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Changing Tide

Right to recall? First, they must take part in the electoral process

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Anna Hazare has called for voters to be empowered with the right to reject and right to recall non-performing and corrupt MPs. Political parties have debunked his proposals. What is your view?

The right to recall is not a practical proposition in a big country like India. So it's not on the radar of the Election Commission. Urban apathy is so great in our country. We see a 30-35 per cent turnout in urban areas. What right do they have to demand the right to recall? First, they must participate in the electoral process. The right to reject is implied in our demand raised in 2001 that the last button on the EVM should be an option to vote "none of the above". We made this recommendation so that those who do not want to vote for any candidate can guard against misuse of their vote by exercising this option. But I would rather that civil society convert its energy into positive energy and puts up good candidates for voters to choose. We need public awakening and voter education for clean and corruption-free elections. Civil society movements can help in this. Then we may not need the right to reject and the right to recall.

What reforms in your opinion are the most important?


The two most critical reforms are decriminalization of politics and transparency of political funding so that we can eliminate black money from election expenditure. We have given a range of proposals to the government on these aspects. On decriminalization, we have suggested debarring from elections those against whom charges have been framed by a court of law in serious cases that carry a punishment of five or more years. We have also proposed that the cases should have been filed at least six months before the election notification. I believe the government has prepared a draft bill on this. On political funding, we have made several suggestions. One is compulsory auditing of the accounts of political parties. Another is annual publication of accounts for public scrutiny. We have also proposed that all donations of more than Rs. 20, 000 should be by cheque.

The Congress has called for state funding of elections to eliminate the use of black money. What is your view?


This has been debated for umpteen years. Our view in the Election Commission is that it is not feasible because it won't address one critical shortcoming, which is the use of black money. Suppose the state sets a ceiling on expenditure and releases funds to all candidates and political parties accordingly, how will you stop them from using black money over and above this? We, on our part, have taken some steps which were visible during the last round of state assembly elections. We have set up an expenditure monitoring division and we have tried to make it difficult for political parties to spend black money. We seized Rs 73 crore in cash during the elections that were held three months ago. Of this, Rs. 60 crore was from Tamil Nadu alone. My belief is that for every Rs 1 crore we seized, we stopped Rs. 50 crore from flowing. It is imperfect but I feel it is a very good beginning.

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