Popular sovereignty is the bedrock of democracy. In India, it is operated through regular elections every five years when people exercise their choice by voting. Hence, it is imperative that elections are free, fair and transparent and the individuals employ their choice without any coercion or illegal allurement. Any blemish on this process leads to erosion of trust and degradation of the democratic process.
The makers of our constitution were aware of this, and hence constituted an independent election commission under Article 324, granted universal adult franchise under Article 326, and with it, enacted the Representation of People Act, 1951.
The election commission issued the model code of conduct (MCC) in 1971, which has been amended from time to time. The purpose of the code is to ensure that elections are devoid of conflicts between different political parties; that law and order is maintained; and that a level playing field exists for all.
The MCC contains broad guidelines as to how the different political parties must behave, with provisions like restraints on the ruling party from misusing the state machinery, guidelines regarding campaigning and party manifesto, etc. The commission can disqualify a candidate for breach of the code.
However, the ground reality in our state presents a dismal picture. Reports of coercion and threats by political workers from different pockets, especially in the capital complex, distribution of money and alcohol, and clashes in several corners raise serious questions over our electoral system.
When viewed along with the broader trends of criminalization of politics, growing mob mentality and unbridled entrenchment of muscle and money, we are left disillusioned. Blood, tribe, religion and clan loyalties dictate the choice for the majority of the individuals. This leads to the proliferation of unscrupulous personalities in the government, which adversely affects the public good as development takes a back seat, there is perversion of administration, and corruption and nepotism are encouraged. Criminals are appointed as lawmakers, reminding us of the Roman poet Juvenal’s words: ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will watch the watchmen?)’
An immediate catharsis is the need of the hour. Rather than whine endlessly about the deplorable condition of the state, we need to make a decision to exercise our choice conscientiously. This requires sound judgment, based on facts about the candidate, their past records, their education, their solutions to the growing problems, and their visions for the future.
Mahatma Gandhi once called politics without principles one of the seven deadly sins. It is high time we reminded ourselves of the greater public good that is undermined every time an individual chooses to ‘vote for note’.