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

Dr. Nafees Ahmad

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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]gmail.com,drnafeesahmad[at]sau.ac.in

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South Asia

Youm-e-Takbeer: History and Significance

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28th May this year marks the 20th anniversary of historical moment when Pakistan successfully detonated nuclear devices in the Chagai district, Balochistan; and joined the prestigious club of nuclear weapon states.  Pakistan was compelled to test the nuclear weapon in response to a series of nuclear tests by India on 11th and 13th May of same year, 1998. It is important to note that it was the second series of nuclear tests by India in 1998, first being the so-called Smiling Buddha in May 1974.

After conducting a series of five nuclear tests in May 1998, the Indian politicians and public were of the view that now they had a monopoly over the nuclear technology and capability in the region, however test of six nuclear explosions by Pakistan was a befitting response to India’s sheer misperception.

India’s nuclear tests of 1974 and 1998 left Pakistan with no option to ensure its defence but to restore to the balance of power in the region by maintaining deterrence equilibrium. It is the fact that development of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities is the expression of its security concerns to counter India’s conventional superiority over Pakistan. Due to various security challenges, security dilemma is operational between both states.  India’s nuclear test in 1974 was significant factors due to which Pakistan felt threatened and believed that it was only with the help of developing the nuclear capability can it ensure its security and survival. Subsequently, Pakistan followed the policy of nuclear ambiguity which is widely considered justified by security analysts on the grounds of an Indian threat. Same applies to the Pakistan’s retaliatory response of conducting nuclear tests in May 1998. After India’s nuclear test, Pakistan’s government emphasized that “Pakistan’s failure to respond in kind would have made it vulnerable to its aggressive neighbor”.  Speech of President Nawaz sharifin May 1998 has proven that acquisition of nuclear capability was inevitable for the security and survival of Pakistan.

As a result of successful nuclear tests, Pakistan appeared as 7th nuclear weapon state of the world and 1st country of the Muslim world having the nuclear weapon capability. Since then Pakistan remembers this day as Youm-e-Takbeer; ‘The day of Greatness” as a reminder of the tough choice Pakistan made to ensure its defence despite the immense international pressure from the US and other Western countries. Soon after nuclear tests, sanctions were imposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on both India and Pakistan. However, the explosion of nuclear weapons marks the “Overt Nuclearization” of South Asia and both countries were acknowledged as de facto nuclear weapon states.

Though the roots of nuclear deterrence and strategic stability can be traced back to the pre-nuclearization period when the debates erupted regarding ambiguous nuclear capabilities of India and Pakistan. Now due to the existence of deterrence equilibrium and strategic stability, no matter how fragile, both Pakistan and India have been able to maintain crisis stability over the past 20 years: wherein no conflict has actually escalated into a full blown war.

According to SIPRI 2018 report, India is the largest arms importer of the world. It is developing a sophisticated inventory of nuclear arms comprised of tactical weapons, inter-continental ballistic missiles, and anti-ballistic missile system to fulfill its aspirations of acquiring the status of “regional power”. On the other hand, Pakistan’s leadership, both political and military, understand the possibility to promote security and peace in region through arms control rather than arms race. Therefore to prevent South Asia from a nuclear arm race, Pakistan put forward various proposals: First, in 1974 to declare South Asia as “nuclear weapon-free zone”; Second, the post-1998 proposal to establish “Pakistan-India strategic restraint regime”. Unfortunately, India has consistently rejected all these proposals. India’s unwelcoming attitude has left Pakistan with no option but to restore to the balance of power in the region by developing sophisticated nuclear capabilities.

Moreover, nuclear weapon and nuclear related technology is seen as contributing to Pakistan’s economic and defense base that could ultimately ensure national security objectives of the country.  First, talking about economy or energy security: Pakistan has a modest nuclear power programme.It is using peaceful nuclear power and technology to ensure long-term energy security .Pakistan is also one of the ‘energy deficient’ states that focuses on energy security to fulfill its socio-economic demands. Second, due to nuclear weapon capability Pakistan’s defense has become impregnable. On the other hand, when it comes to the significance of nuclear weapon capability in political arena to fulfill foreign policy objectives, it is unfortunate that even after acquiring the nuclear weapon capability, the overall political standing of Pakistan in global arena has not favorably changed.  Though Pakistan has the option to use nuclear weapon as negotiating tool to fulfill its political objectives but nuclear weapon capability is considered as a tool to ensure state’s defence against aggression, be it conventional or nuclear.  Therefore, the rationale behind Pakistan’s military nuclear programme remains the same over the years i.e.  to counter the conventional military superiority of India.

To conclude, after 20 years of nuclearization, 28th May marks the “historic milestone” of Pakistan’s successful and calculated response to counter India’s aggression through operational preparedness of the Strategic Forces to maintain peace and stability. Every year, Youm-e-Takbeer is observed across the country in commemoration of Pakistan’s decision to ensure it security, to maintain strategic stability and to deter external aggression despite the immense international pressure and threat of crippling sanctions. Consequently, the utility of nuclear weapons can be checked from the fact that despite multiple escalations after overt nuclearization of South Asia, India has not dared to attack Pakistan thus nuclear weapon capability of Pakistan has ensured safety, security and durable peace and protection from any external aggression.

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“The Emperor’s Order”

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The unfortunate and disdainful assumptions about GB’s youth in social media may belie a lesser known fact about the unyielding patriotism and unwavering loyalty they have always had and continue to have for Pakistan for the last seven decades despite state’s persistent denial of fundamental and constitutional rights at par with other provinces of Pakistan. Their loyalties, sense of patriotism and aspirations towards ‘Federation’ are unparalleled, for they had fought the Dogras and gained independence only to join Pakistan.

With the most astounding proportion of literacy for both males and females in Gilgit-Baltistan, the denial of fundamental and constitutional rights has fostered the internal ashes of explosion that continues to burn underneath the conscious awareness of the youth and eventually might compel them to pen down their abjuration.

The sequential governments in Pakistan have intentionally managed to cap them (people of GB) through restraint which has kept the social wrath alive. Federal authorities of Pakistan have now proposed an executive order with the title “Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order” which is to be tabled before the Prime Minister of Pakistan in next cabinet meeting for its approval.

On the off chance, if the proposed order is enforced and approved as such in GB, it will help the Prime Minister in securing ‘Ultra-Constitutional’ powers with regards to GB and will rule over without any powers conferred on him by the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The PM will thus be a Monarch.

Dubbed as ‘GB Emperor Order’ on social media, the proposed order suggests that: ‘The Prime Minister shall have the powers to adopt an amendment in the existing laws or any new law in force subject to the legislative competence under sub-section 2 of the proposed order. As many as 50 subjects of legislation have been conferred to the Prime Minister. As per Article 41 of the proposed order, the legislative authority of Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly in its own subjects is subservient to the Prime Minister.

Correspondingly, the articles, 60 (4), 60(6), (d) and 99 (2) additionally propose that the Law passed by Prime Minister will prevail the law(s) on the similar subject that is passed by GB Assembly. The proposed order additionally gives the privilege to the prime Minister to charge and collect taxes from the general population of Gilgit Baltistan. Moreover, the judicial powers have also been vested in PM. Likewise, the privilege to designate judges to the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan and other sub-courts has been allowed to the Prime Minister while the purview of GB courts is zilch in the mainland Pakistan. This would make the Prime Minister invulnerable to any choice of GB courts as no ruling can be passed against him.

If passed and implemented, the proposed GB order of 2018 will only amplify the grievances of people in GB, thus pushing them further to the margins. The political ‘establishment’ in this regard ought to be pragmatic; for, if GB can be taxed equally, they can join the defence forces of the country, citizens are provided with the national identity cards and the passports stamped by the government of Pakistan then why can’t they be treated equally and given equal rights?

The present government needs to be vigilant in this regard, for it is already fighting a ‘political crusade’ to offer ‘respect to vote’, the proposed GB arrangement, if passed, will no less at that point be a mockery of this slogan.

To conclude, in milieu of the current scenario, there is a single voice of superior patriotism and integration with federation distinguishably intoned among others. The voice of integration being chanted from the mountains downwards to the seashores by the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan must be heard properly as an oracle.

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Excellency Narendra Modi when will you become Affectionate Neighbour?

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Slavery was abolished in Islam 1500 years ago. Against this backdrop the Muslims of Indo-Pak subcontinent revolted against the “British Rule” to get rid of their clutches / slavery. The Muslim political thinkers and Ulemas reached to the conclusion that Muslims cannot live with Britishers and Hindus on the basis of “Two Nation Theory” in line with Allama Muhammad Iqbal (late) and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (late) political wisdom. The revolt against British was culminated into “War of Independence” in 1857. This laid stone and paved the way for an Islamic state now known as “Pakistan”. The Hindus were also benefited with the creation of Pakistan and thereafter a Hindu sate “India” also came on the world globe. After the independence in 1947 Pakistan is maintaining cordial relations with neighbouring and other countries of the world. Unfortunately the Hindu psyche and their Slave Mentality could not be changed even after 70 years and the Indians still owe allegiance from core of their heart to her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain (UK). Even today the Indian Prime Minister HE Narendra Modi pay homage to British Government and submit reports on  daily basis. The classic example is the recent visit of Narendra Modi to London (April 2018) in which he in a question and answers session at Central Hall Westminster (London) revealed before the audience regarding surgical strikes carried out by Indian Army against Pakistani troops deployed along LoC.

Indian PM in a bid to muster support and financial assistance from British Government for his forth coming election’s 2019 propagated and boosted his concocted version that Indian authorities kept on calling Pakistani counterparts in Islamabad to collect dead bodies of Pakistani soldiers from LoC. The information disseminated to the Britishers against Pakistan was false and far from truth.

Unfortunately, the Indian Intelligence Agencies, its Army and Foreign office have made it a routine to interfere in the internal matters of the peripheral countries in a bid to accomplish  their hegemonic designs which the Indian leadership has been claiming  from time to time including Narendra Modi false / tall claim of creation of Bangladesh in 1971. The Indian Army is also following the foot prints / aggressive policies of Indian political leadership. General Bipon Rawat (Indian Army Chief) and Lt Gen AK Bhaat, Corps Commander Srinagar in their media briefings have been threatening Pakistan Armed Forces and Kashmiri Muslim freedom fighters / organizations of dire consequences, they committed atrocities / brutalities on the innocent Muslims / minorities by using lethal weapons including Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, Mortar guns and chemical agents.

India to fulfill its hegemonic designs in South Asia and enhance its influence, the Indian Defence Minister Mst Nirmala Subramanian visited various foreign countries to purchase military equipment worth US 5.6 billion including SA-400 missile system F-35 fighter aircraft from Israel and 80 MI-70 helicopter to augment mobilization of Indian troops and LEA’s to crush innocent Muslims of IHK and Sikhs of Khalistan movement. Indian government in addition to further enhance the barbaric activities of its  intelligence / security agencies, RAW, Intelligence Bureau, Bureau of Investigation, Special protection group and National Security Guards are allowed to import i arms, / ammunition, telescopic silencer short guns, with night vision capabilities and hand grenades from US / Israel without the scrutiny and permission of Indian parliament and Indian Defence Ministry. These sophisticated arms / ammunition will be smuggled and supplied to various terrorist groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal by RAW / MOSAAD / CIA. In Nepal RAW has established a front organization by the name of Islami Sangh Nepal and in Bangladesh Faleh-e-Insaniyat Foundation to impart training to terrorists in fabricating improvised explosive devices. The arms / ammunition are also supplied from RAW establishments to dissident / terrorist groups to carry out violence and instability in the peripheral countries.

Excellency Modi we have tried to highlight the chronological   sequence of events  and nefarious activities being carried out by your Government, Senior Army officers, RAW / Intelligence Bureau and Law Enforcing Agencies. The scrutiny / analysis for the reasons behind aggressive behavior pattern / attitude are the outcome of Hindu mechanism of hereditary, aggression, frustration and anxiety in Indian society. They have fallen prey to psychotic disorder and negative Edipis Complex. To live in the “Global Village” of civilized nations it is high time on the part of Indian Government to change its policies and attitude in order to prove themselves as a civilized mature and affectionate nation towards its neighboring countries.

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