Saturday, September 18, 2021

Have we lost sight of electoral route for representative governance and inclusive development?

  • A comment after watching Hyderabad Jubilee Hills House Building Cooperative Society election.

The elections just held to the executive of the Jubilee Hills Building Cooperative Building Society in Hyderabad reminds me of an alarming trend, which should  prick the conscious of concerned citizens all over. This Jubilee Hills society election was not an isolated instance. The elections to Andhra Education Society in New Delhi some time back comes to my mind. I witnessed both these elections first hand as a voter. Of course, I have been extensively analysing and writing about trends in elections to the Parliament and Assemblies over the decades.  Insights from all these make me shudder about perils of polarised elections even when the electorate today is far more educated, relatively better off and supposed to be more enlightened and even egalitarian by and large. 

Jubilee Hills Cooperative House Building Society elections were held after 15 years and that too at the instance of the local court as both the groups were in accusation mode for several months. The campaign they ran was bitter, expensive and manipulative to the extent of suspending and even disqualifying several members. Some members far away from Hyderabad were offered air tickets to come and vote as in the case of Delhi Andhra Education society election. That huge money is required to contest election for Parliament and Assemblies is known. But, the fact that huge money is required for any election at any level should concern us. Even village Panchayat elections require big money. In this election to the Jubilee Hills Cooperative House Building Society both the groups had spent more than Rs, 10 crore, more than half of it on news media publicity. Earlier, in the Andhra Education Society in New Delhi the two groups had spent more than Rs. 2 crore. That the more they spent on elections, the higher the scope of corruption is well known. That both the groups in the case of the Jubilee Hills were led by news channel owners was a different story.

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Clearly we have lost out in our understanding of elections, the compulsions of living together and cooperate and the very idea of democracy and even governance – to the extent of vitiating our own future and threatening that of the generation next in the name of democracy, development and governance. Thanks to political parties and political leaders.  For, it is they who are responsible for  misinterpreting the very idea of elections as a way or basis for representative governance.  In the process, we have lost track or ignored the unique roots and heritage of Village – Republics and fundamentals of working together as practiced by the Chola Kings centuries ago.

Elections have become a mockery with political parties taking over the steering of the country starting with Parliament and Assembly elections and now penetrating every organised community and institutions at the grassroots to the extent that two global agencies that assess the state of democracy have indicted in their latest report for 2020 for fairness of elections in India. They described the Indian democracy as “electoral autocracy” and viewed it as suffering from a “backlash”. Even a former Supreme Court Judge Madan Lokur headed Indian Commission damned fairness of general elections. It is easy to defame these agencies but difficult to respond to the specifics these three agencies have raised. 

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It has been common understanding that elections no longer have ethical basis. But now elections are neither truly choice based nor representative.  Worse, this model has become all pervasive irrespective of level and category. Prime proof of the pudding of elections should be evident in the trajectory of development, democracy and governance. That even after 75 years of Independence we have not achieved basic as in the case of literacy, inequalities and continued disparities is known despite 13 Five Year Plans earlier and 16 general elections so far. Clearly the way the elections are being conducted has facilitated neither development nor good governance nor deepened democracy.

On the contrary, elections have vitiated the atmosphere and divided people to the extent they are on collusion course or on a non-cooperative mode most of the time. And the people become dependents on the Government. The way the political parties fight the elections, nominate candidates and campaign and the way voters are lured and the kind of view voters take of elections has not led to a truly representative form of government. Election campaign has become more of a “battle ground,” instigating people against each other instead of promoting a work-together culture, to-serve is no longer a prime motive to contest in elections and that election is for a tenure is forgotten. Performance is no longer a criterion for the elected ones and conflict of interest has become a blatant phenomenon. This model has become as if it is universal where ever elections are held in the country at any level. Whereas the elections are meant and intended just the opposite of the model in vogue.  Continuing elections the way they have been reduced to is futile without correctives and sanity. Electoral reforms remained rhetoric.

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The Jubilee Hills Building Cooperative Society is more than fifty-year-old and one of the posh housing society under cooperative society’s Act. The elite of the State live there and are the members of the society, including senior legal and civil service hierarchy. Even caste based caucuses were held by the two prominent castes as a part of the campaign. It is expected to be run by a periodically elected managing committee. There are millions of societies operating under the Society’s Act requiring an election as many other such bodies for consumer, credit, housing, sports, schools, etc. Many of them go through the kind of vicious election campaign that the Jubilee Hills Building Cooperative Society had witnessed last week spending crores of rupees and digging deep the corruption pit. Unlimited greed was witnessed in this campaign between the two rival groups. And it was a trap open for promoting corruption, sustaining rivalries of all kinds and the stories of swindling house plots by successive executive members were all over. Conflict of interest of most contestants was so obvious. In the name cooperative societies, non-cooperation was at its height.

Why every organised body has to have elections, the way it was prescribed? It could be optional. It should be a compulsion only in the case of legislative bodies as in the case of Parliament and Assembly. At all other levels the election should be on non-political party basis. It is even more important that the methodology of electing representatives should be to promote cooperation, consultations and harmony both during the election and even more thereafter. And the tenure should be restricted to two terms or ten years. The campaign by those who volunteer to offer service by contesting should not be solo. Instead, the contestants should campaign together to reach voters and should not take to media advertising in solo.  The code of conduct should be strictly adhered and those who violate should be disqualified forthwith. Poll agenda or manifesto should be the only basis for seeking support. All contestants should at the very outset jointly declare adherence to a code of conduct and prevailing laws and any conflict of interest. Why outsiders, particularly those in the Government unless they belong to the constituency, should campaign?  

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Dr. N. Bhaskara Rao
Dr. N. Bhaskara Rao has been crusading environmental activism with CMS Vatavaran (www.cmsvatavaran.org) movement last two decades.

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