Thursday, May 14, 2009

Election Commission of India

Conducting successful election in a developing country battling with security threats, with 714 million voters, 4617 candidates, representing some 300 parties, fighting for 543 seats can only be described as “miracle”. Never in our history has anybody been denied to choose their leader because of any reason. Since 1952 India has been the most populous democracy in the world. At 714 million electorates, we are larger than the entire population of any country in the world except China. It is also more than double the total US population, the second-largest democracy in the world.

The Election Commission has the responsibility for delimiting over 3500 assembly and parliamentary constituencies, organizing and conducting elections, registering eligible voters, recognizing political parties and their election symbols, and establishing procedures for the nomination of candidates.

In 2004, the counting of 387 million votes began in the morning. By 10 in the evening, detailed results of 533 of the 543 seats could be accessed on the official website of the Election Commission of India. The remaining 10 were completed the next day. Let’s look at the arrangement made by the Commission this year- elections spread over 1 month, with 828,804 polling stations manned by 4.1 million civil staff members and 2.1 million security personnel has been deployed for the exercise.

To hold free and peaceful elections on such a scale is no mean feat anywhere. Can any organization in the world claim to match this kind of feat of success and achievement? Why that is the office which needs to be praised for their fantastic job is always surrounded by the controversies? Is this the way we honor our heroes?

Elections in 372 (68%) constituencies have been completed. Election 2009 is going to be another jewel in the crow of Election Commission India.

--- Swapnil Saurav

Elections 2009: A Journey so far

Our Leaders

You must have read about the news piece where our Prime Minister Mr. Singh referred to independent candidates as "spoilers", urging voters in Mumbai not to vote them because they cannot win. Can we call this statement Democratic? Does anybody has a right to question someone’s candidature if it’s allowed by the law?
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi called the Congress, "budhia" (old woman) and later "gudia" (doll). BJP prime ministerial candidate L K Advani has been constantly attacking the PM as "weak" and Singh has responded with equally un-intellectual statements. Varun Gandhi's now-infamous speech was a low in this year’s election so was the RJD chief Lalu Yadav's response. Then we had Samajwadi Party’s manifesto creating news for wrong reasons.
Is it really impossible for our leaders to behave responsible and have meaningful debate? Why our prominent leaders fail to use their speeches to address the burning issues instead use merely for an entertainment purpose? Will this election give us leaders who can take India confidently to next height? We still have to wait and see.

Law breakers as law makers

Women MPs, MLAs too have criminal records: The study by the Independent Research Initiative suggests that women leaders don't lag behind when it comes to having criminal records or amassing wealth. Kerala (83%), Bihar(25%) and Chhattisgarh(25%), Madhya Pradesh (22%), Karnataka (20%), Tamil Nadu (19%), Haryana and Orissa (18%), Maharashtra and Punjab (17%), Uttar Pradesh (13%), Andhra Pradesh (8%) and West Bengal (6%). are the states with the highest percentage of women legislators.
However, in 11 states, women legislators do not have any kind of criminal record. The states are Assam, Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand. On the whole, about 13 percent of women legislators in states and 14 percent of women MPs in the 14th Lok Sabha had criminal records.
(Source: study by PRS Legislative Research based on affidavits filed by candidates with the Election Commission up to 2007)

My belief is people are really desperate for a positive change and a cleaner political scenario. With the statistics like the one shown above, it does not look that we are moving towards right direction. Does this mean that we trust criminals and expect them to work for the society? What can we do as a citizen to stop this? If people promise not to vote for criminals, then with time even political parties will stop fielding them.

--- Swapnil Saurav
This article was originally written on 30 April 2009 for 5th Dimension- http://sites.google.com/a/spjimr.org/thefifthdimension/elections-2009-a-journey-so-far

Can Professional skills help National Governance?

What’s common to a banker, a HR professional, a former U.N. under-secretary general and a dancer? You got it- yes, they all are fighting general elections this year.

Meera Sanyal , ABN Amro Bank (now RBS) Executive Vice President and India country head, has been a part of the banking industry for over 25 years. Now the head honco of the multi-national bank has made a plunge into politics. Contesting as an independent candidate from South Mumbai, Meera hopes to ―”get Mumbai back on track”. We got a chance to interact with her at her Colaba campaign office. As we discussed on the current issues, we could see in her the self-belief, determination, optimism and determination to fight for a change. According to Meera, last year‘s 26/11 Mumbai attacks disturbed her and compelled her to join politics and work for the betterment of the society. If she wins, she plans to quit her job and work full time for the society. She would focus on the city's infrastructure, particularly public transport and stronger security setup. Due to delimitation of Mumbai South constituency, she is pitted against 2 sitting MPs, Milind Deora of the Congress and Mohan Rawle of the Shiv Sena. What is in her favor is her enviable education, MBA from INSEAD (France), 2008" (Award for the best Corporate Executive Citizen) iCONGO Confederation of NGOs.

We move our attention to neighboring state, Mallika Sarabhai, a reputed dancer, is taking on BJP prime ministerial candidate, Mr LK Advani, as Independent candidate. Another news pouring in from Bangalore, Capt. GR Gopinath has taken plunged into the general elections. Mr Shashi Tharoor, India’s candidate for U.N. Secretary General, is gearing up for the elections from Trivandrum. Unlike the names mentioned above, he has a backing of a national party- the Congress. Not to be left behind is the founder of India’s largest recruitment firm, K Pandiarajan, contesting as a DMK candidate in Tamil Nadu (Virudhunagar Constituency). He is taking on Tamil film star Mr Vijaykanth.

With such star professionals entering into politics, we can say for sure “Indian politics is shining”, but will it be “Jai Ho” for them? Will they be able to survive amidst this web of conflicting ideologies, party politics and the existing game of contradictions that is so typical of the Indian political scenario? Will they be able to fulfill a billion aspirations? Will their honest will to bring about considerable change wilt away fast? Or can we hope for a 'real' revolution?

-- Swapnil Saurav
Originally written on 9 April 2009 for 5th Dimension newsletter: http://sites.google.com/a/spjimr.org/thefifthdimension/skills-help-national-governance

India Election watch

Unstable Parties and Alliances

India… the largest democracy in the world. Pride or no pride. But this exactly is the reason for the mushrooming of many political parties, both large and small in the recent past. And as this powerful democracy gears to the polls, there is some need for retrospection now. I was wondering when the last time was, when a single political party rose to the helm, without any alliances. Use your guess work or your intuition, the answer definitely points to the distant past. In 1977 Janata Party formed the government. From then the uncertain times began, the era of coalitions started taking the toll. In 1989, a Janata Dal-led National Front coalition in alliance with the Left Front coalition stayed in power for only two years. The period between 1996–1998 was one of turmoil, maelstrom at the centre as several short-lived alliances emerged and none of them having their say for long. Elucidating this… The Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) formed a government briefly in 1996, followed by the United Front coalition that excluded both the BJP and the INC. In 1998, the BJP formed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with several other parties and became the first non-Congress government to complete a full five-year term. A success.

In the 2004 Indian elections, the INC formed a government with a coalition called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), supported by various parties. This is past. What will happen in 2009? Most likely we will see another coalition party coming to power. That is again a matter of speculation. Adding to the predictions, the open assertions of INC and BJP saying that without support from their allies they will not be in a position to form the Government is something which makes the run for power tougher. This clearly indicates that the Dominant Party System is on decline and minority and/or coalition governments have become the order of the day.

Instability apart, coalition governments have been effective in enhancing democratic legitimacy, representativeness and national unity. Government policies are more consensus-based and resulting policies are broadly approved of. Each policy goes through rigorous scrutiny and increased attention is paid for coalition is always at a stake. But coalitions can also mean too much of a compromise. Given these conditions, are we ready for an alternative form of government: presidential system? Whatever conclusion we may draw from the discussion, as of now, the fact of the matter is that India as had coalition governments in the past and it will continue to have in the future as well. Therefore, it is in best interest for all that parties develop a sense of understanding and do not play games of power politics and bad politics. Coalitions can outplay all the other forms of the government if they remember the basic idea behind democracy. After all it’s a government of the people, for the people and by the people.

- Swapnil Saurav

Originally written on 11 April 2009 for 5th Dimension-