By Mohd Asim Khan,
New Delhi : The idea of holding simultaneous polls to Parliament and the state assemblies — for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others have been strongly pitching — is good but has very low practicality in the real world, former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi has said.
He also slammed the government’s move to introduce electoral bonds, which would only make political funding more opaque and end public scrutiny.
“The idea (of simultaneous polls) is good, and the two major reasons cited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi are also valid, but it is fraught with huge practical problems. Its practicality is low,” Quraishi told IANS in an interview.
“To begin with, you need a constitutional amendment. Then you will have to reduce the terms of certain state assemblies and extend those of certain others. You will need political consensus for that, which will not be easy as many would not agree to reduce their terms,” he said.
Quraishi has also touched upon the issue in his latest book “Loktantra Ke Utsav Ki Ankahi Kahani”, that was released recently by Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu in New Delhi.
While unveiling the book, Naidu, too, pitched for simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, and even went ahead to say that elections to the local bodies and village panchayats can also be clubbed with these.
He reiterated — as said by Modi earlier — that perpetual elections cost the exchequer a bomb and also hamper development due to the model code of conduct that kicks in when the poll dates are announced.
However, Quraishi, who as the Chief Election Commissioner has seen the process of elections very closely, is not very enthusiastic about the idea.
Asked about the Centre’s power to dismiss elected state governments, and if this should be curtailed, Quraishi had another poser: “Alternately, what if the central government falls much before its term? We saw the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government fall in just 13 days. And we have had central governments that just lasted around a year.”
“Will you again stoke the entire country, all the states and UTs, which might be having stable governments, into election? So, again I would say this idea is fraught with practical problems.”
He said that there has been a parallel view that perpetual elections are good.
“I heard a senior parliamentarian saying that the public likes continuous elections. The media also likes it for their TRPs. Then I heard someone saying in Pune ‘Jab jab chunav aata hai, ghareeb ke pet me pulav aata hai’ (The poor get to eat well during elections),” he said.
On electoral bonds, Quraishi said that vis-a-vis transparency in political funding, the Modi government said one thing and did the opposite.
“The Finance Minister (Arun Jaitley) in his Budget speech said that in the last 70 years we have not been able to achieve transparency in political funding, and that fair and free elections are not possible without transparent funding. Very good. But what he did was totally the opposite.
“Electoral bonds se bada nuksan hoga (electoral bonds would cause much harm). Earlier, parties had to submit details of donations above Rs 20,000 to the Election Commission. The idea was that the public must know how much a corporate house gives to a political party.
“So if a certain corporate house received a big contract, licence, etc, from the government, the public would know that it is quid pro quo, a return of favour for their donations. However, now the parties are not bound to disclose their donations received through electoral bonds. Only the government would know who donated what or who got what. This has ended transparency,” Quraishi maintained.
He termed as ridiculous Jaitley’s contention that the donors want anonymity.
“What does it mean? Naturally, the donor would want anonymity so that the public does not know why they got favours from the government,” he said.
He said that another damaging move from the government was removing the cap on corporate funding.
“Earlier no corporate house could donate more than 7.5 per cent of their profits to political parties. That cap has been removed now. Does it mean that now companies will only work for running political parties? This is farcical,” the former CEC said.
He said the move to cap cash donations from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000 is not likely to have any impact either, as parties would break the donations in smaller amounts.
“At best, it would just increase their clerical work,” he said.
(Asim Khan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)