Dear Prime Minister,
You have excelled in your efforts to reach out to ordinary citizens to know their opinions on crucial issues affecting national interest. I am happy you asked for my opinion on the issue of demonetisation and I have given my endorsement to the move in your survey. I could redeposit a few of Rs. 500 notes in my bank account from where they were withdrawn during Deepavali. In day today life, I have faced no problems; I get small change from rickshaw drivers and grocery shops..
In the last column where you asked me to write my opinion I had said: ‘End all indirect elections.’ You may ask me what the correlation between demonetisation and indirect elections is. One of the purposes expected to be served by demonetisation is to check the use of black money and to gradually liberate Indian politics from the dependence on it (if ever that is possible)! Money is said to be the mother’s milk of politics; though money alone cannot help a politician to win the election, money enables a candidate to approach every voter in his constituency. Since the Election Commission (EC) regulates use of money and has a limit imposed on total amount of money a candidate can pump into an electoral contest, candidates look for unaccounted money. Hence, unaccounted money is used in politics in a big way; to buy nominations to contest – often called as ‘ticket to contest,’ buy all necessities for a successful contest. Votes are literally purchased by spending money on giving additional facilities to group of voters such as a bore-well pump, or fixing paver blocks in housing societies as inducements by politicians during the elections.
This art and science of giving inducements to voter has been perfected by Dravidian political parties in South India – particularly in Tamil Nadu. In direct elections, it is comparatively easier for voters to cheat the politicians because it is difficult to determine whether a voter has in fact voted for the politician who gave him money. I have heard DMK speakers in 1971 national elections asking voters to take money from the Congress Party, but vote for them!
But black money is more important to win elections when it is an indirect election as, for instance, provided for the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) and Legislative Council in the States under the Indian Constitution. While a few candidates with limited money but with party backing can get elected to the Lok Sabha, it is next to impossible to win Rajya Sabha election unless one is a multibillionaire! In case of indirect elections, money is needed to be paid at every step – particularly, getting a ticket and getting enough votes say, anywhere between 35 to 45 votes that are needed. In July 2013, for instance, present Union Rural Development Minister, Choudhary Birendra Singh had said that an unnamed MP (Member of Parliament) had paid Rs. 80 crores for a ticket to contest the Rajya Sabha poll! But that candidate is said to have boasted that he saved ` 20 crores as his anticipated budget was of Rs. 100 crores!
Money power has discredited the fair name of Indian electoral democracy. Vijay Mallya when he walked out of the country to avoid law for numerous bank frauds he had committed was an elected member of the Rajya Sabha. He was elected from Karnataka twice as an independent member with the backing of all major parties like the Congress, BJP and JD (S) in 2002 and 2010, humouring all parties. To be fair to Mallya, he is the not the only one to get elected to the Upper House in India by using money power. During the brief rule by PM Chandra Shekhar in 1990, he got industrialist Kamal Morarka elected to Rajya Sabha. There have been complaints of party leaders taking money but not giving ticket! Swaraj Lamba had accused in 2000, her party leader, Laloo Prasad Yadav of taking money from her, but not giving the ticket for Rajya Sabha!
Following demonetisation on 8 November, there was a question mark before candidates contesting for Legislative Council elections which were due in Maharashtra on 19 November. Many members of zilla parishad, municipalities, and municipal councils etc., were also worried as to their chances of getting rewarded by aspiring candidates for Legislative Council elections. But worries were overcome by their ingenuity; according to a media report, candidates are alleged to have gifted gold coins, rings, chains to electors from local bodies. For them too, these are necessary for contesting elections in ensuing local body elections due between December and March 2017.
Dear PM, you also spoke on public funding of elections; there are possibilities of making it partial public funding. But before public funding is taken up for serious discussion as a reform measure, there is an urgent need to introduce the reform of elections to legislative councils in the states and Council of States at federal level. The first need is to do away with indirect elections and introduce direct elections. In a direct popular election with the entire state as the constituency, Rajya Sabha will provide a powerful message to the federal government to take care of the state’s interests. Further, a provision of only two elected MPs will also be a welcome feature to strengthen the role of smaller states in the Indian federation. That is equally true with legislative councils. Most important is the fact that a direct popular election cannot be directly influenced by money power of gifts for lakhs of voters. Because of illiteracy and poverty, even if voters take money to vote a particular candidate, it is easy for a voter to vote in accordance with his conscience.
Wishing you success in many more reforms in Indian politics and governance,