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Mar 27, 2003
Corrective surgeries on electoral law.

Most Indians perceive the Indian political establishment to be the ‘sole cause’ of all that is wrong with India. Obligingly, the political class gives enough reasons to confirm this view.

But a closer study will suggest that if anyone should despair, it is the politician and not the ordinary citizen. We forget that our Constitution reigns supreme—and its wisdom is reaffirmed everyday. The number of Constitutional bodies that we have are safe-guards against politicians’ bad intent.  Add to these a vibrant press, and of late a growing number of Non Governmental Organisations [NGOs], and what we get is a robust, self-correcting framework. Here’s a saga that justifies this preamble.

In March, 2003 the Supreme Court overturned an Amendment to the Representation of People’s Act [RPA] passed near unanimously by the Parliament. Politicians are in a state of shock. People’s vigil and proactive use of available avenues had broken through the solidarity politicians display in matters that affect their interest.

The story began two years ago with Association for Democrtaic Reforms[ADR], a NGO moved the Delhi High Court that it direct a candidate for public office to make public, his financial assets and criminal records if any to the Election Commission [EC]. The Court found this reasonable and directed the EC to build in the requirement, which the EC with alacrity. Political parties sensed a huge emerging minefield and prodded the Government to challenge the order in the Supreme Court. In May,2002 the Supreme Court refused to strike down the lower court’s order.

Thus checkmated, politicians across the political spectrum flocked together and enacted the infamous Amendment: a candidate need only make the declaration *after* his election and that too, to the Speaker of the house.

ADR now joined by Lok Satta --a Hyderabad NGO-- launched an awareness campaign, using all means, but most notably the Internet. They then challenged the Amendment in the Supreme Court, which as we saw held in favour of people’s right to know a candiadate’s antecedents *before* they cast their vote. The Hon’ble Court said that it was a fundamental right of a citizen.

That’s where the matter wobbles now. Political opponents are playing footsie with each other to muster the two thirds majority required to amend the Constitution itself. But that is highly unlikely. Fissures have begun to appear in their ranks. For a few parties the opportunity to ascend to a high moral ground is far too tempting.

All the foregoing has been reported in the main media. But the episode must gain for us are fresh perspectives on how our public life can be influenced by activism, the various means of communication and the objectivity of the Courts. The most brazen politician can be slowed in his tracks.

The other trend to be noted is that electoral politics in India has been continually reformed over the last two decades. It may not have arrived at the perfection that a purist may long for but the improvements are not trivial. Between the Anti Defection Law, the constraints placed on the Centre seeking to dismiss duly elected State governments and the now established non-intervention by the executive in succession issues of judges, the Indian citizen has indeed gained a greater sway over the politician.

The incremental gains continue. On Mar 18,2003 PTI reported that a new law is in the works to do away with the secret ballot in the Rajya Sabha polls. That should consign to the past a whole sordid game of big money buying out legislators. What *is* overdue though, is a law to make funding political parties legal and open. It doesn’t look like it can be held back for too long.

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