Elections are considered as the representation of the 'sovereign will' of the people of a country. So, they ought to be free from any malpractice. "One Nation, One Election" is the perfect solution to stop electoral duplication as it saves time, manpower and resources.
For India to truly become a "Sovereign, Socialist, Secular and Democratic Republic", the necessity and urgency of electoral reform is imperative. The central government has recently taken a decisive initiative in this direction by introducing the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill-2021. The bill contains provisions for several poll reforms, linking of voter ID card with Aadhar card, integration of voter lists of Panchayat/Local Body elections with Assembly/Lok Sabha elections, Increasing qualifying dates to four (January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1) every year instead of one (January 1) for the inclusion of the new voters (who have turned 18 or above) in the current electoral roll. The bill was later passed by both the houses of parliament. Undoubtedly, this decision of the Central Government is significant and has far-reaching implications. The former Chief Election Commissioner of India, S.Y. Qureshi, has also described these historical reforms and termed them a step towards strengthening democracy. However, the opposition seems immature enough to overlook the importance of these reforms. They would rather walk out than take any reforms in a positive light.
The decision to link voter lists with Aadhar cards is significant, as it will lead to the identification and removal of fake voters. There is a huge duplicacy of voter names, knowingly or unknowingly. Having names of a voter in multiple voter lists violates the constitutional provision of 'one person one vote' and compromises the due process's real mandate. Furthermore, it also makes it difficult to ascertain the exact percentage of voter turnout in the elections. Ghost-voters strategically get their names enrolled in multiple electoral rolls and misuse them to influence the election results. Such people undermine democracy by selling their votes to multiple candidates at multiple places. The Election Commission of India has been trying to resolve this issue for a long time. Attempts have been made to eliminate duplicate voter lists using different software. But not much success has been achieved in this regard. Thus, linking voter cards with Aadhar cards will resolve voter duplicacy and nip the problem in the bud.
The second decision is to integrate the voter lists of Panchayat/Local Body level elections with the voter lists of Vidhan Sabha/Lok Sabha elections. It is noteworthy that separate voter lists are used for Panchayat / Local Body elections and Assembly/Lok Sabha elections in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Orissa, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Jammu & Kashmir. The State Election Commission prepares the electoral rolls for Panchayat/local body elections, while the Election Commission of India prepares the electoral rolls for the Assembly/Lok Sabha elections. However, despite having the mandate to use the voter lists prepared by the Election Commission of India for conducting elections in the state, it is not in practice in the states mentioned above. Rather, they prepare their voter lists separately, which causes problems like duplication of voters and voter lists. This process unnecessarily involves a lot of human capital and other resources.
Renewal of electoral rolls is a complex, laborious, and challenging task. Therefore, instead of doing this work twice, it is more rational to do it properly in one go. This repetition seems even more ridiculous because the voters of Panchayat/Municipality elections, Assembly elections and Lok Sabha elections are one and the same. Hence, by using the same electoral roll for all the above elections, not only huge chunks of money and manpower will be saved, but also these savings can be used in other productive activities. Realising the importance of the same, many states of India are currently using the electoral rolls prepared by the Election Commission of India for their Panchayat /local body elections. For the ward representatives who are elected in Panchayat/Block elections, adding a column of the ward in the voter list prepared by the Election Commission of India, the election of the ward representatives can also be done successfully. Thus, this decision of the government enforcing the use of one common electoral list pan India is both pragmatic and farsighted.
The amendment to Section 14 of the RP Act, 1950, will allow four "qualifying" dates for eligible youngsters to register as voters. As of now, January 1 of every year is the sole qualifying date. People who turn 18 on or before January 1 can register as voters. Those turning 18 after that have to wait for a whole year to register as voters. Meanwhile, in the event of an election, many young voters are deprived of exercising their franchise. Now, "January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 in a calendar year" will be the qualifying dates in relation to the preparation or revision of the rolls. This central government move will ensure the time-bound participation of many young voters in the democratic process. In India, the election role has always been considered a crucial element of politics because of the involvement of corrupt practices and violence in elections. There is a need to make changes in the old method of the electoral system. Undoubtedly, these three decisions of the Central Government will pave the way for electoral reforms and strengthen the Indian democracy. But are these enough? Today, Indian democracy has been taken hostage by moneybags and musclemen. Strict provisions need to be made to free it from their claws. Multiple reports of the Association for Democratic Reforms have expressed concern over the glut of millionaires and criminals to legislatures. It is almost impossible for a clean and honest individual to contest and win an election these days. This is why the Parliament and the Legislative Assemblies have become hubs of the corrupt and criminals, and the country has become their pasture.
"There is no more dangerous menace to civilisation than a government of incompetent, corrupt or vile men" – Ludwig von Mises
Elections are considered as the representation of the 'sovereign will' of the people of a country. So, they ought to be free from any malpractice. Any election that is manipulated or managed by any external force or inducement is nothing less than fraud to the people. Free and fair elections are necessary for a healthy democracy. 'Democracy' is the net output of 'free and fair elections'.
Provisions like discontinuing delegate (indirect) elections, making the election manifesto a judicial document like an affidavit, transparency in donations to political parties and their candidates, strict action against candidates/parties making provocative statements and enticing public announcements, banning the defectors and their families from taking office in the new party/government for five years. Provision to Prohibit people of criminal background, providing false affidavits, simultaneously contesting from more than seats and the persons who contest another election before the completion of the term of the previous one from contesting elections need urgent attention. Further, provisions like prohibiting a person from contesting elections more than five times for the same post are of utmost importance. A five-year "cool-in period" should also be made mandatory for the defecting candidate and his/her family. For the provisions relating to property description and cool-in period, the entire joint family of the candidate should be considered a family because most political parties are joint families of criminals and corrupt. Just like the steps to prevent duplication of voters' names and electoral rolls, work should also be done to prevent duplication of election processes. "One Nation, One Election" is the perfect solution to stop electoral duplication. Massive savings of time, manpower and resources can be made by holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Legislative Assemblies.
India is a vast and diverse country having a democratic set-up that is progressive and dynamic. It has to deal with new challenges and problems the system faces every day. Electoral reforms have been taking place in India from time to time. Its timely improvement is a sign of vitality as they are a prerequisite for all other reforms, and we cannot afford to ignore them. In fact, we should proceed further with renewed vigour to get these reforms implemented by building consensus among all stakeholders, like political parties, political elites, civil society and, most importantly, our citizens.
"If India grows steadily and does the structural things right and carefully unties knots, builds an institutional process which sort of cleans up the corruption and the baggage in the system, I see it as a wonderful marathon." Uday Kotak.
(The author is Dean, Students& Welfare, Central University of Jammu)