To put an end to the sham of ‘Aya Ram Gaya Ram’, we need a statutory regulatory body for political parties- Political Parties Regulatory Authority of India (PPRAI).
A “vote for note” scandal is under investigation in the two Telugu states- Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The vote of nominated Anglo-Indian MLC was sought to be purchased by an opposition party, the leader and MLAs of which are the “accused” actors.
Purchasing MPs first came into the open when Shri P V Narasimha Rao sought the Vote of Confidence in 1993. He won it by buying Shibu Soren and other MPs of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM). There was a futile attempt to prosecute the bribe givers and the takers. Purchasing of MLAs votes in State Assemblies has also been going on and this trade has been indulged in by almost all political parties excepting Communists and the BJP. Defections and floor-crossing had been described as ‘Aya Ram Gaya Ram’ phenomenon by the late Shri Y B Chavan. Not only individual MLAs and MPs defected but Bhajan Lal who was the Janata Dal Chief Minister of Haryana had the distinction of converting his entire Janata Dal Legislature Party into the Congress Party overnight. The Indian National Congress which is no longer the same as the Congress of Lokamanya Tilak, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Lala Lajpat Rai, Sardar Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi is now a proprietary party almost owned by a family. Despite that, because of its history and its dominance for so long, it is expected that it would set standards of morality, uprightness and transparency among elected representatives of the people.
That the morality is entirely different when individuals are involved. It has been proved by Smt Indira Gandhi repudiating the candidacy of Congress nominee Shri N Sanjiva Reddy for the Presidentship of Bharat. She proposed his name but then afraid that she could be eased out of Prime Ministership and Congress, she called upon her party men to vote according to their conscience so that her favourite and obedient candidate, Shri V V Giri would be elected. In 1967 Congress was reduced to a minority in many States. Samyukta Vidhayak Dal governments were cobbled up in those states. There was lot of trading in legislators and totally unprincipled alliances, one of which was where communists and the then Jana Sangh were also in the same anti-Congress government in Bihar. Floor-crossings in UP, Jharkhand, Haryana and on a smaller scale, in other states have contributed to the utter decline of ethics among elected representatives. Its most public exercise was witnessed in the voting on the confidence motion in the Lok Sabha on 23 July, 2008. Wads of currency notes which had been given to MPs to entice them to vote in a particular manner were with great relish, flaunted and exhibited for public view over TV channels. Of course, there was a show of some inquires but as in the past, we may be sure that nothing would come out of such inquiry.
In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress and the TDP made promises that they would give free electricity not only for farmers but even for all rural folks, waiver of all loans whether for agriculture or for education ; free houses, free meals, free clothes, free TV sets, free lands, marriage expenses, delivery expenses, nutritious food during pregnancy, old age pensions, white ration cards for all but about 10 per cent – 15 per cent of the population, subsidised pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims; Muslim First Programs; separate districts for Muslim concentration areas, reservation for Muslims in elected bodies; fee reimbursement for all post-matric students, loans of Rs 100,000 each at 3 per cent interest for one crore women, and so on. They also promised to introduce prohibition but they made the same promise in earlier elections also but as soon they got into power they forgot about it. None of the parties have any verifiable record of how funds are coming to them. No accounts are submitted to anybody including the party executive. There are no elections for office bearers.
Companies are required by statute to have audited accounts of revenues and expenses, reveal sources of income and investments, profit and loss accounts, balance sheets publish (unaudited) results every quarter, hold Annual General Meeting to scrutinise and pass the accounts, elect Directors and so on. Political parties must have much more concern with public money and inner party democracy. Parties must be required by law – to make all disclosures that public limited companies are required to make. We need to have a statutory regulatory body –Political Parties Regulatory Authority of India (PPRAI) We have statutory regulatory authorities for telecommunications, insurance, banking, civil aviation, stock market etc. We have an Election Commission but its function is only to see that elections are conducted fairly and according to law. There is no law in this country which will submit political parties to decent discipline. For example, if parties make promises and don’t deliver upon them, they are fraudulent and deceitful. They spend hundreds of crores of rupees (in Andhra Pradesh Rs 10 crore per candidate for a Lok Sabha seat and up to Rs 5 crore per constituency for the State Assembly). Where is this money coming from? Who is keeping accounts? Where is this money stored and how do they spend this afterwards? Nothing is known.
The parties must be required to estimate the cost of the welfare schemes and development projects they are promising in their election manifestoes and how they would raise the monies required from, through what new taxes at what rates and by how much enhancement of existing taxes and in what time periods, how much of their promises would be delivered. The PPRAI Act should authorise the PPRAI to prescribe penalties for default on promise to people as well as on measures to ensure internal democracy. The law that concerns defection of MLAs, MLCs and MPs should be brought into the PPRAI Act.
Functions of PPRAI should be an amalgam of what SEBI and Registrar of Companies with due changes applicable to bodies (i.e. political parties) whose business is politics. Politics is now a business, let us make no mistake about it; it is even a hereditary profession, indulging in business with functions like acquisitions, mergers; sale and purchase of MLAs, MPs and other “elected” (more appropriately, selected) persons. There must be provisions in this Act among others, for requiring the political parties to file annual returns of accounts and AGM proceedings; contribution of a part of their revenue to the PPRAI for financial assistance to civil society’s Elector Education and Election Watch Societies and for the PPRAI to bring into being such societies with essential functions prescribed for them.
It is necessary that there is a Political Parties Regulatory Authority of India (PPRAI) just like the TRAI for telecoms. It would be great if a law is drafted by public spirited organs, put in circulation for public discussion and a final draft is produced in consultation with lawyers, chartered accountants and men of integrity, former government officers and others and a petition is presented to the Parliament for passing a bill. There could be at least, one or two MPs of impeccable integrity who could be requested to move a private members bill if, the government itself is not forthcoming. This must be canvassed right from now so that it becomes one of the laws to be enacted by the present parliament; and if it fails to do so, it becomes an issue in the elections to the Lok Sabha in 2019.
Dr T H Chowdary (The writer is senior columnist and chairman of Pragna Bharati Andhra Pradesh)