Electoral reform, in true sense of the term, in India remains a dream for poor, common, and innocent people of the country. What happened in the name of several reforms is exclusion of the poor, effected, for example, by enhancing even the security deposits that a poor person cannot dream of to afford. Delinking elections from money power is not on the cards, while it would be the real inclusive electoral reform. What the Modi led BJP government is pushing would create more problems than it would solve for common man, federalism, and the autonomy of institutions in the country.
The most recent example was the passage of the Election Laws (Amendment Bill 2021 in Parliament, which seeks to link electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem. Modi government got it done even amid walk out by the opposition. The opposition wanted the bill to be referred to a standing committee for deeper deliberation on all the related issues. However, the government rejected their demand. During the brief discussion before passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha, it was termed by the leader of the opposition Mallikarjun Khargeas a “mockery of democracy” since it was earlier passed in the Lok Sabha without any “discussion or debate”.
The chief allegation regarding this bill is that it is in violation of the SC judgment in Puttaswamy case, and the chief fear is that it would lead to mass disenfranchisement. However, the Centre has claimed that it would solve the “major problem” of multiple enrolment of the same person at different places and help in “cleaning” the voter’s list to a great extent. The fear against the passage of the bill intensifies when we read it with other steps initiated by the government, such as CAA-NRC-NPR and several other issues like availing even their legal rights and humanitarian help, we know how much trouble the citizens faced in absence of Aadhaar cards. Even if, government’s claim is accepted, it cannot empower the poor and common men who have only the right to vote and in reality shrewdly excluded from contesting since it is linked to money which they cannot afford. It means only moneyed people would be rulers and all others are only to be ruled and will have no say in the legislative except through the moneyed people they have elected. It is not a true democracy if the poor cannot voice their concerns directly in the legislative, since they don’t have their representative from among themselves. If the poor have no right to decide their own fate, and make provisions, they can never be uplifted which we have been seeing for a long time, since the rich decide what the poor need, and what should they be provided, based on their second hand information about poor people.
In the next step of the electoral reform, Modi government wants a single electoral roll for all the elections in the country. It is again objected by the opposition on the ground that the power of the states must be respected, and State Election Commissions must not be compelled to follow the “dictates” of the Centre. The Centre on the other hand has adopted an approach which is called “persuading” the states, which would not be very difficult for them, since almost all states except 9 and one UT are already following the Election Commission of India’s electoral rolls for their local body polls.
Among those, one is the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir, which is already under a Lieutenant Governor under the Centre. Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh are under their rule and hence adoption of one electoral roll will not be a great problem. Only in respect of Kerala, Odisha, and Nagaland, there would be problems. Problems may occur even in election bound Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, if the decision is delayed.
It is perhaps in this backdrop PM Modi had recently called a meeting in which the Chief Election Commissioner of India and his two other colleagues were asked to attend, which was even criticized by the opposition as an effort of “compromising the autonomy” of the Election Commission.
Presently, the electoral rolls prepared by the Election Commission of India are used for Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha Elections, as per the responsibility given under the Constitution of India. The Constitution has also made a provision of State Election Commissions which are given the responsibility of conducting local body elections for urban and rural areas under Panchayati Raj System. Only 10 states and UTs are making their own electoral rolls while all others are making their electoral rolls on the basis of the ECI electoral rolls.
BJP has been pushing for simultaneous election for Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas. It is in this context it wants a single electoral roll even for local bodies. It is clear the Centre wants to interfere and do politics in the subject that the Constitution of India has given exclusively to the states. The Centre has directly been doing politics not only in the subjects that are in concurrent list of the Constitution of India, but also in the subjects that are to be handled by the states alone.
After 1992, when through a constitutional amendment, three tier system of governance was implemented in the country, we have Panchayati Raj System, apart from the states and the Centre. We have already seen how the Centre and States do politics in the Panchayati Raj System through numerous programmes and administrative manoeuvring and undermining its very functioning. Now the Centre wants to play direct politics in the Panchayati Raj System through the so called single electoral roll.
Governance through the Union, the State, and the Panchayati Raj are the three layers the Constitution of India has provided, and the Union must not usurp the powers and functions of the states and the Panchayati Raj through innocent looking instruments that can be misused to tame opposition ruled states and the local bodies. Real electoral reform must start from delinking money power from the electoral process, and then barring criminals, communalists, casteists, and those who do politics of hate arousing passions among voters. (IPA Service)