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Electoral reforms and democratic governance ensuring free and fair election

Electoral Reforms in India

Elections lie at the very heart of democracy. It is through elections that people in a democracy participate in public affairs and express their will. It is again through elections that power changes hands in a peaceful and orderly manner in a democracy and the authority of government gets clothed with legitimacy. „Elections, thus not only sustain democracy but enliven it as well. Holding of free and fair election is, therefore, a sine qua non of democracy. India is both the largest and one of the most populous democracies in the world. This apart, in comparison to most of the developed democracies of the world, problems of illiteracy, poverty, etc. still continue in India as is the case with most of the developing countries. Its electorate is not only vast but also quite diverse reflecting the plurality of caste, religion, region, language, etc. of its social mosaic. Conducting periodic elections in the country by encouraging large-scale popular participation is a stupendous task. Going by India‟s record in this regard, periodic elections as a means of smooth transfer of power have been a regular and successful feature of India‟s democracy in the past seventy years. Not only this, Indians have time and again reposed faith in elections as the most potent means of non-violent and peaceful protest against all acts of omissions and commissions of Government. Elections have thus become integral to India‟s democracy as elsewhere in other successful liberal democracies, the world over. However, certain aberrations have come to the fore in the very working of the electoral system over the years. The need to address such disturbing factors have generated a debate on electoral reforms in the country. The Election Commission which is under the Constitution is vested with the actual power of superintendence, direction and control of elections in the country, has, from time to time, come up with concrete proposals/suggestions based on objective difficulties encountered in the conduct of elections. Politicians, through the platform of parties and Parliament including its various committees constituted for the purpose, have given vent to their desire for reform. Governments have also undertaken certain redemptive measures based on the recommendations of various committees. The process of reforms as well as the debate in this regard have almost been an on-going process.

 

Electoral Process: General Elections at a glance

 Among all the countries liberated from the colonial yoke, India alone has earned the singular distinction of not only being the world‟s longest functioning effective democracy but also of setting an example by conducting as many as seventeen free and fair general elections to the National Legislature, Lok Sabha and more than 350 elections to the State Legislatures. Successive elections have both enhanced and deepened the people‟s commitment to democracy. The election to the Lok Sabha being direct, the territory of India is divided into territorial constituencies for the election. At present, the allocation of seats in the Lok Sabha is based on 1971 Census and will continue to be so till 2026. The term of the Lok Sabha, unless dissolved sooner is five years from the date appointed for its first meeting. The total number of seats in the Lok Sabha is 545 at present. The 28 States elect 530 members of Parliament (LS) while the remaining 13 are added from the Union territories and two are nominated by the President as per provisions of Article 331 of the Constitution from the Anglo-Indian Community which was abolished in 2019. Provision also exists for reserved seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Since 1989, the size of the Lok Sabha increased from 544 to 545. The extra seat was the result of Goa becoming a State (on May 30, 1987).

 

Election Commission of India

The Constitution entrusts the responsibility to supervise, direct and control the entire procedure and machinery for election and also for some other ancillary matters, on the Election Commission of India under Article 324. At present, it constitutes the CEC and two Election Commissioners. The Election Commission has the power of superintendence, direction and control of all elections to Parliament and the State Legislature and to the offices of the President and VicePresident. There has been a marked increase in the total number of candidates contesting the elections. While in 1952, 1864 candidates contested for 489 elective seats, in 2019, 8026 candidates were in the fray for 543 seats.

 

First-Past-the-Post-System’

 As far as the issue of electoral reforms in India is concerned, the overall focus has been the system that governs representation to the popular chamber in Parliament as well as to the various State Legislative Assemblies in the country. The system of representation here refers to the one commonly known as the „FirstPast-the-Post-System‟. Of all the candidates contesting, it is the one who wins largest number of votes as compared to all others individually, gets elected.

 I. Universal Adult Franchise

 One of the central features of the Electoral System in India is that it is based on the Universal Adult Franchise enunciated in Article 326. While the Constitution under article 326 makes it one of the cardinal features of the electoral system, the Representation of People Act, 1950 vide its Section 23 effectuates it. There shall be one electoral roll for every territorial constituency for election to either House of Parliament or to the State Legislature and no person shall be excluded from such roll on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or any of them”.

II. Multiparty System

Apart from the above, other function which also paved the way for electoral reforms in India include increase in the number of regional parties from time to time as a result of multiparty system that is

followed in India in comparison to byparty system in many countries. Alongside, there has been a substantial increase in the number of independent candidates. This has impinged upon the stability of Government in power. Moreover, this has also helped the phenomena of political defections, coalition politics, etc. Apart from these, increasing electoral expenses over the years has been a cause of concern. As a result, elections seem to have increasingly become an affair of the affluent. This has also, in turn, contributed to the rise of political corruption. In additional to these, electoral malpractices like booth capturing or poll rigging, violence and popular apathy towards participation in the polls are some of the issues which also need to be addressed and resolved in the interest of free and fair election.


Conclusion

 It is an accepted fact that the electoral process in the country has developed certain shortcomings over the years which need to the corrected. But this should be done through extensive debate and discussion and in a gradual and continuous manner. Successive Governments at the Centre have realized the importance of the issues relating to electoral reforms. Suggestions made either by the Election Commission or by the various committees on electoral reforms from time to time, have been regularly considered and also implemented While considering the proposals and suggestions of reforms of the electoral process, it has also been underlined that consensus of political parties in the country is necessary. Government recognized that electoral reforms is a continuous process and it shall be the endeavour of all the stakeholders including Government

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