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Let the race begin… but early!

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Every time elections happen in India, the country is thrown into a cauldron of corruption with party-hopping, rebellion, chaos, crime and confusion reigning supreme. Often nominations are announced at the last moment and many voters don’t even get an opportunity to see the faces of their future leaders let alone interact with them.

Does the largest democracy of the world need this chaos? Or can we bring in some reforms? Here we cannot forget the revolutionary changes ushered in by the tenth election commissioner T N Seshan. He put checks on the spending in elections and indiscriminate use of posters and vehicles for promotion.

As elections approach, there is a spurt in illegal activities such as horse trading and money laundering. During ticket distribution, crores of rupees change hands. Either the candidates are looking to make money or the parties are looking for moneyed candidates!

The process can be cleaned up to a large extent if candidates are announced 6 months in advance. On average, a Lok Sabha candidate has to cover 12000 to 14000 villages in his constituency. He/she has to connect with anywhere from 10 to 15 lakh voters. The candidates would need time to at least shake hands with 10% of them, if not all. How can one reach out to so many people in just three to four weeks?

A sustained exposure will also give enough time for people to figure out the character and attitude of the leaders they are going to elect. The one who connects with them well will end up leading them. It helps the political parties as well. If the candidate is found inefficient or unacceptable by the people or if there are complaints about him/her, the party has time to rethink and nominate a different candidate. It gives people time to understand their differences, sort them out or agree to live with them.

A leader should rise from the bottom winning the hearts of people rather than being imposed by the party high command. In a democracy, it is very important that the representatives understand who they represent and vice versa.

Often ticket distribution is done without understanding the ground reality. Many party workers are upset with the final list of candidates and turn rebellious as despite having worked hard, their voices are not heard. It is not that the candidate has to be a local always but even if someone from outside is nominated, they have to stay in the constituency, work, connect with people and prove themselves. This needs time.

Currently, the situation is that party election committees select candidates looking at caste equations, financial muscle or even due to whims and fancies of the members. Many times weak candidates are fielded so that the opponent can win. This unholy nexus between the parties can be exposed and avoided with a long lead time. It would be ideal if every party decentralized the selection process to involve the panchayats and zila parishads also.

Many times ticket distribution is a money-making racket. Sometimes, even opposition candidates are bought out by rival parties. If the ticket distribution system is streamlined and conducted well in advance, the election process will become simpler and a lot of election-related crimes and violence can be avoided. Indonesia is also going to elections this month like India and the list of contesting candidates was out as early as August last year.

If the candidates know their opponents well in advance, there will be a spirit of positive competition among them to serve the people in their electorate.

It takes a whole nation, with all its civil, legislative and judicial bodies, to make a healthy democracy. The question is do we really deserve a better government? Are we really serious about it?  Can we ever get out of caste and religion based politics? We have more questions than answers. Nevertheless we should keep asking ourselves these questions.

[Note: This article was published in DNA on April 6, 2014:]


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