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The Big Fight is On !!

We were privy to some serious, meaningful and absorbing deliberations on the issue of electoral and political reforms, an issue which touches all of us so closely. We share some of the action with you.

Dirty politics, and its nexus with businesses and the executive, and to some extent the judiciary, have for years been identified as the root cause of all corruption in India. Voices are getting louder in the country, demanding sweeping electoral and political reforms, without which, all agree, the scourge cannot be checked, let alone uprooted.

The Big Fight is On !!, Lifeinchd

Photo By: Life in Chandigarh

So when political observers, experts, campaigners and activists descended on Chandigarh for the 13th Annual Conference on Electoral and Political Reforms, organised by the Punjab & Haryana Election Watch (P&HEW) and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) in association with the Panjab University (PU), the Golden Jubilee Hall, the venue for the two-day deliberations, witnessed a bevy of enthusiastic participants on Saturday and Sunday. The public concern over the issue was quite palpable. 

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Chief  Election Commissioner (CEC) Dr. Nasim Zaidi inaugurated the event and listed out the various priorities and initiatives of the commission in cleaning up the political process in the country and bringing about greater transparency in its own functioning, but the deliberations during the various sessions – Increasing Opacity in Political Financing, State/Public Funding of Political  Parties, Innovative Ideas Towards Greater Voter Awareness at the Grass-root Level, Criminalisation of Politics and Impact of Media on Elections and Governance — brought us face to face with the realities of the day. 

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Book Release

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The CEC released a book on the combined analysis of the recently concluded 5 state assembly elections 2017. Among those present was PU Vice Chancellor Dr Arun Kumar Grover. 

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Politicians clearly in discomfort

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The only two political leaders to participate, that too only in the pre-lunch sessions on the opening day, were clearly uncomfortable in the wake of a barrage of political party-bashing from the experts who spoke and the audience while intervening in open discussion.

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Former Union minister and Supreme Court lawyer Manish Tewari while clarifying at the outset that he was not speaking on behalf of his party, the Congress, but in his individual capacity, said he advocated political parties to be brought under the ambit of Right to Information (RTI) Act and all donations to political parties, regardless of the amount, to be linked to aadhar card. Firmly opposing the increasing trend of party-bashing from all quarters, he suggested a serious process of engagement between the political parties and various sections of the public. “I am for forging alliances and coalitions between reformist sections within political parties and civil societies and other campaigners to achieve the desired results.”

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Member of the Punjab legislative assembly, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who switched his allegiance from the Congress to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) before the recent assembly elections in the state, felt the need for greater intra party democracy to make them more responsive to the voice of the people. Questioned about AAP veering away from its avowed commitment to value-based politics and transparency within the party, he said he still believed the party was head above others in maintaining transparency in funding. “The party has been making public the sources of its income by placing facts on its website. But of late there have been deviations, which need to be checked,” he added.

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The Big Fight is On !!, Lifeinchd

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Photo By: Life in Chandigarh

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Opacity in political funding

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Prof. Jagdish Chhokar, ADR founder member and trustee, was emphatic in saying that opacity in political party funding was indeed on the increase during the past 20 or more years. “None of the political parties is serious about either intra party democracy or financial transparency because of their vested interests, and are just dragging their feet on these issues. In such a scenario we have no option but to continue to put pressure on them through all means available to us. Let there be no let up in this struggle,” he added.

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State funding

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On the debatable issue of state/public funding of political parties/candidates, Dr. M R Madhavan, President and co-founder of PRS Legislative Research, felt with all the question marks over the issue, it is an area which needs to be serious explored down to the minute details. Funding is indeed possible with the total expenditure involved estimated to be just 0.5 percent of the country’s annual GDP, and elections are held only once in five years, he added.

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Dr Madhavan said, “There are of course several points which need to be extensively debated – whether the funding should be in cash or in kind, whether it is to be given to political parties or individual candidates, the formula to be adopted for arriving at the quantum of funding, the checks and balances to ensure that the funds are spent on activities that come under the legal framework and are not utilised in illegal indulgences, etc. Then there is also the possibility of the political parties getting access to private funding over and above the state/public funding, which brings us to the big issue of corporate funding and its consequences, and whether it should be allowed to continue at all,” he averred.

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Commenting on the nature of state/public funding, Prof. Arun Kumar, former Sukhamoy Chakravarty Chair Professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said black economy has grown manifold during last 70 years due to illegal nexus among politicians, businessmen, mafia etc. and also due to direct entry of criminals into politics post 1980s. He also said that there is a need for sustained movements against corruption and demand for accountability to defeat the illegal nexus. Therefore, he felt that public funding will not help unless corruption is checked.

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Prof. Sanjay Kumar, Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, suggested that instead of being unrealistic in expecting big ticket reforms at one go, we must focus on small-small reforms which will eventually lead to big reforms.

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For more on the subject : adrindia.org  

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