Money, Muscle and Paid Media, Eroding India's democracy: Election Commissioner of India

September 20, 2012

New Delhi: On a day when the future of the ruling government in India hangs by the balance, with whispers of imminent polls growing louder, election commissioner HS Bramha's forthright description of the challenges to electoral reforms in India do not dispel the impending doom. Addressing a gathering in Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Bramha said that the decadent practice of money, muscle and the increasing malpractice of paid news were eroding the very foundations of India's electoral process. He stressed that "national will is the need of the hour, to enforce electoral reforms".

Talking candidly on a variety of subjects from the practical unfeasibility implementing of the right to recall, banning of candidates with criminal records, to the menace of sabotage of electoral rolls and voting malpractices, Mr Bramha admitted that electoral commission was increasingly getting overwhelmed in its capacity to manage free and fair elections. He said that while there is a general consensus across party lines on the need of electoral reforms, the will to execute these decisions was lacking.

He also addressed the issue of the lack of awareness of the electoral processes even among senior bureaucrats, which resulted in no outreach to the public. "We need better awareness and publicity campaigns" he added; not just to inform the voter but also to combat the unhealthy practice of paid news, which is adulterating the perceptions of the common man. He discussed many regional cases where political party owned or affiliated media were eroding the growth of democratic processes down to the smallest constituencies.

Mr Bramha argued that while voting could not be made compulsory, it was the duty of every citizen to cast an informed vote to start the system of change. He spoke of various initiatives being pondered over by the election commission like "Know Your Candidate" to enthuse voters to participate effectively. Awareness he reiterated was the first step towards real change.