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Is Indian electoral democracy deceptive?
Friday June 13, 2014 9:00 PM, Syed Ali Mujtaba,

The recently concluded 16 Lok Sabha election has thrown up many harsh realities of Indian democracy and its time for introspection and chalk out possible correction methods from the lessons learned, if we may like worship the ideals of democratic governance.

In a country of over billion people, millions exercising their franchise in an orderly way to elect a government is certainly an extraordinary feat. As an Indian we all are really proud of our ability to conduct such massive exercise probably the largest elections conducted in the world.

However, there are many pitfalls of our democratic process and it is an indication that the quality of democracy now practiced in the country is far from the ideals of democracy itself.

In spite of the elections being conducted at regular intervals, there are grim realities of democracy practiced in India. The apprehension is if our democracy is not nurtured in a responsible manner by those who occupy positions of power by virtue of it, the cherished ideals of governance may sooner than latter get derailed.

This would particularly be so in the present scenario, where number of political parties based on the regional and caste groupings has multiplied. There are many candidates in the electoral fray with corrupt and criminal background getting elected and entering the Parliament, our temple of democracy.

The weakness of Indian democracy are reflected by the fact that several political parties in Indi are controlled by families with sons, daughters and other family members having a stronghold in conducting the party affairs and one family member succeeding the others in the party hierarchy making it a dynasty rule.

Several political parties including Indian national congress party are centered on one family or one personality. This has created an undesirable situation, where there is no scope for individuals to move up in the party ladder, even in a limited way, unless they would pledge their loyalty to a particular family or a particular leader.

Dissent is not possible in these political parties. On the other hand, they are run and managed like a tightly controlled group, a fiefdom to be more precise.

While these political parties contest elections in a democratic system, there is no democratic procedure in these parties themselves. According to a news report in daily 'The Hindu', nearly one quarter of MPs in the new Lok Sabha are from political dynasties. In total, some 130 MPs out of 545 come from political families in the 16th Lok Sabha.

Then the money power has now come to play a big role in the election process, with massive campaigning by all political parties becoming the order of the day. Several political parties now own TV channels, employ advertising agencies to launch massive advertisement campaign and organize expensive extravaganza in the name of public meetings and conferences, to draw people's attention and get their support.

It has been found that several political parties bribe the gullible voters, particularly those belonging to lower income group to "buy" their votes. A situation has now come, where in the absence of money power, an individual or a political party cannot hope to win an election, even a municipal council election at the ward level.

With the money power becoming so important, almost all the political parties collect funds to build resources for contesting the elections. This has resulted in high level of administrative and political corruption in the country. It has also led to coercion and threat to small, medium and large business houses by various political parties to extract money from them. Thus, electoral process in India has become an expensive and costly affair, leading to several malpractices including generation and circulation of black money.

Every political party and political leader maintain a large group of political workers, who have no worthwhile jobs but are enabled to make money by the leadership of the political parties, using the political clout at regional and local levels. Their political masters enable them to amass money by providing them government contracts and patronage at local and regional levels in variety of ways.

Such political workers really often behave like thugs, and constantly harass the people. Some sort of gang have emerged in each political party, where the people at various levels from top to bottom work together for "common good" of making money. For them contesting elections and seeking to get into power by fair or foul means is their mission in life.

It is, therefore, necessary that the Election Commission enquire into the use of money and take action in accordance with law against each and every candidate who is found guilty of such malpractices.

The contest between political parties in India are no more based on principles of economics or sociology but mostly on the basis of alignment of various self interested and family controlled political parties, who align themselves before the elections with the objective of winning the election. It often happens that the political parties who align themselves and contest in the elections together, fall apart immediately after the elections and quarrel bitterly for ministerial positions, if they happen to win the elections.

There are several politicians in India who have never taken up any jobs or business, but have huge wealth and assets and live in luxurious life style. Many wonder as to where such people have got their money from?

Obviously, such wealth amongst the politicians has become possible only due to the extensive corrupt practices. The way in which they are involved in parties and politics and the way they succeed in getting huge government contracts and patronages that are doled out to them as rewards for their hard work.

Another redeeming feature of our democracy is the squid nature of electoral system. In the 16th Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has secured 31 percent of the 66.48 percent votes cast, whereas Congress secured 19.3 percent votes. Yet there is a great difference in the seats won by these two parties. While, BJP won 282 seats whereas Congress won only 44 seats.

This is actually a result of our defective electoral system. Under this system, even if 20 candidates secure 90 percent votes, the 21st candidate will get elected even if he gets only 10 percent or even less votes. In such a case all the remaining votes may become redundant. This issue is of great concern and can only be addressed if the system of proportional representation (PR) is adopted in our country.

Then the alarm bells are being raised about the authenticity of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with which our democracy is practiced. Votes cast in these machines cannot in any way be rechecked and verified in such a system. No one knows who is manufacturing the EVMs and how are they being serviced or maintained. Is the secrecy of mint system that produces legal tender maintained for EVMs as well? The fervor of the tone that EVMs can be easily manipulated a question mark is put on the way democracy is being practiced in the country.

The Election Commission had come with an announcement that a verifiable printed slip will come out of EVMS after each vote is cast but this promise was honored in only eight constituencies in 16th Lok Sabha elections.

Then the role of media has come under scanner during the recently concluded elections. The issue paid news has become rampant in the country. In fact many media houses are making fortunes in every election. A publicity barrage is launched in the media and the obvious bias glares in the columns as one wade through the daily newspapers. Three thousand complaints of paid news were made to the Election Commission during 16th Lok Sabha elections. This is an alarming trend and if it is not checked, the credibility of Indian democracy is at stake.

Last but not the least, the communal and caste propaganda during the election has cast its shadow on our democratic process. With controversial and double-meaning statements, instigating riots, propagating rumors and lies, votes were consolidated for an ideology which is unconstitutional and anathema to our secular polity. Election Commission has been an utter failure in dealing with this onslaught on our democracy.

While anybody would be impressed at the massive electoral exercise practiced in the country, viewing them at macro level, a deep and careful analysis of the electoral process would only highlight the rot that is steadily setting in Indian democracy.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at


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