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Election 2024: Govt must prioritise political transparency, accountability, ethical behaviour

The Chief Election Commissioner, Rajiv Kumar, has announced the 18th Lok Sabha election schedule, starting in April. He has identified four major problems that affect India’s free and fair elections. These are the 4Ms: Muscle power, Money power, Misinformation, and violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). They are not new.

During his campaign in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to end the criminalisation of politics and regulate the use of black Money. However, the question remains whether it is possible to prevent the improper use of the model code of conduct and control the use of money and muscle power.

Candidates with criminal records

The Association for Democratic Reforms, an election watchdog, has found that several major Indian political parties, including the BJP, Congress, TMC, NCP, RJD, AAP, CPI (M), and YSRCP, have fielded candidates with criminal offences. The current Members of Parliament (MPs) own assets worth ₹29,251 crore with an average wealth of ₹38.33 crore. The report found that 44% of Union Ministers in India have a criminal record, and 25% of MPs have serious criminal cases against them. Of the total MPs, 53 are billionaires, and 475 are millionaires.

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Increasing use of money and muscle power threatens Indian democracy. Politicians began using musclemen for their work, but since the 1980s, these criminals have started running for office. Political parties also find it easy as they fund their campaigns, and people vote for them out of fear.

Nexus between crime and politics

The nexus between crime and politics is a persistent issue that will not go away soon. This link impacts the country’s democracy and governance. The connection between the two factors leads to high-cost elections and voter bribes. Those with financial resources use money to buy their way into politics and become competitive.

In the Supreme Court verdict, candidates running for election since March 2003 must provide information on their criminal charges, financial situation, marital status, sources and amounts of income, wealth, and education in a self-sworn affidavit. However, some candidates need to give more consistent information about their education and assets.

The Election Commission has changed the rules for political party funding during elections. The new regulations include decreasing the cash donation limit from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000 and introducing anonymous electoral bond contributions.

However, companies can still donate to political parties without disclosing the source of funds up to a certain amount. The law does not limit the number of cash donations to enhance transparency.

SC bans sale of election bonds

The Supreme Court prohibited the sale of election bonds this year. The government introduced the bond system in 2018. Individuals or companies can purchase these bonds at a value ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs one crore, with no limit on the maximum amount. In the last five Assembly polls, electoral bonds worth Rs 6,128 crore were sold, raising concerns about transparency and accountability. Only a few parties benefitted, including the BJP and the Congress, and the BJP had a larger share. The court found that the bonds lacked transparency and banned them recently.

Poll officials seized drugs, cash, and liquor worth over Rs 1760 crores in the five poll-bound states, more than seven times the seizures made in previous Assembly Elections worth Rs. 239.15 Crore.

Rajiv Kumar has banned cash transportation in bank vehicles after sunset as part of the new rules for the 2024 polls. The Commission will also monitor non-scheduled chartered flights for cash, liquor, and drug movement to aid in seizure efforts.

Indian democracy has thrived for over 75 years despite various challenges such as illiteracy, poverty, and more. The power has shifted smoothly 17 times, unlike in the neighbouring countries. The Election Commission of India has successfully organised 17 Lok Sabha, 16 Presidential elections, and over 400 assembly elections. With 97.8 crore eligible voters, the credit for making this happen goes to the people.

Role of reform panels

Several committees in India, such as the Goswami, Vohra, and Indrajit Gupta Committees, the Law Commission, the National Commission to Review the Constitution, the Election Commission of India, and the Administrative Reforms Commission, have proposed electoral reforms. They must be implemented urgently.

Committees have proposed ways to solve the problem of undesirable people entering government positions. However, these suggestions still need to be implemented.
 The Election Commission has established a Model Code of Conduct (MCC) for political parties to adhere to during elections. However, parties have been openly defying the MCC without fear of reprimand from the EC. The EC needs more power to enforce the MCC and ensure political parties comply.

Another problem is the spread of misinformation and fake news during elections. The poll body needs to curb this further. The misinformation and whispering campaign prevents a level playing field.

Individuals, political parties, and the government must work together to maintain democratic principles. Parliament should implement policies to enhance political finance regulations and ensure that candidates with significant criminal cases cannot run for office. Additionally, the government must prioritise political transparency, accountability, and ethical behaviour.

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