Rediff Logo News Infotech Banner Ads Find/Feedback/Site Index

February 5, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/ Dr Manohar Singh Gill

E-Mail this story to a friend

'Out of the 1 billion Indians and 600 million voters, you can't find 543 good people? Are you joking?'

There are no threats, nor any muscle flexing. But plain talk.

M S Gill And when Chief Election Commissioner Dr Manohar Singh Gill says he would sack all the senior civil servants found guilty of abuse of power during elections, he means business.

He is forceful when he shares his views on what form of governance suits the country best. Having a deep faith in the Parliamentary system and a great respect for the Indian voter, Dr Gill is against the Presidential system.

In a freewheeling interview with Rajesh Ramachandran, Dr Gill shares his style of functioning which runs contrary to that of one of his predecessors. He talks about the laughs he shared with T N Seshan, the controversial former CEC. And is nostalgic of the only election he fought and lost.

Would not the State funding of elections completely change the political ethos of the country?

It is not something to be seriously thought of and discussed in the middle of an election. Because these are ideas of reform and change which can only be taken up by the new Lok Sabha.

Then all of us can discuss these issues. And if there is a way of doing these to some extent, by all means they have to be looked at.

But one has to be careful and one has to give the proposal a deep thought before giving cash to parties. Because you read critical media reports on development money disappearing into thin air. So if you give to a party a certain sum, you will start asking it where the jeeps have gone; where the money has gone... In other words, everybody should think coolly as to how it should be done if it has to be done.

But you might have noticed that the Election Commission has done a historic funding of parties -- indirect funding. Doordarshan and All India Radio belong to the country. In the long past they have been used by the government in power. Then we ensured the 'negative fairness'. We would block it against misuse during the election.

However, last year, when I took over, I realised that 'negative fairness' is a waste of national investment and resources. We discussed this with all the parties. Following this, we have allotted 122 hours of free prime time -- worth a lot of money on Doordarshan and radio -- to all the 43 recognised parties. We have even asked them to fix two national debates for the national parties.

This is a historic move which also starts the funding of parties. But it is a funding that can't be misused. You can only use it directly. We are going to expand it in coming years. Like in the West, they will get a lot of time which helps them to explain, and people can listen calmly and then assess and decide who to vote for.

It also reduces the nuisance of jeeps, loud speakers, posters or whatever... It also ensures the neutral, independent position of Prasar Bharati.

Why is there a ban on exit polls for almost a fortnight during the election?

People haven't understood that the EC has changed nothing since 1996. We have repeated what we said then and which is the world system. They can take samples on the polling days, but do not publish them. And on February 28 after 1700 hours, when voting is over (in all states except Jammu and Kashmir), they can start telling you what their astrology and jyothishi guess is. And, as results start pouring in, the people would know how accurate their guess was.

What do you think of the allegation that the Election Commission is infringing on the powers of the legislature?

election No, no. Again we have not done that at all. The Election Commission is a very careful constitutional body. The trouble is that nobody -- not even the media -- reads our guidelines. You can take from Malhotra (his secretary) a copy of what we sent to all the state governments...

We made only one suggestion. We are discharging a high constitutional duty to give India a national Parliament. If a legislative session is in the middle of our voting and propaganda, it would be reasonable to make a request that the session should be postponed, especially if the idea is to extend financial concessions. In order not to disturb our fair working, let the session be delayed a little bit.

Our voting will be over on February 28. And they can have their session in March -- the financial year ends on March 31.

In spite of our request and suggestion, if someone announces concessions, then I only blame the media for not highlighting what the true facts are.

The EC is the last body to try and interfere or even think of interfering with their constitutional duty.

Do you think the present system would suffice to weed out criminal elements from politics?

I'll give you a very clear proposition. The EC can only apply the law as made by Parliament. We can suggest improvements on the law, but we don't create it.

The country, the media, the people and the EC are all equally responsible for eliminating criminal elements. However, let me clarify that the problem affects only small pockets of the country. So don't smear India's name totally.

And that is why India manages to change prime ministers and chief ministers regularly. If we were cheating all over the country, then you could not do it. So remember this about booth- capturing and criminals. It is only in pockets and specific areas. Thank god for that. We don't want it to spread. We want it to end there also.

But, in areas where it is taking place, the literacy level is very low. India's literacy after 50 years of Independence is 52 per cent. It is something to be embarrassed about. All Indians, including those abroad, should think of it. Do we need another 50 years to learn 'ABC'? Then how are we going to progress?

There are states with poor literacy and very little development in 50 years and very little social change and social engineering. This is the larger agenda for India and even the new Parliament and those states. Otherwise, the social tension and violence are going to continue. That is why it is happening where it is happening. I will not name it.

As for checking the entry of criminals into politics, we are for the first time applying Section 8 of the Representation of People's Act 1951 strictly. The law allows the disqualification of those who have been convicted.

I have a suggestion in this regard. Why should Indians be negative always in their attitude and thinking? It is not a question of not putting up a criminal or half a criminal. It is the duty of every party to put up the ideal candidate.

There are 43 parties in India, recognised by the EC. They are all patriotic, and they want to do their best for India.

I have been reminding them of their duty over the last two months, and it has had some effect on them. I think it checked the trend a little bit. But not totally.

I keep asking them, ''Out of the 1 billion Indians and 600 million voters, you can't find 543 good people? Are you joking? Or, is it that you want to continue doing things which you have always been doing?

As far as we are concerned, we are making a list of all those cases. We will step up vigil to see what can be done to prevent such characters from misbehaving, at least during elections. The rest is not our job.

Now a section feels the means (conduct of elections) is good but the end is disastrous. Do you agree?

No, no. Don't say that. Just because of isolated incidents in some parts of the country, the entire country should not be blamed. Booth capturing. Kerala never does it. Punjab never does it. I can go on naming states. Goa never does it. Why doesn't it happen there? Kerala is 100 per cent literate -- civilised people to me. Punjab has a high development rate and nobody starves...

You see, in the last assembly election in Punjab only a year ago, not one complaint was registered either by the Congress or the Akalis or the Bahujan Samaj Party or the Bharatiya Janata Party. Let people in America or wherever you are taking this to note this.

Therefore, don't say that Parliament is like that. There are a few individuals. If they are given tickets -- and if they win -- yes, they will be there. And India should think about them.

Dr M S Gill, continued

Tell us what you think of this interview