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|September 28, 1999||
For G V G Krishnamurthy, retirement is a comma in the ongoing democratic exercise
Outgoing election commissioner G V G Krishnamurthy today advocated amendment to the Constitution, vesting the commission with adequate powers to enforce its guidelines and the model code of conduct to ensure free and fair polls in the years to come.
''The Election Commission's function is not only to hold elections but to act as a catalyst for bringing about much-needed reforms to make the electoral process more democratic,'' Krishnamurty said on the eve of his retirement at the end of a six-year turbulent tenure.
In a wide-ranging interview, Krishnamurthy answered questions on his running battle with then chief election commissioner T N Seshan in the initial years of the multi-member commission, working relations with present CEC M S Gill, his interaction with leaders of various political parties and the urgent need for electoral reforms.
The colourful, at times controversial, Krishnamurthy admitted that he encountered resistance from his colleagues in bringing about certain reforms, including his objection to issuing of whips by political parties for the election of President and vice-president of India. ''While initially everyone was sceptical about my contention that the issuing of such whips was illegal, I am gratified to note that during the election of both K R Narayanan and Krishan Kant, no whip was issued by any party,'' he said.
Apparently not cowed down by the recent Supreme Court ruling against the Election Commission guidelines on exit and opinion polls, Krishnamurthy holds that the commission is ''duty bound to raise issues, proposals and reforms to initiate a debate in the country.''
While the commission's recommendations on increasing security deposit and number of proposers had helped to drastically bring down the number of non-serious parties and candidates contesting elections, reforms were needed to ensure that criminal elements did not find space in Parliament or state legislatures, he said.
Cautioning against the election of an increasing number of persons with criminal records, Krishnamurthy said this was a ''cancer'' for Indian democracy. ''Law breakers cannot be made law makers. If murderers find place in Parliament, why send a thief to jail,'' he added. Some thought was also needed to set a minimum literacy level for those contesting elections, Krishnamurthy said.
Thanks to the vagaries of political parties, the outgoing EC who would have by normal course overseen only one general election, supervised three of them during his six-year tenure. The 1996 general elections with Seshan at the helm were the first to be conducted by a multi-member Election Commission.
''To be fair to Seshan, by then he had reconciled to the presence of the two other commissioners and all of us divided the states for monitoring the polls. The successful culmination of the elections ensured that the commission would remain a multi-member body for decades to come,'' Krishnamurthy said.
The holding of elections in trouble-torn Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir during this period was also a great vindication for Indian democracy. If the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, held within two years of the previous one, were a ''difficult exercise'', Krishnamurthy rates the ongoing Lok Sabha polls as ''the greatest challenge during my tenure''.
Held under the shadow of the Kargil conflict, during the difficult monsoon period, and along with elections to five state assemblies, the current general elections are ''a watermark for Indian democracy'', says Krishnamurthy. ''If England is the mother of parliaments, India has become the mother of elections. Holding general elections in India is equal to holding polls in the whole of Russia, Europe, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia,'' is his wry summing up of the great Indian democratic exercise.
Stating that he was demitting office with the greatest satisfaction, Krishnamurthy remembered the early days when Gill and he were the two ''non-playing batsmen while super skipper Seshan did the bowling, batting and running to the boundary.'' Krishnamurthy, however, seems to have put behind him the rancour of those days and praises Seshan for ''putting the fear of god into the minds of erring, corrupt politicians.''
Denying that he was a ''rival'' claimant to the top job on Seshan's retirement, Krishnamurthy says that on the contrary, he wrote to the President drawing attention to the suitability of Dr Gill for the CEC's post. He says he also suggested that the new election commissioner should be from the north-east to give representation to the people of that remote area.
''J M Lyngdoh has brought a vast experience of administrative work to the commission,'' he adds. Disclosing that the present commission always worked with the consensus approach, Krishnamurthy foresees no problems with his retirement in the middle of the 13th Lok Sabha elections. ''Individuals do not matter, institutions do. And the Election Commission has grown into a strong, viable institution,'' he adds.
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