The problem of black money during elections is getting worse, says former CEC SY Quraishi

“We were very successful in checking the use of black money in polls when we set up the expenditure monitoring division in EC. But, I believe that the problem has become worse now,” Quraishi told NH.


Dhairya Maheshwari

This is the second part of National Herald’s interview with former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi. Edited excerpts:

Opposition to totalisers ludicrous

  • The government has expressed reservations against the use of totalisers (A totaliser allows the votes cast in 14 polling stations to be counted together). Are these objections justified?

A. The use of totalisers is a very good idea. Before the EVMs were introduced, the ballot boxes used to be randomly drawn from ten polling booths, put in drums to mix and bundles were made. The idea was to keep political parties from knowing which villages didn’t vote for them, so that there weren’t any retaliations by the losers. Totaliser is just an electronic version of the mixing of ballot papers.

The Election Commission has been demanding for years that there must be totalisers. The only mistake we made was that we wrote to the government to seek their permission. We should have just gone ahead and introduced it, because it is similar to the earlier system of mixing the ballot papers. I was shocked when the government recently rejected the idea of employing totalisers. Nothing could be more ludicrous than the government claiming that the use of totalisers is against public interest.

Electoral bonds have delivered a blow to transparency

  • Has the introduction of electoral bonds helped in making the polling process more transparent?

A. Not at all. Earlier, any donation of over 20,000 was declared to the Election Commission. Now, that has been changed. Crores would change hands and the public wouldn’t get to know about the donors and their political backgrounds. That is a big hit on transparency.

The Finance Minister, during his budget speech, had made two very good statements. He had stated that transparency in political funding hadn’t been achieved over the last 70 years. He had also said that without transparency in political funding, free and fair elections are not possible. The hope for transparency that these statements raised was belied by the actions that followed.

The electoral bonds took away whatever transparency existed. And to make matters worse, the limit on corporate donations, which used to be 7.5% of the company’s average profit of last three years, has been removed. That is a disaster. Now, corporates can do full time politics. The companies may exist just to finance political parties.

The use of black money in elections has increased

  • How successful has the government been in curbing the use of black money in elections?

A. We were very successful in checking the use of black money in polls initially when we set up the expenditure monitoring division in the Commission. We seized crores of pupees during the election periods. But, I believe that the problem has become worse now. I would say that the use of black money in elections has only increased now.

Need a serious debate on proportional representation

  • Is a proportional system, as against the first past the post system, more suitable for Indian democracy?

A. In my book, An Undocumented Wonder: The Making of a Great Indian Election, I had argued in favour of retaining the first past the post system for our democracy. As it was simple and had stood the test of time for 70 years.

But after the 2014 elections, I was forced to change my views. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) emerged as the third largest party in UP, with a vote share of 20% but it ended up with zero seats.

Now, democracy is about representation of the people. It was unfair for those 20% of the voters who had chosen the BSP to not have any representation in the Lok Sabha. To prevent phenomenon like this, the system of proportional representation needs to be debated seriously now. Even UK whose model we had borrowed is seriously debating the issue.

(The interview first appeared in NH on Sunday).

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