Election battle: When Dr SY Quraishi is at the receiving end!
Moneylife Digital Team 14 May 2014

Last week's book launch of former CEC Dr SY Quraishi witnessed a volley of questions, arguments about the working of the Election Commission. HDFC chief Deepak Parekh and Social activist Medha Patkar, who contested the elections from Mumbai North East for AAP, raised several issues at the Moneylife Foundation event

Former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Dr SY Quraishi’s book “An undocumented Wonder- the Making of the Great Indian Election” was launched in Mumbai last Friday by HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh, in the presence of television and film actor Kabir Bedi and noted social activist Medha Patkar. The book launch was organised by Moneylife Foundation and supported by Emergent Medi-Tech.


Mr Parekh, who had always voted over the last four decades but ironically could not vote this time, as his name was missing from the voter's list, had some question for the former CEC. Ms Patkar, who had contested the elections from Mumbai North East for Aam Admi Party (AAP), while sharing her experience, also raised several issues on the election procedures and system. Dr Quraishi, although he is no more in-charge of the EC, answered all queries.


Deepak Parekh: Dr Quraishi, you had rightly pointed out that governance remains one of the most serious challenges. It is distressing that 31% of MLAs are facing pending criminal charges. Worryingly, your book points out that candidates with serious criminal charges are getting richer faster. Trust in our institutions is eroding and that is not a good sign. I do concur with the author that there is an urgent need for administrative, political, police, judicial and electoral reforms.


Dr SY Quraishi: Good election does not necessarily lead to good democracy. The Economist had done a survey on flawed democracy, and we are embarrassed to say that India is listed there as flawed democracy. The survey says perfect election.... they are not questioning the elections. But what if criminals are coming? This makes it flawed. If there is corruption in the country, which the election process cannot stop, there is a flaw. If there is voter apathy, there is a flaw. So there are five parameters on which the survey rated democracy. And I have mentioned that if we could deal with those leads on flaws in the democracy, then we can come under best democracy across the globe. The electoral reforms are pending with the government for 20 years. Every political party is apathetic to it but now they need to address that. Otherwise, good election is fine, we still have problem.


One of the unsolved problem of election is money power. I have mentioned 40 modus operandi in my book and I am going to add new one in the second edition. How they cheat? For instance, they bribe voters through innovative means. One of our observers found a huge wedding going on with about 4,000 people having liquor and biryani. So he just walked in as he was curious, and found there were no bride or groom, it was a bogus wedding party. Now we solved the problem, next time they may put bride or bridegroom at such parties. They will also print the wedding card. We have found 40 incidences but criminal minds are always ahead. And the enforcement always tries to catch up. It is a cat and mouse game. We feel something needs to be done about it.


Deepak Parekh: Can we reduce the polling days? And why there is ban on opinion polls. Also don't you think that long period of model code of conduct hampers appointments and policy decisions?


Dr SY Quraishi: We will be very happy to do polls in one day. We will be the happiest people as we will be able to go home early. I remember during my time (as CEC) we had elections in Tamil Nadu as well as in West Bengal. Both the states are equal in size yet the elections in Tamil Nadu were conducted in one day and in West Bengal in seven phases. Why? Because the ground reality in both these states is different. In Tamil Nadu, booth capturing was not there but distribution of money was there. It was reverse in West Bengal.


In Tamil Nadu, they used to distribute money through newspapers and the distribution was advanced a little at 2am in the morning. But, you know, people are also smart. They bought four newspapers that day instead of one!


The reason why we conducted elections in seven phases in West Bengal was incidences of violence and booth capturing. We cannot afford loss of life, or abductions. And to provide ample security, we have no other option but to conduct elections in phases instead of on a single day.


Talking about opinion polls, since 1997 every political party has requested the EC to ban it. The EC issued a notification in 1998 under article 324, but the matter went to Supreme Court, which asked us about the provision for punishment in it. There was none and we had to withdraw the notification. In 2004, again political parties came up with the same request. We told them it is upto them to bring an amendment in the law. In 2008, we were shown a draft of the amendment bill banning both opinion and exit polls. However, what was passed in the Parliament had ban only on exit polls and not on opinion polls.


Opinion polls per say are not bad things. Even we used it at the EC to do survey on knowledge, attitude, behavioural practice to voters. But what affects the credibility of opinion polls is dishonesty. You can see how it is playing havoc in news media, how new instances of paid news are coming up. I have seen a comic situation, where both the rivals had bought the 'same package', and on same page (of the newspaper) both were shown as a winners! So, where paid news is a thing, paid opinion polls and paid exit polls is the reality.


Another extreme example of this paid thing is, last year in Uttar Pradesh, one party functionaries visited an agency office and told them to show the party as winning 200 seats in the opinion polls. The agency people said, “Sorry, but we had promised the same seats to other party in out survey. However, don't go away. We will open another survey company and show your party as winning 200 seats. We have some editors, who will be used to put this survey in debates at national level.”


This is why the EC is against opinion polls. My solution would be, there should be an independent regulator, who understands what frauds could be committed in the name of research.


Talking about model code of conduct, I feel there are several misconceptions, one of them is due to this code, all things of government comes to a standstill. Basically, why all ministries want to send 'decision' files to the Election Commission? And if you have sent it, then let the EC take a call on it. Over the past four-five years, we had to call the cabinet secretary, at least three times when we found every ministry sending cases related to passing of an Act or amendment to the EC. We found out that it was being done to 'kill a proposal' and save them by saying that the file is pending with the EC.


One day I came out from my office and found out an official from a private steel company was seating there in the lobby. I asked what is he doing here? He said the company's file is with me. I said, I don't deal with petroleum, coal or steel here in this officer so what these files are doing here? We summoned the secretary from the ministry and told him not to send files irresponsibly and send only that are required. And, what needs to be send? Only one that if you are making announcements which will seduce the voters.


Medha Patkar: As a candidate this time and for the first time and I hope it will not be the last time, what I realise and experienced, I cannot articulate it in short time given to me. I must say 66 lakh of voters in Maharashtra having found their names being deleted this time in LS Election is also a great wonder. And whosoever names were deleted due to rational, acceptable, legal reasons, we admit voters were failing. And yet Dr Quraishi, it was frustrating, to our Dalits, to our women across the castes, and religions, who came on the polling station not to find their name.


Re-polling and spending 100s of crore of rupees again is not easy and even the AAP had said no to it. However, I must say that the whole electoral machinery is showing result of some kind of imperfection in this country. Howsoever democratic we may be or may not be, this really needs to be checked and taken care of so that whatever faith we have in this constitution may not be lost. And hence I must say that, finding Sharad Pawar’s name in Baramati and Bandra (Mumbai), both, and to find Chhagan Bhujbal’s name in both, Lalbaug (Mumbai) and Nashik and not to find Deepak Parekh’s name anywhere is politicisation of corporate culture. So there are so many cross references, which cannot be found, and if this is the responsibility of the voter then at least the educated must be taken to task.


Dr SY Quraishi: Everywhere we are hearing the word 'deletion'. Is it a bad word? I don't think so. If people are dead, shouldn't we delete their names? If they have shifted somewhere should we not delete them? If they have been registered at two places, should we not delete their names?


Deletion is a part of cleaning the electoral rolls, and very important because, if out of the 60 lakh voters, about 59 lakh are bogus, then it deserved to be deleted. There is potential of misusing bogus voters there. You are new to politics, but all the political parties know who are dead people in these electoral rolls and again, they have fake voters ready.


In Uttar Pradesh, when we did elections in 2008, we found 53 lakh dead voters. They were all potential bogus voters, so we deleted them. There were 83,000 voters, who had shifted residences, but we could not delete them because they may choose to come back. Then we have two categories, families shifted with bag and baggage with no contact left and some members moving out leaving other members still at the address.


So we created a separate list, and instructed the presiding officer that if anybody comes from these separate 'missing' list, then he must scrutinize the voter very carefully. And, you will be surprised to know that only 1.5% people from this separate 'missing' list actually came for voting.


At that time, the EC deleted 1.32 crore voters as routine cleaning process. The concerned chief minister at that time, said he lost the elections not to rivals but to Election Commission. This was because, we did not allow any bogus voters. The matter is in courts now.


According to my impression, only 0.5% from the total were not genuine deletion and 99.5% was genuine deletions. Therefore, deletion is a part of cleaning process.


Medha Patkar: Voter education is not education on the ideologies, which I personally like it to be, but except ideology everything is there in electoral politics, I have witnessed that. And at least knowing or allowing voter to know who are the candidates, and its OK we were somewhat known candidates, but what about others? If, really aam aadmi or aam aurat, who is an activist and worked for 50 years on Gandhian ideology, imagine how he/ she will reach out to 17 lakh people within one and half months, since the notification came out? No election symbols are granted even 10 days before the election to candidates, especially independent candidates. This means he has to be dependent on the party, he has to be dependent to reach out every corner, every galli muhalla, every high rise building, which is again a stupendous task and again he has to introduce himself, and his 50 years of work, is not really to talk about own contribution. I myself was finding it against all my values and so difficult to propagate all my 40 years of work before the voters. And if you can't, then you are gone out of the race.


Dr SY Quraishi: Despite the voter education, there still is some apathy towards voting. This time, the EC involved corporates and industry bodies. We asked them to declare voting day as a paid holiday so that people can come and cast their votes. However, some corporates were operating that day through back doors. In Tamil Nadu, the EC took action against few such companies and now the message has reached the home. We hear people, mostly from urban areas condemning politicians all the time, saying, "sub neta chor hai". My question is, if you have not taken the trouble to come and vote despite a paid holiday, and want everything at your doorstep, is it going to make things change?


About five years ago, in Rajasthan, there was a candidate CP Joshi, who was president of state Congress. Everybody said if he wins the election then he will be the next chief minister of Rajasthan. Unfortunately, he lost the election by one vote. A sad story, his wife did not vote. I asked him what exactly happened? He said that his wife and daughter went to the temple. So here, there are three lessons: one, every vote counts, secondly you should not take even your family for granted, and on the day of poll the most important temple is the polling station. That is the beauty of our republic.


Talking about symbols, I understand allotting it 10 days before the voting has its disadvantage. But it is not 10 days but 14 days, according to the law. The reason is simple, the process gives ample time for candidates to file candidature and withdraw and EC also needs time to scrutinise the applications. Once the withdrawal process gets over, we have to prepare a list of those left in the frame. Then only these candidates can be allotted symbols. This also gives us less time to print all ballot papers.

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