Enough of Poll-Vault­ing

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - T K A Nair

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!

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