The Mother India
A Home page to achieve Electoral reforms, true democracy & citizens sovereignty in India
September 11, 2002
There has been a lull in our communication for two reasons: preparatory work for legal challenge to the Ordinance has been going on; and local campaigns are being launched in favour of full disclosures, and we needed time to evolve a workable national action plan.
The following is the current position:
1. Two writ petitions have so far been filed by the members of National Campaign for Electoral Reforms challenging the constitutional validity of the Ordinance promulgated on 24th August, 2002. One petition was filed by Sri Sanjay Parikh on behalf of PUCL. The other petition was filed by Sri Prashant Bhushan on behalf of several constituent organizations and individuals of NCER. Essentially these petitions challenge the Ordinance on grounds of violation of fundamental rights under Art 19(1); In particular Section 3 of the Ordinance incorporating Section 33(B) in RP Act, 1951 is being challenged as it foreclosed any right to information from candidates, apart from the criminal disclosures provided for in the Ordinance. Ms. Kamini Jaiswal indicated that she would be filing a petition for intervening at an appropriate time on behalf of ADR. All three petitions will work in close concert, and the lawyers are working as a team. The reason for filing more than one petition is to ensure that several lawyers can appear and argue on our behalf. It is almost certain that the government will fight hard to prevent further candidate disclosures, and will deploy a formidable battery of lawyers. Therefore we should be prepared for all contingencies.
2. The Election Commission will be intervening in the petition, and will support full disclosures as ordered by Supreme Court in its May 2 Judgement. As per indications, Sri K.K.Venugopal will be appearing on behalf of the EC as and when the petition comes up for hearing.
3. Major political parties may also intervene at the time of hearing. As of now, there are some indications from Congress party to this effect. That party may support full disclosure subject to removal of ‘Returning Officer’s discretion to verify information, as per its publicly stated position.
4. Several local initiatives have been continuing in support of full disclosures and other electoral reforms. A meeting called by Lok Satta at Guntur, a district town, on 1st September received excellent response. About 5000 people participated with great enthusiasm and fully supported a movement to force disclosures and electoral reforms. This shows that the issue has penetrated deep into the population, and is receiving strong and positive response from people in support of clean politics, full disclosures and electoral reforms. In these days voluntary participation of a few thousand people for several hours in a meeting without lure of money or promise power, and with no emotive issues of caste or religion involved, is a strong indication of growing public support.
5. In Mumbai, AGNI and other organizations called for a public meeting, and by all accounts it was a successful effort.
6. Public meetings and other activities are going on in several locations in several states. The following is the suggested program of action based on the feedback received so far:
1) The first priority is to ensure that the writ petitions are admitted, and the impugned section 3 of the Ordinance is held invalid by the Supreme Court. If that happens, the Supreme Court judgment of May 2, and EC’s orders of June 28 will be operative in respect of financial and other disclosures.
2) However, we need to mobilize public opinion in a sustained manner. Then the chances of public mood persuading the Government and political parties to provide for full disclosures, and the law replacing the Ordinance conforming to the Supreme Court judgment, and in consonance with the June 28 order of EC will be high. We also need to seize the opportunity to build pressure for other electoral reforms. Given these imperatives, a three-phase programme is proposed for the next three months.
a) In the first phase, a series of public meetings, signature campaigns, demonstrations, debates, street plays etc. will be conducted in support of disclosures. People will be informed of the facts through media, pamphlets, posters etc. In this phase, we will oppose the Ordinance, especially Section 3, and demand full disclosures. This phase will culminate on October 2 with mobs burning of Section 3 of the Ordinance. Our stand is that we respect and defend the Constitution; Section 3 is unconstitutional and undemocratic. It is a black Ordinance, and therefore we publicly show our disapproval by burning it ceremonially. But at all times we invoke the Constitution, fundamental rights and the essence of democratic accountability in support of our opposition to Section 3. In Andhra Pradesh alone, it is expected that on October 2, processions will be taken out in about 2000 small towns and villages, and the Ordinance copies will be burnt publicly.
b) In the second phase, during the month of October, we will publicly demand an official ballot or government sponsored public opinion polls to determine whether or not people are in favour of full disclosure of candidate details. If the government comes forward, then we will fully support such a ballot, and cooperate in every way to make it successful.
If the government does not respond, we will then conduct a series of ballots in all major towns and taluk headquarters, asking for people to vote in favour of, or against candidate disclosures. These ballots will be held transparently with active involvement of media persons, non-partisan activists, jurists and credible and respected citizens. Wide publicity will be given, and people will be asked to mark Yes or No to the question as to full disclosures are necessary. To facilitate the participation of illiterate voters, there may be two colours –say, green paper indicating a ‘Yes’ vote and red paper indicating a ‘No’ vote. The process will be open to public scrutiny, and political parties will be invited to monitor the ballot. This ballot will be for a whole day-say 8 AM to 5 PM. Immediately after the poll, the ballots will be counted, and the result will be declared in the presence of media.
c) During the month of November, No disclosure-No vote campaign will be mounted, coinciding with the winter session of Parliament. As per Article 123, an ordinance promulgated by the President shall be laid before both houses of parliament, and shall cease to operate at the expiration of six weeks from the reassembly of parliament. This campaign of ‘No disclosure-No vote’ must send a strong message to the parties that irrespective of the law they may enact, people insist on voluntary disclosures of all candidate disclosures, in particular criminal and financial details. A vigorous and sustained campaign will be mounted urging people not to vote for any candidate who does not voluntarily disclose all details, and to choose only from among candidates who actually disclose full details as per Supreme Court judgment of May 2, and Election Commission’s order of June 28.
3) This three-month campaign will be followed by ‘Election Watch’ movements in all states where Assembly elections are due (excluding Jammu & Kashmir). Elections are due in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Gujarat over the next few months to one year. Citizens’ Election Watch encompassing various activities including verification of electoral rolls, candidate disclosure (know your candidate), common platforms, televised live debates, unearthing criminal antecedents of candidates and monitoring of polling will be taken up as part of campaign for voter education and electoral reform. Lok Satta movement’s experience in Election Watch will form the basis of these activities, with such improvements and adaptations locally feasible and necessary.
4) State Election Commissions will be persuaded to issue orders mandating candidate disclosures in local government elections as per Supreme Court judgment. A meeting of several SECs is being held today (11th September) at the initiative of institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi. Sri K. C. Sivaramakrishnan is participating in it on behalf of NCER. Already SECs in Maharashtra, UP, and Assam have issued orders, and an Ordinance has been promulgated in Uttaranchal. No disclosure-No vote campaign will be launched in all local elections also.
5) Voter registration in the country is unsatisfactory. Lok Satta’s studies reveal up to 15% errors in rural areas and 40% errors in urban areas in AP. Anecdotal evidence in other states suggests similar errors. CSDS is conducting a survey in J&K in the run up to the current Assembly polls.
One simple way of improving voter registration is making the process simple, accessible and citizen friendly. Post offices and gram panchayats can be made nodal agencies for this purpose. Voter lists and statutory forms for inclusion and deletion can be made available in each post office, and applications can be received, and alterations displayed on a permanent basis. The EC has in principle approved the proposal. Indications are that the postal department is willing to support this initiative. As part of the campaign, we should persuade authorities to fully implement a practical, low-tech, people-friendly scheme at post offices. Massive campaign should be launched to educate the public and improve the quality of electoral rolls. This does not require any change of law, and will significantly improve the purity of our elections.
6) The Government introduced a bill for political funding reform in parliament in March 2002. This bill has many positive features including tax exemption for private contributions, auditing and disclosure of party accounts, indirect public funding to parties in kind, and free broadcasting time to parties in all channels-public and private, with flexibility in case of time. The National Campaign must vigorously support funding reform, and ensure that effective mechanisms are instituted for transparent and accountable funding for legitimate political activities.
These, then are some of the immediate items on our agenda for action. I appeal to all activists and friends to follow up on these and mount a relentless campaign for full disclosure and comprehensive electoral reforms. Do please keep us informed of our actions. Should you require any further information or clarifications, kindly feel free to contact us.
With warm regards
National Campaign for Electoral Reforms
From: "LokSatta" <email@example.com> To: "Tirumala Srinivas" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Wed, 11 Sep 2002 21:24:19 +0530 www.corruptioneradication.com