The elections to Parliament and State Legislatures are very expensive and it is a widely accepted fact that huge election expenditure is the root cause for corruption in India. A candidate has to spend lakhs of rupees to get elected and even if he gets elected, the total salary he gets during his tenure as an MP/MLA will be meagre compared to his election expenses. How can he bridge the gap between the income and expenses? - publicly through donations and secretly through corruption. Donations by Corporates and liquor barons to parties / candidates are often to get policies favourable for their business.
Corruption occurs as a chain reaction here. Representatives and party men collect bribes from people for allotting govt. or semi govt. posts and for transfers in various departments. These officials will in turn collect bribes from the public to get their things done. The situation is not beyond imagination, if police and judicial officers get their posting through back door. We don’t have to find more reasons why criminals are not just supporting elected representatives and instead becoming ‘representatives’ themselves. The very essence of democracy is defeated when money power rules and the equation becomes – of the Deprived, by the Bigwigs, for the Privileged. Criminalisation of politics can be uprooted only if this situation is avoided. Various debates and seminars are being conducted at various forums (and even in feature films) on this topic (links to some of them are given below) but none of them seems to have found a proper solution.
There is a move for state funding of candidates' election expenses. Though a partial funding will be beneficial (like arranging a common platform for meet-the-candidates), it is better to find ways to bring down the election expenses of candidates rather than increasing the spending in the extravaganza, through appropriate electoral reforms.
The lion’s share of election expenses is for ‘educating’ the voters, who the candidate is and what his qualities are. If the candidate is one among the voters, there is lesser need for posters, banners, etc. Moreover the voters now have no say in the selection of party candidates nor does the public have a proper interface with their elected representatives, as the ratio of voters to reps is very huge in India (An MP represents more than 18 lakh people on an average). Ideologies and manifestos now get lesser importance once the election process completes. All the voters can do now is to cast their 'precious' votes and wait for another election to do the same. It may be the reason why lesser and lesser number of voters turnout in the elections.
Candidates use many crooked ways to win elections like sponsoring of rebels for opposing candidate (again increase in expense) thereby splitting the opponent's vote. Some candidates intimidate the voters so that the voters stay away from voting for their opponents. In the end, candidates gets declared as being elected just by obtaining 15% or less of total votes in the constituency (The first-past-the-post system). It is very difficult to enforce a minimum percentage rule under current circumstances, as the re-elections will also be cumbersome and expensive.
Can we reduce the election expenses for candidates?
We can achieve a significant reduction in election expenses for candidates by adopting a two-tier approach. For the parliament or state legislatures, each constituency may be divided into around 500 to 1000 sub-constituencies depending on the size of the constituency. The voters of each sub-constituency may elect a rep (primary rep / people's rep or PR) for their sub-constituency. These PRs (who form an electoral college) shall elect from themselves (or otherwise) the rep for the constituency. Here a candidate will have to convince only the PRs what he can do for the constituency and the country. The PRs can consult their voters thereafter and elect a rep accordingly for their constituency. The duty of a PR doesn't end with this election, instead can double as Public Relations personnel for the elected rep.
Call back the representatives
The PRs shall assemble periodically to decide the future course of action for the constituency and to assess the performance of their elected representative. If the performance of their rep is not found satisfactory, the PRs shall call back the rep and consequently elect a new rep in his place. So the reps will have to maintain a good relation or contact with the PRs and the constituency whereas the reps used to dance to the tunes of ‘sponsors’.
Emergence of a new political culture
PRs shall not have much powers and shall just act as an intermediary between voters and their rep. PRs shall be from all walks of life (not just full time politicians) and shall utilise their tenure to acquire training in democratic procedures and to prove their leadership qualities. Student politics, strikes/bandhs/hartals (destructive methods!) will not be required for the emergence of new political leaders.
A minimum percentage rule can be enforced to make sure that the candidates who obtain a minimum percentage (say, 51%) of the total votes in the constituency shall only be declared as elected.
Advantages of the two-tier system of electioneering
* Election expenses for each candidate will be reduced significantly, there by the chance of corruption gets reduced.
* Sincere people will enter politics with less hesitation.
* Voters will have more say on who should be their rep, not the party chiefs or sponsoring beneficiaries.
* Elected reps will have more time to spend with the voters, as the reps will be less bounded to sponsors.
* Better correlation between voters and their reps possible through an intermediate layer of PRs.
* Voters will not have to wait for the next election to sack their reps, if required.
* A new blend of leaders will emerge through PRs, so politics will have lesser influence from leaders emerged with bandh/hartal culture.
* A minimum percentage rule for votes polled can be enforced.
* Political parties will have to be people centred and so parties revolving around a few leaders (or parties without internal democracy) will become extinct.
Reduce election expenses to check corruption
Election expenditure - root cause of corruption
Corruption in public life
The right to govern ourselves
Law of corruption
The inevitability of political corruption in India
In the name of the party