Author: Javeria Fatima, Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
The term ‘democracy’ comes from two Greek terms, ‘demos’ meaning masses and ‘kratein’ meaning power. It gives power to the people to vote and get their desired candidates elected who will work for them and govern over the country. This electing power is vested in democracy to the people. The very infamous quote by Abraham Lincoln, that is, ”Government is of the people, for the people and by the people” is certainly apt to describe democracy.
Democratically elected nations presuppose free and unbiased elections, and India is the world’s largest democracy so, it definitely expects free and fair elections. The Indian Constitution ensures that the country’s representatives are free and fairly elected, and enables the Election Committee to oversee, manage and direct the India election. The right to vote promised to Indians and other provisions relating to elections in India, part XV of the Constitution facilitates free and fair elections, but these provisions were not enough to ensure free and fair elections. The parliament, therefore, passed the Representation of People’s Act, 1950 and the Representation of People’s act, 1951 to govern the conduct of elections. Pure and unmeddled elections can only guarantee the development of any country’s democratic politics. The ordinary people who live in a democratic country can only be allowed to set up the country’s administration in a pure and saintly manner. Only free and fair elections can allow a peaceful transition of power.
Evidence from the Rig Vedic period suggests the initiation of deliberations of Democracy. The Rig Veda consists of metaphors of democratic bodies like ‘sabha’ and ‘samiti’. Ancient historians work and accounts of Greek invaders describe graphically people choosing their rulers or heads like ganapatis and their assistant nobles to took forth the process of decision-making for the state.
Significance of Elections
An election is a chance for voters to question the elected officials and hold them accountable. If an established government is not satisfactory, the voters can outvote it and bring in a new government. Election is a way of drawing public opinion which should be a basis and guide to understanding what public officials or political leaders should do. In every democracy, the candidates must go among the voters to know the needs and expectations of their representatives. Elections are, therefore, a means to inform the elected candidate that he was elected by the electorate. The Election Commission is empowered to ensure that all political parties and candidates are given an equal chance to participate in elections. It has come up with a set of rules and regulations of campaigning and all the political parties must follow it carefully. The Committee on Elections develops a set of regulations called the Model Code of Conduct to be followed by all parties and individuals contesting. In addition, both at the Union level and State level, the Election Commission put limits on the spending on rallying elections.
Need of free and fair elections and the role of ECI and Judiciary
During the drafting of the Constitution, Dr BR Ambedkar proposed for a single election body that would be impartial and independent so as to avoid rigging of elections, any influence of the ruling party or even other candidates. We have established a universal franchise for adults, with which any individual who reaches the age of 18 is entitled to vote. Following the principle of universal adult franchise, every individual has the right to vote. In Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Rajnaraian, it was observed: “The principle of a free and fair election is an essential postulate of democracy which in turn is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India.” The Election Commission enables media to participate in the election process to hold transparent elections and also allows media representatives to cover polling stations and counting centres.
In addition, the Election Commission went on to the voting paper that turned out to be appalling work, which required funding and was inherently susceptive to inaccurate voting count. Electronic Voting Machine(EVM) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) have been implemented by the Election Commission for the transparent holding of elections to combat “corrupt activities” and “electoral malpractices”. ECI plays a significant role for free and fair elections as the Commission manages the whole country’s electoral machinery. To combat corrupt activities such as the bribe, the Commission sets guidelines for proper conduct during the elections. Special officials are appointed during elections to raid and seize illegal funds. Such money or drugs can be used to influence voters, ultimately affecting the Commission’s constitutional objective. The election panel deploys the paramilitary personnel at voting places and in the strong rooms for EVM protection after the polling.
The Indian elections are considered one of the fairest in the world on an international level. In 2014, the Economist’s news magazine pondered how competent India was at holding elections. The slow pace of Indian elections in 2019 was described as fundamental to the Code of Conduct. During the 2014 general elections, the UNDP offered the visit of delegates from various countries from Bhutan to Kenya and Arab nations. There are numerous questions and obstacles before the Indian Election Commission in holding elections that are free, fair and true to the tenets of democracy. Criminalization of politics has been flagged by all committees and commissions as the most significant problem about elections and is a major concern for the viability of democracy in the country. It takes various forms, but the entry in Indian politics of criminals is most prevalent, both convicted and trialed.
According to the findings of the Vohra Committee, there is a clear relationship between criminals, police, bureaucracy and politicians and this link is utilized by these leaders for voting purposes at the election. The gangs are employed for booth capturing and threatening voters. In response to the problem of criminalization of politics, the Supreme Court of India has repeatedly adopted judgements. The whole nation takes the criminalization of politics seriously. There is immoral connection between politicians and criminals, as many politicians have helped criminals in their favour in return freeing them from shackles. They have been misusing their brute power to capture booths on polls and to frighten voters from voting. Over the years, EC’s election system has been strengthened and its quality has improved via a series of excellent electoral reforms. These are really healthy and intelligent reforms. The EC must have the authority to penalize those badly-behaved politicians who breach the electoral laws and violate them. If people vote by themselves and penalise those who violate the rules, corrupt practices will inadvertently go away. This will make it possible for a democratic system to expand and flourish to its maximum extent.
Religious faith which is a sensitive feeling for Indians is used to manipulate voters and is a very grave threat to free and fair elections in India. In Abhiram Singh v. C.D. Commachen (Dead) By Lrs.& Ors, the Supreme Court of India held, “A political candidate or anyone with his/her consent cannot appeal to the candidate‟s, his agent‟s, or voters‟ – religion, race, caste, community or language during elections. Both the positive element i.e. an appeal to vote on these grounds and the negative element i.e. an appeal not to vote on these grounds are covered. In essence, the Supreme Court provided that in light of the secular nature of the Indian constitution, political candidates cannot be allowed to appeal to religion, caste etc. for creating divisive tendencies in the name of religion.”
Pitfalls in in the way of free and fair elections
The Electoral Bonds introduced in 2017 through essentially an undemocratic way (as it was introduced through a money bill and wasn’t debate over in the rajya Sabha) has many loopholes that can favour the incumbent Government, but has been denied by Supreme Court to hold unconstitutional or suggest changes. According to available statistics, the ruling BJP, which introduced the Electoral Bond system, has captured the lion’s share of donations received through this channel. This, along with the fact that the Income Tax Department sent letters to those who gave to the AAP a few years ago, raises legitimate questions about the government’s intentions. Furthermore, no contributor has come out to declare that he or she requested anonymity while making gifts, as the government claimed as the rationale for instituting the electoral bond system in 2017. All political parties who reject electoral bonds must publicly promise not to accept funds via this method. There’s huge chances of foreign funding, lobbying, intransparency, etc.
There have been questions raised on the independency of Election Commission as well. A number of decisions by the ECI in recent assembly elections – in particular, the relief of the forty-eight hour embargo on Hemant Biswa Sarma, BJP leader in Assam leader– have raised uproar among the political parties and people about the independence of ECI. If BJP is re-emerged into power in the state, Sarma vowed to throw Bodoland’s Hagrama Mohilary Chief behind bars in the NIA case. Yet, he was given a free hand bye the ECI after he conveyed his “unconditional regret” regarding his speech. The ECI has been implicated on multiple plaintings in connection with Model Code of Conduct (MCC) breaches in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when it gave out clean chit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then BJP Chief Amit Shah.
One of the major challenges that have remained in perpetual prosperity and existence in the world’s largest democracy is the absence of free and fair elections, which leaves room for various ill-practices, corruption, planning, or voting rights, as well as a crisis of competitive and healthy political competition, instead of focusing on the display of brute power. Despite Supreme Court judgments and the Electoral Commission’s strictness, corrupt activities continue to taint the election process. As a result, reforms are urgently needed to safeguard India’s deteriorating democracy. The idea of equal political rights enshrines an inherent notion of free and fair justice, which is put on a higher pedestal than social and economic rights. This is because, via the freedom to pick one’s own leader, one may aspire for economic and social equality, which will result through the process of good governance itself. The idea of one man, one vote accurately describes how universal adult franchise is the foundation of a functioning democracy. As a result, before bestowing the label of greatness, every great nation has empowered its citizens through Universal Adult Franchise.
Over the years, EC’s election system has been strengthened and its quality has improved via a series of excellent electoral reforms. These are really healthy and intelligent reforms. The EC must have the authority to penalize those badly-behaved politicians who breach the electoral laws and violate them. If people vote by themselves and penalise those who violate the rules, corrupt practises will inadvertently go away. This will make it possible for a democratic system to expand and flourish to its maximum extent. The fundamental source of a healthy democratic life and gauge of their strength and vitality is free and fair elections. Consequently, Electoral administration must be free of presidential and legislative pressure and influence. The Election Commission must behave impartially and take compliance of each and every breach of MCC in a strictest sense. It should be adamant and severe with its rules and regulations.
If the frequency of corrupt activities in elections is used to assess a democracy’s maturity, we may have to concede that the Indian democracy is still in its infancy. Let us hope that, via a mix of legal and political measures, India will be able to remove corruption from the electoral process. If England, who gave us the “Westminster Model,” can do it, why can’t India?
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