Who will bell the cat, Mr Narasimhan?
Though the Governor's address brought out many issues regarding corruption during elections and ways to curtail it, the status quo is maintained as there is no one to bell the cat, says the writer Amar Devulapalli
This question is in response to some wishful thinking of Governor of AP and Telangana, ESL Narasimhan at the recently held 24th All India Conference of Election Commissioners.
The Governor said that the entire election process in the country, from Gram Panchayats to the Lok Sabha, should be held at one go so that there is sufficient amount of time for the governments to get busy with the development activities in the country. This was one of the suggestions put forward by Mr Narasimhan while addressing the election commissioners. He suggested several other measures in this meeting, which if implemented will definitely help the elections to be held in a fair and free manner.
The Governor also spoke on how to minimise or wipe out corrupt practices in elections. This came at a time when the union home ministry has advised the Andhra Pradesh Chief Secretary to furnish details on a statement made by Dr Kodela Siva Prasad Rao, the speaker of Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly a few months back. It may be recalled that Mr Rao went on record in a regional news channel interview, saying that he has spent eleven and a half crore rupees during the 2014 legislative elections to get elected from his constituency, Narasaraopet in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh.
This huge amount is definitely much above the spending allowed by the Election Commission of India. A Governor, in whose State the Legislative Assembly Speaker admits spending huge amounts in winning the election, wants the Representation of Peoples Act to be made more stringent and Prevention of Corruption Act be included in it to arrest the money power rampant during the polls. The Governor has suggested several progressive steps including a recall of the elected representatives at least among the local bodies.
There is a demand in the society for a recall system for the elected representatives to Legislatures and Parliament too. Election reforms are the hot topic since a long time. Everyone wants election reforms and arrest of money power in the elections. All the suggestions or observations made by the Governor in this conference are already in discussion for a long time and thanks to him for reminding them and giving a scope for a fresh debate.
T N Seshan, former Chief Election Commissioner was one of the first who took some strong steps to curtail the use of money and muscle in elections. Several changes were made to minimise corrupt practices in the elections. Though some reforms were introduced by the subsequent commissions, Seshan became very popular due to the drastic steps taken during his period particularly restricting the number of days and the extent of publicity during campaigning.
Efforts were made by the Election Commission on several occasions to minimise the expenditures but the influence of money in the elections in our country has grown manifolds in the last seventy years. According to a study carried out by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS) in the year 2014, general elections in India were estimated to incur an expenditure of Rs 30000 crores by the government, political parties and candidates.
According to the election expenditure fixed by the government of India, the maximum limit of election expenses per candidate in Lok Sabha is Rs 70 lakhs and in the Assemblies, it is Rs 28 lakhs. These limits were fixed by the central government. The political class in this country will be first in line to break the laws. The Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly Speaker’s admission on the election expenditure is an example of the influence of money in the elections.
There are many who are confident on how to hoodwink the system. The paid news menace which was first identified in the united State of Andhra Pradesh by the Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists is one escape route for politicians where they spend unaccounted money in the elections, thanks to the greedy media bosses who help them in it. The Governor’s address at the annual conference of the States Election Commissioners once again brought several issues for discussion.
Conducting elections at the same time with one voter's list is one way in reducing the government expenditure. But as said in the beginning who will bell the cat? The same political class has to do it. The politicians who are spending crores of rupees to get elected to the legislatures and parliament have to do it. Are they prepared to do the same? A study in Andhra Pradesh a few years back revealed that a minimum of Rs 50 lakhs each is spent by candidates to get elected as Gram Panchayat Sarpanch which is almost double than that of the expenditure ceiling fixed for a Legislative Assembly constituency.
In both the Telugu States, in spite of the ceiling on election expenditure, each candidate is spending about Rs 7 to 10 crores for Assembly constituency and Rs 30 to 50 crores for a Lok Sabha constituency. The Anti-Corruption Bureaus are constituted under the Prevention of Corruption Act are challenged when they deal with the political corruption. The latest example is the crores for a voting scam in Telangana State in which two legislators of TDP are accused and on bail and the CM of Andhra Pradesh himself is facing allegations.
The TDP bosses argued that the anti-corruption bureau has no jurisdiction to deal with political corruption and it comes in the purview of election commission though a clarification from the commission is still awaited. Several cases are pending against the floor crossing of several legislators and few Parliament members in courts or the Speaker’s chambers. This is the heights of the mockery of democracy. How can a legislator enjoy a Cabinet berth by crossing into ruling party without resigning and getting elected again? So, who will take a call on election reforms? This is the paramount question.
(Writer is a senior journalist, columnist and secretary general of Indian Journalists Union (IJU))