Enough of Poll-Vaulting
Demonetisation, with its mixed impact on the economy and immediate dislocation of lives, marked the last months of last year. In the first few days of the new year, two events happened that could strengthen India’s democratic governance.
First, the Supreme Court judgement, interpreting Section 123(3) of the Representation of the People Act 1957 as amended in 1961, and deeming it a ‘corrupt practice’ for candidates to canvass votes along religious, communal or caste lines. Second, the announcement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to focus on bringing transparency in election funding.
It has been well known that election funding is a murky affair. That political parties collect huge sums of money, mostly unaccounted for — from unknown sources through dubious means, especially during elections — is generally accepted. There are no reliable estimates of the quantum of funds collected on behalf of parties or candidates, or the amount of money that goes into the electoral process. However, it is presumed that the BJP and the Congress are the major culprits and beneficiaries of this corrosive practice that they themselves decry from every possible pulpit.
Funding of elections is, indeed, the mother of black money. Neither the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) nor the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) can effectively curb corruption under the current political culture, administrative structure and legal framework. Corruption and poll-funding are inseparable twins.
Even though fighting parliamentary and state elections has become very expensive, the Election Commission (EC) and the political parties refuse to accept and act on the reality. Ridiculously low levels of election expenses far below the actuals are permitted. Consequently, the very first act of an elected MP or MLA is to sign a patently false statement of his election expenses. Very ingenious ways are found to fabricate the statements by our putative lawmakers.
To ensure transparency and fair practice, the loopholes in the system can be plugged and each and every item of election expenses of a candidate can be listed and audited by a designated chartered accountant that can be submitted within a prescribed time to the EC for scrutiny. Candidates and auditors found guilty can be punished according to the law. But these are still in the realm of theory.
The EC, on its part, should revisit its prescribed limits of election expenses for contesting elections — constituencywise, if feasible, or at least state-wise in order — to evolve realistic limits. This process could be accomplished in consultation with the parties and with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, as many of its members help candidates in filing their election expense statements.
Political parties should give up their resistance to transparency in their functioning. They should agree to be inc- luded within the ambit of the Right to Information Act instead of obstinately waiting for a Supreme Court diktat.
The government should set up a group consisting of a representative from each of the recognised political parties, with the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and the chairman of the Law Commission to comprehensively study issues relating to funding of elections and come up with its recommendations within a period of, say, three months. The CEC may be the member convener and his office may function as the secretariat.
The recommendations submitted for consideration of GoI may be put out in the public domain. The EC may also officially circulate the recommendations to all state governments and recognised political parties seeking their comments within a month. The comments and suggestions on the recommendations may be jointly examined by the EC and the Law Commission. Together, they could submit the draft of the comprehensive legislative measures to deal with the multifaceted issue of election funding.
The government, at the highest level, may hold appropriate consultations with the leaders of political parties to forge general consensus at the political level. Then it could introduce the proposed legislative measures in Parliament. The whole process could be completed within six months, given the political will. What matters is the timebound implementation of the intent to usher in transparency in poll funding. The mood of the country in the wake of demonetisation, the declared commitment of the prime minister, and the gradual realisation of political parties and their leaders that our electorate is becoming more and more conscious of how polls are fought and won, together could generate enough pressure on the political establishment to ensure reforming election funding that is rooted in black money. Would-be innovators need to break free of preexisting views. Unfortunately, the human mind is surprisingly adroit at supporting its deep-seated ways of viewing the world while sifting out evidence to the contrary. Academic research shows that even when presented with overwhelming facts, many people (including welleducated ones) won’t abandon their deeply held opinions.
The antidote is personal experience: seeing and experiencing something first-hand can shake people up in ways that abstract discussions around conference room tables can’t. It’s, therefore, extremely valuable to start creativity-building exercises or idea generation efforts outside the office, by engineering personal experiences that directly confront the participants’ implicit or explicit assumptions.…
Exploring deep-rooted company (or even industry) orthodoxies is another way to jolt yourbrainoutof thefamiliarin an idea generation session, a team meeting or simply a contemplative moment alone at your desk. All organisations have conventional wisdom about ‘the way we do things’, unchallenged assumptions about what customers want, or supposedly essential elements of strategy that are rarely, if ever, questioned.
Another simple tactic you can use to encourage creativity is to impose artificial constraints on your business model. This move injects some much-needed ‘stark necessity’ into an otherwise low-risk exercise.
The writer is former principal secretary to former PM Manmohan Singh From “Sparking Creativity in Teams: An Executive’s Guide”
So, no more raincoats in the shower!