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South Asia

Electoral Reforms in India: Good Governance Diplomacy in Smoke and Mirrors

Dr. Nafees Ahmad



The punishment suffered by the wise who refuse to take part in the government, is to suffer under the government of bad men said Plato. The governance is perennial permutation and election is periodic mutation. Governance is not limited to electoral reforms alone; it has got embedded with a multitude of vicissitude. India is synonymous with democracy and it has become a shibboleth in political parlance to address India as the largest democracy.

Democracy is an engine that is propelled by the fuel of equality with equity, liberty with pluralism, fraternity with multiculturalism and unity with diversity on the tracks of rule of law and public participation. But democracy has eviscerated democracy in India due to its being in the hands of people who do not subscribe to an idea called institutional constitutionalism that in turn ensures good governance. The good governance germinates and gestates choices called election that is an inalienable and non-derogable feature of democracy that works as the spinal cord to sustain diversity, pluralism and multi-culturalism.

Election is not a seasonal pomp and show but a sacrosanct and serious process of upholding norms of democratic way of life in all geo-political entities including India. Thus, election is not limited to change of one set of political structure with another one but it a multitude of many dimensions. However, there is a pejorative trend in the most powerful methodology of making choices at the hustings. Despite the fact that scientific and technological advancements [EVMs (Electronic Voting Machine)] are being employed to elicit the free and fair preferences and predilections of We, the People of India, at the electoral politics but electioneering still lacks transparency in terms of funding, trolling, and defection etc.

The robust economic reforms peregrination of India since 1991 has made an indelible integration of Indian economy with the world economy but at home has created a democratic deficit in the Indian polity and left it unattended that is overdue parliamentary reforms called electoral reforms agenda. The electoral reforms in 21st century context have become more important and relevant than ever before. In the absence of electoral reforms, democratic deficit is having an incremental impact in the form of low voter turnout, no compulsory voting, no postal voting and no online voting. These trends are bad for democracy as people’s engagement in the political process is dismal and many vulnerable sections like minorities and Dalits feel alienated and excluded. Consequently, electoral reforms agenda is subjected to amnesia by the political executive that has been basking in a state of hubris since the inauguration of the Constitution of India. This sordid state of affairs has presented a desideratum; can economic reforms alone deliver? How to address the interplay among issues of corruption, accountability, rule of law, political party development, public administration and economic reconstruction in elections in divided societies? How is good governance achieved in elections? How to promote good governance in transition? Is everything fine with the existing electoral process in India? Are we, the people of India suffering from democratic diseases or excessive democracy?

History of Electoral Reforms in India 

The first three general elections (1952-1962) have been regarded free and fair elections but subsequent elections are marred by the distortion of the power structure at every level of governance. Consequently, positive power has been restricted and negative power remains unchecked. State organs have become dysfunctional and have been suffering maximum government and minimum governance. Elections only change players but there is no change in the rules of the game. Moreover, authority stands delinked from the accountability and rule of law. Institutional on-performance has become rampant, good behaviour is not rewarded and bad behaviour is not punished and honesty and political power have increasingly gone incompatible. There have been several attempts to have electoral reforms agenda executed wherefor few committees and commissions were constituted such as 1990 Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms, 1993 Vohra Committee Report, 1998 Indrajit Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections, 1999 Law Commission Report on the Electoral Laws, 2001 National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, 2004 Election Commission of India with Proposed Electoral Reforms and 2008 The Second Administrative Reforms Commission. These committees and commissions have adumbrated the appalling deviations, discrepancies and irregularities in the election process and made pragmatic recommendations to reform the electoral architecture.

Supreme Court of India on Electoral Reforms

The Supreme Court of India ruled in July, 2013 that Parliamentarians and State Legislators who have been convicted with a jail term of two years or more are barred from contesting elections. The Supreme Court has struck down Section 8 (4) of the People’s Representation Act, 1951 in India whereunder convicted members of Parliament and State Legislatures were allowed to continue in their elected offices. Meanwhile, their appeals peregrinating in the upward mobility of the judicial hierarchy as the Clause 8(4) had provided special privilege to MPs/MLAs to hold the office even after conviction if an appeal has been filed in a higher court within the span of 3 months. On a petition filed by a NGO called Common Cause for having a separate button on the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) with the option of “None of the Above” (NOTA) and the Supreme Court gave a favourable ruling in the NOTA case on 27th Sept. 2013. The NOTA button was inserted in the EVM machines first time during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In the case of People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union Of India, (2013) 10 SCC 1, the Supreme Court ruled that it is a ‘categorical imperative’ that a candidate discloses his criminal antecedents otherwise such concealment would amount to a “corrupt practice” under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Further, such a corrupt practice makes the candidate liable to be disqualified under Section 8A of the same Act. But such progressive judicial decisions do not get any political backing as political parties are not honest to have electoral reforms and cleanse the political system mired in political chicanery and subterfuge. There are some notable cases delivered by the Supreme Court like FCRA Tribunal Case, [CRL.M.C. No. 2784/2011 & Crl. M.A. Nos. 10129/2011/2015 and 6144/2012, Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010], The Alleged Paid News Case [Ashok Shankarao Chavan v. Madhao Rao Kindhalkar and Others (2014) 7 SCC 99, 1], Disqualification Of Convicted MPs/MLAs Case [Lily Thomas and Lok Prahari NGO Case, (2013) 7 SCC 653] and Disproportionate assets of the Elected Representatives Case [Lok Prahari v. Union of India and Others,10 July, 2013]

Major Electoral Issues

Electoral canvas of India is in utter chaos from top to bottom and it appears beyond correction at least at the end of political architects of the country. The Election Commission of India has been making all efforts to cleanse the electoral system but We, the People of India, only look up to the highest judicial establishment of the land—the Supreme Court of India—for the redress of our repinements. However, judicial branch of the state should not be treated as a panacea for all ills that have been plaguing the country since its emergence out of the colonial clutches in 1947. There is crisis of governance that has raised its ugly head in many forms like Increasing Lawlessness, Inefficient State Apparatus, Unresponsive Bureaucracy, Expensive Judicial System (or Ineffective), All Pervasive Corruption, Criminalization of Politics, Politicization of Criminals, Money and Muscle Power in Elections, Political Instability, Erosion of Legitimacy of Authority, Fiscal Power [Cash Limit], Misuse of State Machinery [Incumbent Government], Compulsory Voting [Penal Consequences], State Funding [Reimbursement of certain % of amount] [National Election Fund], Casteism, Communalism, Religion, Regionalism [CCRR], Intra-party Democracy [Nepotism and dynastic political outfits are autocratic & unaccountable], Inclusion, Exclusion and Cessation of Candidates [Qualifications etc.], Candidate Expenditure Limits- No Limit on Political Party, Corporate Electoral Trust/Corporate Funding to Political Parties [Proposal for Electoral Bonds], Issue of Foreign Funding Taken By BJP and INC and How to bring Political Parties under RTI?

Way Ahead

In this conspectus, there is a need to have comprehensive, consolidated and holistic electoral reforms while addressing following submissions along with all issues that have been identified hereinabove that there must not be a caste-based or religion-based delimitation of parliamentary and state assembly constituencies, True Representation of political attitudes must be attended, state funding of election campaign must be based on securing minimum percentage of vote share by a political party and to equalize the election completion, there should be an easy procedure for voting, vote counting, ballot design that must be identifiable by the ordinary voter. The Constitution of India must appropriately be amended to address the administrative and legal framework to make the electoral reforms more pragmatic and practical, election law must make transparency a prerequisite of a fair election and change the way politicians plan to win the elections under all circumstances, the Election Commission of India should again be a single member body or primacy to the opinion or decision of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of India be accorded in the existing election body to ensure fairness, transparency and integrity of the system, the avenues must be cajoled to ensure full turnout of the voters, National Transparency Courts (NTCs) must be established to try election-related offences and violations within a time-frame of one month, election reforms must make honesty compatible with public office and create a fusion of authority and responsibility within the gamut of citizen-centered governance. Electoral reforms must respect the people’s sovereignty and the instruments of accountability [Right to Information, Citizen’s Charters with penalties for non-performance, Stakeholder empowerment, making crime & corruption investigation agencies independent and autonomous. Therefore, the idea of a democratic polity is incomplete without periodic elections. The attitudes, ethics, and values of a society wedded with democracy of diversity and multiculturalism are expressed in elections. People’s sovereignty is asserted in the elections that accords legitimacy to the government and its lego-institutional structure for good governance. A free and fair election is the backbone of a democratic political set-up and same has been ordained in the schematization of the Constitution of India.

Ph. D., LL.M, Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University (SAARC)-New Delhi, Nafees Ahmad is an Indian national who holds a Doctorate (Ph.D.) in International Refugee Law and Human Rights. Author teaches and writes on International Forced Migrations, Climate Change Refugees & Human Displacement Refugee, Policy, Asylum, Durable Solutions and Extradition Issus. He conducted research on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Jammu & Kashmir and North-East Region in India and has worked with several research scholars from US, UK and India and consulted with several research institutions and NGO’s in the area of human displacement and forced migration. He has introduced a new Program called Comparative Constitutional Law of SAARC Nations for LLM along with International Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law & Forced Migration Studies. He has been serving since 2010 as Senior Visiting Faculty to World Learning (WL)-India under the India-Health and Human Rights Program organized by the World Learning, 1 Kipling Road, Brattleboro VT-05302, USA for Fall & Spring Semesters Batches of US Students by its School for International Training (SIT Study Abroad) in New Delhi-INDIA nafeestarana[at],drnafeesahmad[at]

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South Asia

India’s Military Spending and South Asian Security



Over the past several years, unprecedented military modernization in Pakistan’s immediate neighbour, India, has worsened South Asia’s security environment. India’s heavy military spending and its unstoppable quest for the acquisition of sophisticated weapons have threatened regional stability. Indian desire to acquire global power status through military means has further been intensified as a result of US assistance particularly in former’s defence sector. Within quick span of time, defence trade between India and the US has shot from $1 billion to over $15 billion leaving other regional powers in the state of security consciousness.

India’s obsession with its military build-up doesn’t end here. According to the Stockholm International peace Research Institute (SIPRI) a prestigious international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament, India, once again tops the list as world’s largest weapons importer. This is not a new development as previously, India also topped the list for the same reason.

As per SIPRI estimates, Russia remains top arms supplier to India. However, surprisingly arms deliveries from the US increased more than six-fold in the five-year period to the India. This trend in long run will definitely reduce market space for Russian arms and ammunition to India.

Despite the fact that, India’s unbridled military modernization is the primary impetus behind South Asian instability, global power’s economic expediencies in South Asia also undermines delicate conventional parity between India and Pakistan. For instance, Indo-US strategic partnership, which apparently touted as US’ China containment policy, seems more of a Pakistan containment policy. Much of the US provided weapon-tech to India is more useful against Pakistan in a conventional warfare. Almost 70% of Indian military troops and weapon system are deployed against Line of Control, (LOC). Interestingly, peaceful settlement of Docklam issue between China and India as well as sky-rocketing bilateral trade between both countries, which has reached to $84.44 billion last year, makes prospects of conflict almost impossible.

However, in contrast to aforementioned facts, the influx of massive military hardware from western capitals to India continues and in certain cases the flow of arms has gained momentum. There are two primary motives behind India’s overwhelming spending in defence industry.

First, India aspires for greater role in global environment and in certain ways it has been demonstrating its will and capability to influence global dynamics. India’s successful test of Agni-5, a long-range ballistic missile, capable of carrying nuclear weapons with a strike range of more than 3,000 miles, is a practical demonstration of its military capabilities to influence other powers around the globe. For hawkish policy makers in New Delhi, a strong military power can extend India’s global influence.

Secondly, India is following a policy of coercion at regional level primarily, against Pakistan which shares history of hostility and violence due to longstanding territorial disputes such as Kashmir. There is growing perception in New Delhi that militarily strong India can dictate South Asian affairs. That’s why India has been consistently opposing diplomacy and dialogue for peaceful resolution of disputes. Therefore, to meet its foreign policy goals, which are based on coercion and usage of hard power, India spends massive in military build-up.

Ironically, South Asia is called as nuclear flashpoint due to history of animosity and violent conflicts between India and Pakistan. With its mighty military power, India has emerged as the most potent threat for not just Pakistan but also a security challenge for other powers in the region.

Given the advantage it has in terms of nuclear missiles, military hardware and submarine fleet, India has been trying to create an environment conducive to wage limited war against Pakistan. For that, India has not just developed its military doctrine, Cold Start Doctrine, but also initiated and sponsored sub conventional war in Pakistan’s chaotic province, Balochistan.

In such circumstances, Pakistan needs to maintain delicate conventional military balance vis-à-vis India. Despite the fact, Pakistan has been facing number of issues at national, regional and international levels which include on-going military operation in tribal areas to hostile border skirmishes; a robust military modernization plan has become inevitable. A militarily strong Pakistan will be able to maintain its territorial integrity against aggressive yet militarily mighty India.

It’s an open fact that Pakistan has consistently called for peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes and it has offered to resume diplomacy and dialogue over Kashmir dispute. Unfortunately, India’s cold response has not only restricted Pakistan’s peaceful overtures but also refused to accept third-party mediation in peaceful settlement of Kashmir issue. This clearly shows that, current ruling regime in India is not serious for peaceful settlement, rather more inclined to use of force and coercion. Under such circumstances, Pakistan needs to strengthen its force posture to pre-empt any kind of misadventure from its adversary. However, Pakistan, as it has done in past, must embrace peaceful overtures to bring stability in the region.

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South Asia

US Call for a New Relationship



U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad

‘Trust, but verify’ an Old Russian proverb that President Reagan liked to repeat often. Trump is neither the first President nor he is going to be the last to criticize Pakistan of deceit and threaten to cut off American assistance. Notwithstanding, the last six decades of the US support, the US has failed completely in cultivating an ally in Pakistan nor has it meaningfully changed the nature of its relationship with Pakistan, which can be best described as ‘transactional’. A quid-pro-quo relationship between the two has never been established with regards to the assistance they both offered to each other. In truth, United States has never really trusted Pakistan.

President Trump avowed in his New Afghan Strategy that the US has been paying Pakistan ‘billions of billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting for’ but the mantra should be put to a halt. Likewise, the US must be conveyed boldly to stop continuing its false claims that Pakistan shelters the ‘agents of chaos’ and be reminded that friends don’t put each other on notices.

Similarly, statements and avowals that India now is a strongest ally to the US, disturbs Pakistan, chiefly because of the irony at Trump administration’s part which only sees the glittering Indian market but pay no heed to the growing Indian cease fire violations across the LoC and the atrocities India commits against the unarmed civilians of the Indian held Kashmir.

The recent visits and statements however by the senior US officials and Trump’s aides reflect the US call for a new relationship between the US and Pakistan, which once used to be close allies in the US led ‘Global War on Terror’.

Pakistan’s foreign policy makers at this point in time must be mindful of the fact that the US is a major trading partner and should adhere to a relationship more than ‘transactional’. Moreover, the risks and fears at the US part of ‘rampant destabilization and civil war in Afghanistan’ increments further the region already devoid of trust. For, nobody actually knows whether the US will stay or eventually leave Afghanistan.

The Afghan war has now become a war of logistics, in words of Sun Tzu ‘the line between order and disorder lies in logistics’, Pakistani supply lines thus provide Islamabad with a leverage in absence of shorter, cheaper and acceptable alternative routes. Given these circumstances, Pakistan should make best use of the US call towards a more robust bilateral relationship.

The move for a ‘new relationship’ and improved ties began last week with senior Trump aide’s visit to Islamabad to hold talks with Pakistani leaders.  Earlier also the impressions that Pakistan and the US were on a collision course were dispelled by a top US general. Likewise, US department’s acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells asserted that the US was not thinking of cutting its ties rather assured that the US still cogitate Pakistan indispensable to the resolve in Afghanistan.

The aforesaid developments clearly indicate that the strained US-Pakistan relations would improve soon and that the suspension in the military aid is also not permanent.

To conclude, achieving long term stability and defeating the insurgency in the region will be difficult without Pakistan’s support and assistance.

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South Asia

Special Economic Zones and CPEC



Economic Expansion, high prices and inflation are the issues on which one can talk for hours. The scarcity of resources, energy crises and lack of industrial modernization are the challenges which Pakistan has been facing for past many decades. Despite the advantages of geographical setting, the country could not sufficiently expand its economy until 20thcentury. However, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has brought with it various infrastructural, energy, and industrial projects that show smooth progress in these sectors. One of the most significant developments is the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) under the Long Term Plan (LTP) of CPEC.SEZ is a physically protected area with definite geographic boundaries under which the investors and the developers enjoy duty free benefits and streamlined procedures, set up by the government.  After the successful completion of the Early Harvest Program (EHP), the governments of China and Pakistan aspire to complete the Long Term Plan (LTP) of CPEC. As a key route to success, the LTP has been divided into three phases and the work on the first phase has already started. SEZs are on the first priority list of the first Phase of LTP. While utilizing the strategic location of Pakistan and the rich resources, the SEZ will contribute a framework for Pakistan’s domestic industries, and local economy.

The government has planned to establish nine Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in all the four provinces, federal areas and Gilgit-Baltistan under the framework of CPEC, which would be completed in a period of three years. Pakistan has conducted feasibilities of 5 SEZs which focuses only on the infrastructure. The three prioritized SEZs to be completed in the first phase of LTP are M3 Industrial City in Faisalabad, Punjab, Chinese SEZ Dhabeji, Sindh and Hattar SEZ in KP province. While the remaining six sites include Rashakai Economic Zone, M-1 Noshera, Bostan Industrial Zone District Pishin, AllamaIqbal Industrial City, Moqpondass SEZ in Gilgit-Baltistan, ICT Model Industrial Zone Islamabad, Development of Industrial Park on Pakistan Steel Mills Land at port Qasim near Karachi, Special Economic Zone at Mirpur AJK, Mohmand Marble city.

Although, there are general misunderstandings regarding the industrial ramifications of the SEZ’s under CPEC due to large number of Chinese firms and the exemption in the tax rates offered to them. However, the LTP of CPEC shows that these SEZ’s will offer the country with a great opportunity to accelerate industrialization because they are beneficial for all the international and domestic investors. So far in the history, SEZs have been the reason of economic boost in countries around the globe. Now this is a matter of concern that either these SEZs will make Pakistan a center of economic modernization and trade ventures or not. The economist and financial experts are optimistic about Pakistan’s emergence as one of the fast growing and promising global economy.

While stepping towards the era of industrialization, Pakistan faces a number of issues that have so far refrain the industries to understand their growth potential. Some of the chief hindrances to investment in Pakistan include poor security; non-availability of infrastructure and power crises, rent-seeking regulators, and cumbersome tax administration, etc. among many others.

Likewise the entrepreneurs in Pakistan have certain reservation with the incentives proposed by the government and SEZs for the investors and enterprises including ten-year exemption from all taxes on imported capital goods and exemption from tax on income accruable from development and operations in SEZs for a period of ten years. Although these incentives will be beneficial for the foreign investors at large but at the same time it will provide Pakistani enterprises with the opportunity to collaborate with the Chinese firms and launch joint ventures of mutual interests and benefits. This will be further beneficial for the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of Pakistan. Moreover it will bring Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country thus generating the foreign revenue.

Subsequently it is significant to keep in mind that in Pakistan there are certain security and political factors due to which the SEZ’s may face challenges. Hence forth to conquer these challenges provincial harmony among all the provinces and mutual consensus between the public sector and private sector is needed. SEZs under CPEC will be a life-time opportunity for Pakistani companies to work together with Chinese companies for the development of export-oriented manufacturing industries. Therefore, Pakistan should increase its products in the Chinese market and raise the ratio of its export while decreasing the trade deficit by lowering the imports.

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