Panelist at 5th National Conference on Electoral and Political Reforms

I am on a panel discussing “Role of Business and Government” in the event tomorrow (Saturday) at Nehru Centre, Mumbai. Here are the details of the 2-day conference, hosted by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW). The context of the event: “Since 2002, the major impacts of these campaigns have been on criminalization of politics, and transparency in candidate and political party assets. Leaders of both the BJP and the Indian National Congress have made public statements that they would not field candidates with criminal records even if they were likely to win in the coming Lok Sabha elections. As a result of these campaigns, the percentage of candidates with criminal records has come down from over 20% to about 12% recently. However, a lot still remains to be done. In particular, the exponential growth in the use of money power is a major area of concern since it vitiates democracy.”

The focus of the conference is as follows:

  1. A set of demands for improving elections and democracy. These include the option of “None of the Above” on the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), barring candidates against whom serious charges have been framed in a Court, disqualifying candidates who indulge in electoral malpractices, and striking off names of people with non bailable warrants from voter rolls. These have emerged from consultations around the country, and have also been endorsed by the Election Commission.
  2. The need for a comprehensive Bill to regulate Political Parties. All leading democracies have such a Bill, we have none. The issues of inner party democracy in political parties, and greater transparency and regulation of political party funding is required.
  3. Specific action plans for the coming general elections under the banner of National Election Watch (NEW), a campaign that is already under way.

I would love to get inputs on what topics to discuss in the panel. Some initial thoughts:

  • the need for creating an information infrastructure (“infostructure”) on candidates, work done by elected representatives in constituencies. The RTI (Right to Information) Act has helped, but more needs to be done, and information needs to be made  more easily accessible to people.
  • laying the foundation for two-way governance, where citizens can play a participatory role in decision-making.
  • the need for businesses to be more proactively involved in good governance — how can this be done? For one, there is still a complete lack of transparency in how many decisions are made. Case in point: the complete mess with the telecom policy and 2G spectrum doleout, and the3G auction process.
  • bringing in measurement metrics at every level of elected government – perhaps, this is easier said than done.

I strongly believe that the interactive tools now available with us (Internet, mobile) can bring about dramatic bottom-up change in the quality of people we elect, and the people-centricity of the government that we elect. This is the foundation for solving some of the big problems that we face in India – and driving smart, well-thought out development-friendly policies in disciplines like education, energy, urbanisation, transportation, and technology which cannot be reversed.

Any suggestions?

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.