Elections are a predominant aspect of Democracy. India, as the world’s largest democracy values elections and electoral reforms, to uphold the integrity and authenticity of an ideal democracy. The Indian electoral system has undergone a lot of changes since 1988 which have aimed at making the electoral democracy in India free and fair.
Problems Plaguing the Electoral Politics in India:
The Indian electoral arena began to be frequented by corruption and reduced transparency since the year 1967, which hampered the quality of elections in India. The issues that caused electoral problems in India are as follows:
- The Criminalization of Politics: Having muscle power and money winnable candidates with criminal records started contesting elections and they were also supported by the political parties. As long as elections were won no other issue was paid heed to.
- Lack of Moral Values: Some politicians only enter such a political race to make money and to retain their money and power for self-satisfaction. We can’t find Gandhian values of service and sacrifice among them for the betterment of society.
- Misuse of Money: The contesting candidates spent extensive amounts of money to campaign in elections and publicize their propaganda. This often exceeded the permissible limit.
- Resort to Violence: Electoral violence is another impediment to the smooth conduct of elections. Booth capture and polling violence drive electorates away from the political process and undermined the real motive behind elections.
- Misutilization of Government Resources and Machinery: Government resources and machinery were grossly misused for furthering personal political gains.
- Fielding of Non-Serious Independent Candidates: Serious candidates purposefully fielded ineligible and non-serious candidates to divide the proportion of votes that would have been otherwise cast in favour of rival candidates.
- Communalism and Casteism: Polarization along communal and caste lines impose a major impediment on the functioning of Indian democracy and equality. It creates a crevice in society by dividing the electorates based on caste and communalism.
All these issues compelled the Government of India to look into these problems and introduce necessary reforms for restoring the spirit of elections in India.
Types of Electoral Reforms
A. Reforms introduced for the Electorates
The Election Commission has introduced the following reforms to increase awareness among the voters and prevent them from being misled or misguided granting them their right to cast votes freely.
- The voting age was lowered: Initially, the voteable age was 21 years, the 61st Amendment Act of the Constitution reduced this age to 18 years.
- Introduction of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs): India started using EVMs in 1982, in one constituency, Pakur, during the Kerala assembly election. In 1988, the Parliament amended the Representation of the People Act in 1951 to make provisions (Section 61A) for the use of EVMs. They were used for the first time in 1998 in the election of Madhya Pradesh, followed by Delhi and Rajasthan assembly elections. Its arena was later spread out to other states. Presently EVMs are at the centre stage of elections, they are indispensable.
- Postal ballot: The realm of the postal ballot was extended in 2013 to 6 more categories which included, service voters, special voters, spouses of service voters and special voters, voters under preventive detention, voters responsible for election duty, and Notified voters. In 2020 the Electronically Transmitted Postal ballot facility was extended to overseas voters who were eligible, to raise the number of voters which has reduced over the year.
- Voter’s awareness: The government has taken steps to enhance voters’ awareness by dedicating January 25th as ‘National Voters Day’.
- Restricting exit polls: In 2010 exit polls were restricted by introducing Section 126(A) in the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951. Before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission issued a statement restricting the broadcast of exit polls. They mentioned that exit polls can be broadcasted only after the final phase of the elections. This step was taken to prevent voters from being misled.
B. Reforms introduced to Regulate the Electoral Candidates:
These reforms have been initiated to regulate the behaviour of electoral candidates and stop them from abusing the authority placed at their disposal.
- Candidates are liable to be disqualified for 6 years from contesting elections if they fail to abide by the National Honors Act, 1971 and commit any offence under Section 2 (insulting the Indian National Flag) or Section 3 (offence of stopping the National Anthem).
- Every candidate has to declare their criminal antecedents and assets. They must declare their criminal antecedents three times before an election, once in a national daily newspaper and in two other regional language newspapers, and stating false information in the affidavit is now punishable with 6 months of imprisonment or a fine or both.
C. Reforms Altering the Nature of Elections:
These are the various electoral reforms constituted from time to time to reform the Indian electoral system.
- Limiting the Election Expenditure: The amount a candidate can spend for election in Lok Sabha Constituencies is between 54 lakhs-70 lakhs to 70 lakhs-95 lakhs and in the case of state elections the range is between 20 lakhs-28 lakhs to 40 lakhs. The amount can vary depending on the state where the election is being conducted. Every candidate is required to keep a record of all the expenditures from the date of nomination to the date of results (Section 77, RPA 1951). Incorrect information may lead to disqualification of the candidate by the Election Commission of India for up to 3 years (Section 10A, RPA 1951).
- Deputation to the Election Commission: Section 13CC of the Representation of Peoples Act states that Every professional in charge of electoral duties forms a part of the deputation of the election commission, and they report directly to the Election Commission of India all throughout the electoral period.
- A new regulation was issued demanding political parties to claim income tax benefits for any contribution to the Election Commission exceeding Rupees 20K.
- Sale of liquor prohibited: A 48-hour ban is imposed on all places near the polling area prohibiting them from selling liquor or intoxicants.
- Arms Act of 1959 prohibits anyone with arms to go near the vicinity of the polling station. If anyone is found in possession of arms around the polling booth, they can be sentenced to a punishment of up to 2 years.
- Employees of every organization are entitled to a paid holiday on the day of elections, even daily wagers are entitled to receive their entire day’s wage for the day of the election and anyone failing to abide by this is punishable by a fine.
- The time period of bye-elections to union and state parliaments was fixed to 6 months, within which elections must be conducted to fill the empty seats. This will not stand valid if the tenure of the member whose vacancy needs to be filled is less than 1 year and if the Election Commission along with the Central government decides it’s not suitable to conduct bye-elections.
- The time dedicated to campaigning was also reduced by the electoral reforms. there is a ban on any form of active campaigning by any candidate or political party which begins 48 hours before election day and ends after polling day. This period is referred to as the silence period, it is an attempt to enable the voters to think in peace and cast their votes judiciously.
- Death of a contesting candidate: Presently elections are not rescheduled or postponed owing to the death of a candidate contesting an election. However, if the candidate belonged to any recognized political party the party is granted a time frame of 7 days within which they must nominate an alternative candidate.
An election is the mark of success for democracy. Free and fair elections guarantee electorates the freedom to voice their opinions without any subjugation. Electoral reforms have guaranteed fair elections thereby ensuring transparency and credibility of Indian democracy.