Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lok Satta asks EC to discipline Parties baiting voters with TVs

The Lok Satta has urged the Election Commission of India “to intervene immediately and decisively” and discipline political parties indulging in “blatant inducements and corrupt electoral practices” like offering free color TV sets if elected to power.

In a letter to Mr. N. Gopalaswami, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), Lok Satta Party President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, said, “Otherwise, public office may well become the preserve of the highest and most shameless bidder.”

Dr. JP drew the Election Commission’s attention to the Telugu Desam Party’s promise in its draft election manifesto to distribute color TV sets and said that if such tendencies were not checked by the Election Commission, “there can be even more brazen and egregious promises of, say, distribution of a gold necklace to every voter, or a scooter or automobile to every household or free liquor to every family.”

Dr. JP said: “Such material inducements unrelated to livelihoods, and promise of public expenditure outside a Government’s Constitutional responsibilities and the State’s legislative competence clearly constitute a corrupt electoral practice by any reasonable standards.”

Dr. JP pointed out that the state legislature can authorise expenditure only on subjects listed in List 2 and List 3 of the seventh schedule of the constitution. Anyother expenditure is unconstitutional. Parties are bound to make promises and governments are bound to incur expenditure or take decisions, within the bounds of the constitution. As per the Sec 29 A of R. Act 1951, the election commission has the obligation to ensure that Parties donot violate the constitution.

Party spokesmen Dr.P. Bhaskara Rao, Mrs. K. Gitamurthy released the text of Dr. JP’s letter to the CEC, to the media here today.

In his letter, Dr. JP pointed out that the Election Commission’s silence over the promise of color TV sets by the DMK in Tamil Nadu in the 2006 elections emboldened the Congress (I) to repeat the promise in the 2008 Karnataka Assembly elections. The Election Commission chose not to intervene despite a Lok Satta representation. In its reply to the Lok Satta, it sought to equate all poll promises without any distinction.

Dr. JP told the Election Commission that it could not ignore vital issues by invoking technicalities. “If Constitutional authorities hide behind technicalities, then the authority invested in them is futile. If the Election Commission now fails to act, it will soon lead to unconstitutional public expenditure and irresponsible and reckless populism all over India.”

The Lok Satta President said that in the absence of any law on unethical poll promises unrelated to Government’s Constitutional responsibilities, the Commission has the power and the duty to intervene.

“Political parties are completely justified in promising State-sponsored subsidies, benefits and packages that mitigate public suffering, promote livelihoods of the poor, help fulfill potential or support the weak and the vulnerable. For instance, promising subsidized rice to the truly poor and the hungry, State-sponsored homes to the homeless and the destitute or subsidized electricity to the already-indebted farmers are all legitimate poll promises made from time to time by political parties.

“A promise related to the Constitutional obligations of a Government, or in pursuance of the Directive Principles, can be construed as articulation of a legitimate public policy goal. But if an electoral promise is completely outside the sphere of a Government’s Constitutional responsibilities, then it is a clear, unambiguous and unethical inducement to voters, albeit with public money.”

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