The Weekend Leader - Cleaning polls

Election Commission + Civil Society = Clean elections

M G Devasahayam   |   Chennai


Vol 2 | Issue 14

Democracy is founded on the dignity of the human being. Election is the essence of democracy. Integrity is the salt. But if the salt loses its flavour, it is then good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men. Saltiness of India’s elections in general and Tamil Nadu’s in particular is fast losing its flavour and the electoral process is being cast out and trodden under the heavy boots of criminal and money-power, rendering democracy virtually worthless.

The challenge to combat this has been taken up by the Forum for Electoral Integrity, a civil society coalition of concerned citizens and NGO organizations.

No money, honey: The Election Commission has ensured that money is not distributed to voters 

Objectives of the Forum are:

(a) Restoring the lost dignity of democracy in the country in general and Tamil Nadu in particular;

(b) Bringing about integrity in the electoral process that has been ravaged by corruption and money-power;

(c) Mobilising and motivating civil society to be a bulwark for the Election Commission of India to effectively perform its constitutional mandate of conducting ‘Free & Fair’ elections;

(d) Mainstreaming youth in general and college students in particular, in the democratic process and to make them catalysts for bringing about integrity in India’s elections;

(d) To network with like minded organizations at local and national level to purposefully pursue electoral and political party reforms.

In pursuit of these objectives the Forum has been holding public meetings and youth/student interactions throughout Tamil Nadu. The Forum has also covered several colleges and has so far addressed over 12,000 students.

The messages given out are simple:

  • Election is the foundation of freedom and democracy and vote is the most basic of all democratic rights. Go and vote.
  • Those who offer bribes for votes are making people ‘partners in loot and corruption’. This will destroy our freedom and our children’s future.
  • Those who sell their votes will have no rights left and cannot demand basic services like safety, shelter, water, sanitation, healthcare, education etc. Their voice will not be heard.
  • Besides compromising one’s Honour, Self-respect and Dignity, taking bribe for votes is criminal offence under Indian Penal Code.

Election Commission of India has responded positively. Based on the experience gained in the Bihar election and inputs given by the Forum, the Commission has set up a well structured Election Expenditure Monitoring Mechanism comprising of Expenditure Observers; Assistant Expenditure Observers; Video Surveillance Teams; Video Viewing Team; Accounting Teams; Expenditure Monitoring Control Room and Call Centre; Media Certification and Monitoring Committee; Flying Squads; Static Surveillance Team and Expenditure Monitoring Cell

This mechanism scrutinizes accounts of Self Help Groups, NGOs etc. including daily auditing of cash flow, check distribution of gifts/serving of food in Marriage/ Community Halls, distribution of Tokens to be exchanged for gifts or cash or distribution of money through various means, distribution of cash by candidates/political parties along with disbursement of wages under any Government scheme, production, storage and distribution of liquor during elections, cash withdrawal from Banks and distribution of cash by candidates or Political Parties along with disbursement of wages under Government schemes like NREGA

Commencing from 01 March 2011this mechanism has swung into action in Tamil Nadu and several searches and seizures have taken place in the last few days. The Forum is supporting and facilitating these measures. This is the case of EC and civil society working together for the common cause of free and fair elections.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction (Newton’s third law). Hopefully this law will work in the case of electoral corruption and Election Commission with the support of civil society would be able to push back corruption and money power in elections thereby restoring the integrity of elections and dignity of democracy.

M G Devasahayam is a retired IAS Officer and Convenor of the Forum for Electoral Integrity

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