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February 7, 1998


Rajiv Shukla

Criminals and candidates

It is good the Election Commission is keeping an eye on criminals who are trying to contest the Lok Sabha and assembly polls. The Commission is picking up details about tainted candidates from various magazines and newspapers. Then, observers are being directed to submit reports on them.

District magistrates concerned are also being asked to submit the criminal history of such candidates. The Commission says if any candidate elected or defeated comes under the preview of section 8 of the EC's code, suitable action will be taken against her/him. If any elected candidate is found to have been convicted by the appropriate court, her/his election would be declared null and void.

The Commission has discovered that almost all the prominent parties -- the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and United Front -- have fielded candidates with a tainted image. Now it is to be seen if these candidates have been convicted by an appropriate court or not.

The EC has already urged the voters through Doordarshan that they should not vote for criminals. This time, the most number of central forces are being deployed throughout the country to stop the undue interference by state governments in the electoral process via its their police force. This is why the election schedule has been staggered.

The Election Commission has also decided not to hold any assembly polls before October. Elections are due in November in five states including Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The chief ministers of these states await the Lok Sabha results keenly. If they find their position has improved in the LS poll, they may recommend dissolution of the assembly and hold the election as soon as possible to take the advantage of the poll outcome.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat is particularly keen on holding the assembly election in May or June. But Chief Election Commissioner Manohar Singh Gill is in no mood for it. The CEC is of the view that elections in these states should only be conducted in November and the assemblies, as per Constitutional provisions, constituted by December. There is, he feels, no hurry to hold elections in the scorching heat or during the monsoons. If any chief minister was in a hurry to hold the assembly election, he should have recommended the dissolution last month as Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Vir Bhadra Singh did.

Holding the assembly polls together with the general election was an easier job for the Commission, but now, immediately after the Lok Sabha poll, it will not be possible to do so. The Commission will be busy conducting the Rajya Sabha biennial election which is due in late March as new members are to be elected before April 2.

Karnataka Chief Minister J H Patel is also trying to better his party's position. If his Janata Dal does not do well in the general election, he will not go for an assembly election now. But if the Dal can win 12, even 14 seats in Karnataka, he would like to go for it. Patel knows only too well that Ramakrishna Hegde will not let him continue as chief minister after the general election.

The Election Commission has also decided not to allow political parties to advertise on satellite television channels. In fact, the Union finance ministry had approved the proposal and sanctioned foreign exchange for advertisements on these channels.

But when the ministry sent this proposal to the EC, Dr Gill turned it down saying it would not provide a level playing ground. The CEC felt only the bigger parties would avail of this facility. However, keeping this view in mind, the finance ministry had only allowed parties to spent Rs 20 million. In fact, many parties would have saved a lot of money on their election campaign as they could have reached people through television.

It is unfortunate the Commission is doing nothing to increase the voter turnout. There was a suggestion that those who do not vote should be deprived of various government facilities like ration cards, bank loans etc. But the Commission is unwilling to subscribe to this idea. Dr Gill has also not agreed to make voting compulsory. He thinks the voter turnout in India is good enough; that, in fact, it is better than that in America.

Rajiv Shukla

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