Time to learn from Pakistan and Bangladesh
Neutral administration during election time
On January 7 the Union Minister of State for Youth Affairs Jitendra Singh declared that the UPA government will soon come out with a new Youth Policy 2014 to replace the present Youth Policy 2003. “The priority areas", approved by the Union cabinet chaired by Dr. Manmohan Singh "are education, skill development and employment, entrepreneurship, health and healthy lifestyle, sports, promotion of social values, community engagement, participation in politics and governance, youth engagement, inclusion and social justice.”
Both the houses of Parliament are likely to be convened in mid-February primarily for a vote-on-account because there will be no regular budget as per the practice. This is done because a regular budget can only be populist and the ruling party could play ducks and drakes with public exchequer for sectarian electoral gains. But, as per reports, the Manmohan government has in its kitty a number of Bills it proposes to introduce and try to push through, like the Communal Violence Bill, etc. Ironically, Congress wishes to sleep over the Women's Reservation Bill which stands approved by the Rajya Sabha for which Congress President, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi gleefully accepted credit. Why Mrs. Gandhi does not wish to repeat that in Lok Sabha remains unexplained.
There is no explanation why did the Congress not think of changing the 2003 Youth Policy for more than nine years. Why did the Congress wait for the last year of its second term to get the Food Security Bill passed? Obviously, it hoped to reap electoral gains that the National Employment Guarantee Act gave it in the last parliamentary elections.
Such intentions make it clear that our rulers firmly believe that people, nay the electorate, have a very short memory. That is why they wish to strike only when the iron of elections is hot. It is only a few months before the polling schedule that they wake up from their slumber generated by luxuriating at the fruits of power to spring into action to motivate the voter at the right moment when he is ready to go to the polling booth. In Rajasthan, the Congress chief minister Ashok Gehlot opened the cash boxes of the State exchequer on the eve of elections to shower numerous freebies to win the assembly election. But that seems to have boomeranged. Congress suffered the worst electoral defeat.
In a democracy elections should be fought by various political parties and individuals from an equal platform. None should be at the advantageous position and the political party in power should not have the key of public money to influence the voter. The elections need not only be free and fair but also appear to be so.
India, no doubt, is a great and strong democracy. We have been able to sustain the parliamentary system of government for more than 66 years while democracy crumbled in those parts which before August 1947 were very much a part of this great country. It is a matter of great satisfaction that both Pakistan and Bangladesh are today democracies. Whatever the strength and weakness of the democracies in these two countries, they have one great tradition. Pakistan's constitution provides that six months before the due date of elections the duly elected party government makes way for a neutral regime which oversees the conduct of a free and fair election. In Bangladesh too, the recent elections were held under a non-party impartial administration. It is besides the point that fingers are being raised at its being free and fair.
Our parliamentary democracy hinges on the Westminster style of parliamentary government. Our constitution has borrowed many of the good features and provisions in other constitutions. We have followed many traditions and good precedents in other countries. Is it not a time that we adopt this good example of a political government making way for a non-political administration aligned with none to ensure free and fair elections to ensure that these genuinely reflect the will of the people.
If we cannot do that, our Election Commission (EC) could, at least, step in to enforce the Model Code of Conduct for Political Parties six months before the date on which the new Parliament or the State assembly has to be constituted. Any violation of the Code should be a cognizable criminal offence attracting deterrent punishment. Otherwise, things will not improve. Political parties and government leaders will continue to take the EC for a ride. EC will continue to issue notices whenever the Code is violated; defaulters will give their explanations and ultimately, the matter will end with, at the most, a censure of the 'guilty' and the matter would end there. Violation of the Model Code and the 'punishment' given by the EC is at the moment being taken as a loving rebuke by a mother to its recalcitrant children. ***
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