By Kiranjeet Kaur
A central feature of democratic political systems is the right of its members to elect those empowered to make, change and abolish the nation's laws. Without the right to vote, there would be no mechanism in large-scale societies for transferring public powers between political fractions or, indeed, no representative government at all. More fundamentally, the right to vote is a vehicle to social, economic and political change. It provides all of the community members with a roughly equal opportunity to affect the future direction of society. The right to participate in the government's decisions has consequently been characterized as a ‘right of rights’. One should not forget that the right to vote is a constitutional right provided by the Constitution to its people .
In the context of India, it is a liberal democratic nation wherein people’s power is supreme and sovereign, and they elect their representatives themselves. The government always works according to the dictates of public opinion. Free, fair and regulated elections elect a popular elected representative government responsible, responsive and accountable to the public opinion and the government. People have the very right to change their government, and the government remains in power as long as it enjoys popular majority support of the people. Political struggle is completely free in which a number of political parties can participate freely.
There is the rule of law, decentralization of powers, judicial independence and constitutionally granted and guaranteed people's freedom. Undoubtedly, it is all of these paramount features only that makes India the largest democracy in the world with a population of 1,390,642,113 people where elections form an integral and vital part of the democracy and people having access to free, fair and regulated elections is the true essence of democracy without which it would be equal to just like an empty body or body without a soul. True democracy can function only when elections to the offices of power are held in a free and fair manner. Still, as Samuel P. Huntington’s famous argument suggests that “when you provide more political participation you get less political order”, this is exactly what we can experience currently in India’s scenario as it is generally accepted that while the first three general elections were held in a free and fair manner, a plummeting of standards started during the fourth general elections in 1967. Indeed, there has been a drastic fall in the same, backed by a number of factors.
Multiple causes act as a hindrance in the smooth functioning of the electoral processes in India, and it has been evident since time immemorial that the right to vote has often been withheld by political elites, who see it as a weapon that could be used to bring about large-scale social reconstruction. For example, in a diverse country like India with an n number of ethnicities, people of different caste have their loyalties to different political parties and their ideology-their caste beliefs, values, interest influence their socialization, political thinking and participation.
Caste plays a dominant role in leadership recruitment-caste conscious people usually elect people of their caste; therefore, in Andhra Pradesh, the Reddy’s or the Kamal becomes the leaders. In Haryana, the Jaats and the Bishnoi’s are elected as leaders. Caste plays a vital role in politics. Some political parties have a direct caste basis. For example, BJP is considered as a Hindu party and Akali Dal as a Jatt party; BSP stands on the approval of the ST’s and SCs. Caste plays an essential role in decision making- the issue of the organizing of the states also depends on the handling of the dominance of a particular territory. Caste has always found its way in Indian politics. It has been a tool of mobilizing, communicating, representation, and leadership and forms the link between the electorate and the political process.
Though the Indian Constitution adopted Justice, Secularism and Equality, Communalism continues to afflict Indian democracy. Political parties are organized on a communal basis- for example, the Hindu Maha Sabha, the Muslim League, the DMK, the Akali Dal are all political organizations organized on a political basis. Political leaders also encourage communalism on the eve of elections to get a vote, and the selection of candidates for election is done by giving great importance to communalism. A candidate belonging to the majority party is given ticket-voters also, vote on communal lines. After getting elected, the representatives try to safeguard the interest of their community and neglect national interest, which eventually hampers the progress of democracy and ultimately erodes the national fabric.
Criminalization of Politics is a much debatable issue and is a much-seen thing in the Indian political process where these criminals often seek the umbrella of various political parties, mainly the party in power, to discharge the criminal cases on them and undoubtedly, it is a matter of fact that their money power and muscle power do help them in winning the elections and provides them with a license to do whatever they want according to their whims and fancies and to achieve their desired goals. In such cases, the political parties also do not mind having candidates with grave criminal records as these candidates provide them with required funds and, in return, provide them with political patronage and protection, and the political parties are happy as long as they have candidates winning elections despite their criminal backing. Recently the Supreme Court has taken a timely decision by agreeing to hear a plea from the Election Commission of India to direct political parties to not field candidates with criminal antecedents. It was found that 46% of Members of Parliament have criminal records. The real worry is that the current cohort of Lok Sabha MPs has the highest (29%) proportion of those with serious declared criminal cases compared to its recent predecessors.
Further, the story of the West Bengal elections 2021 tells it all when politicians like Subrata Mukherjee, Firhad Hakim and Swadesh Ranjan Choudhary, having grave criminal records, were allowed to contest elections by both BJP and TMC and what is more shocking that the leaders of the prominent parties are often seen to come in rescue of such candidates with criminal backing. The entry of criminals into politics often results in atrocities such as illegal incidents, luring polling such as violence, intimidation, booth capturing etc. Things like booth capturing are the most probable reason, in my opinion, why women have shied away from the electoral process in India.
Solutions to the problem/Conclusion
In my opinion, contingent voting needs to be adopted and promoted more than the first past the post system (FPTP) in India. FPTP is also known as the simple majority voting, where the winner takes all the voting or plurality voting as the most basic form of voting system. To be more precise, under FPTP, voting occurs in single-member constituencies where voters put across in a box next to their favoured candidate, and the candidate who gathers the most votes in the constituencies or other electoral area wins the election. FPTP is a clear, decisive and straightforward method, but many argue that it is anything but a representative voting system. Representatives can get elected with a bit of public support as the size of the winning margin is irrelevant. What matters is only that they get more votes than other candidates. The vote seat gap, or the big disproportion between the popular votes polled and the seats won by the political parties, enables a candidate who secures a minority of valid votes to get elected. FPTP can severely restrict voter’s choice as parties are not homogenous and do not speak with one unified voice. Parties are coalitions of different viewpoints, and if a preferred party candidate in a constituency has views with which a voter disagrees, he/she doesn’t have means of expressing that at the ballot box. FPTP rewards parties which are often termed as lumpy support that is with just enough votes to win in each particular area.
With relatively small constituency sizes, the way boundaries are drawn can affect the election result. In a sense, FPTP is the primary reason behind the growth of multi-regional parties in India. The assortment of parties has resulted in the majority of legislators getting elected on a minority vote. That is, they do not represent the will of the majority hence. Contingent voting needs to be adopted as has been done in countries like Sri Lanka for electing their President and to elect Mayors in England.
To enjoy democracy in its true sense, every possible attempt should remove crime from politics. No criminal should be allowed to contest election or to cast his vote. Given this, the Election Commission has recommended that any person convicted by the court and sentenced for more than six months should be disqualified from contesting elections for six years. The Election Commission has also suggested a number of changes in the present Representation of People’s Act to remove the lacunae that have provided even history-sheeters to contest elections.
The Election Commission had made strenuous efforts to invoke a nationwide debate on this hot issue for preventing the criminalization of politics by recommending that those who have been sentenced to imprisonment up to six months be barred from contesting an election, irrespective of the fact that their appeals are pending in the higher courts. The Election Commission has also issued a directive according to which any person sentenced by a competent Court under Section 8 of the Representation of People’s Act would be debarred from contesting elections. Another issue is checking the limit of election expenses, fixing a limit of rupees 50 lakhs for Parliamentary constituencies and Rs. 6 lakhs for Assembly constituencies. Strict actions such as speedy trials should be initiated for the candidates having criminal histories should be taken. Similarly, the politics of luring masses and influencing their party preferences utilizing paying them with a certain amount of money to participate in rallies and attracting the youngsters owning vehicles to give them a certain supply of petrol to participate in demonstrations in a sense the brainwashing of the masses needs to stop immediately, and most importantly the role of mass and media which is considered to be the third pillar of any democracy needs to be regulated during the time of elections. Strict actions should be taken against those candidates who make offensive statements that arouse public distress.
Therefore, to conclude, we can say that politics is a place for those who have a vision towards the development of a nation but not for those having a vision towards the degradation of a nation as it is through leaders that the people of a nation exercise their powers in a democracy and not to forget, castism and communalism has always found its way into Indian politics and has deprived many of them to enjoy their right to vote in a true sense.
 Journal of Democracy- Janaagraha crime and politics: on political candidates with criminal records (The Hindu) Electoral reform: An approach to effective democracy (Legal Services India.com)
Author- Kiranjeet Kaur
B.A. -LL..B (H), (3rd semester)
College - Xavier Law School, XIM University, Bhubaneswar