 15 precious lives in poll violence, we saw ballot boxes set on fire or dumped in ponds and we saw bouts of extreme competitive-communalism. At the end of all of this a tiny voice inside you inevitably asks – is this democracy, and is it worth this?

Karnataka elections

In Karnataka, first we saw rampant violation of the model code of conduct in divisiveness and rhetoric. We saw petrol prices artificially suppressed inspite of the crude and the dollar hardening – and lo! The moment the elections were over, there came the sudden spike of 6 per cent in three days. Who gained from this and at whose cost? In terms of the campaign both, in Bengal and in Karnataka, where I have been frequently travelling, it was open divisiveness, blatant casteism, rank communalism and personal mudslinging all around. Branded mining mafia were freely fielded. No wonder 42 out of BJP’s 104 MLAs and 23 out of Congress’ 78 MLAs face serious criminal charges. One BJP MLA magically multiplied his wealth from Rs 9 crore to Rs 40 crore since last elections, according to an ADR Report!

Issues sidelined

Actually, both Karnataka and rural Bengal have plethora of serious issues staring at your face. In Karnataka, farm distress, droughts and drinking water have been the major issues and all we saw were poor gimmicks displayed thoughtlessly on the Mhadei water dispute. The Union government in fact was admonished by the Supreme Court for not submitting the Cauvery Management Scheme in stipulated time because the entire Union cabinet was busy strategising and canvassing in Karnataka. Karnataka has the dubious distinction of being the third largest amongst states with farmer suicides. Instead of programmes on this, all we got were minority status for Lingayats. Bangalore City, the hub of Indian International Business, itself has a host of formidable civic problems. Karnataka happens to be one of the poorest performers in basic health and basic education – were these ever debated? Bengal has a deep-rooted problem of rural unemployment; not a word of this figured in the election agenda. Only Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti were all that were widely

touted.

Governor’s office

The next institution that failed to add to its glory was the Institution of the Governor. (Once upon a time we used to have Governors like Sarojini Naidu, Dharamvira, Siddhartha Shankar Ray and General Jacob, who left their imprints on posterity). Here we were treated to the spectacle of a Karnataka Governor, (formerly from the Sangh), obediently inviting the BJP (the largest group but falling eight short of majority), to form a government just 15 months after his illustrious counterparts in Goa and Meghalaya found nothing wrong in inviting the BJP there with just 32 per cent and 3 per cent of seats in these states respectively to enjoy loaves of office in a hurriedly cobbled up afterthought alliance. So what was right for the BJP in these two states became awfully wrong for the Congress-JD(S) alliance in Karnataka. The icing on the cake came when the BJP was given 15 long days to “prove their majority,” a brazen enticement for unethical play, and I cannot simply imagine the Governor offering this bonanza without appropriate “guidance” of his mentors. So the world saw MLAs of the biggest democracy being herded in 5-star resorts lest they be poached! No stone was left unturned, not even hurriedly hunting out a nominated Anglo-Indian MLA. Fortunately, once again the Supreme Court stepped out on that fateful midnight, keeping aside all of the 55,000 cases pending on its shelves and ordered proofs of majority in just 24 hours. Will the Governor now be answerable for his misadventure?

Hasn’t the malaise struck deep into the roots of the system? Will scratching at the surface now suffice? Things in my view have to be rebuilt afresh. It’s not a question of making ten new laws, it’s a question of honest enforcement of the existing ones by institutions that exist for this but are loathe doing their

jobs.

I think we have miles to go to show to the world we are a serious democracy but the optimist that I am, I am certain Jeeves would be correct at the end and my ‘mood’ (of frustrations) ‘would pass’ sooner than later, it has to.

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