By Bhanupriya Rao & ShiningPath
“A Daniel come to judgment, yea, a Daniel, O wise young judge, how I do honor thee!” [Merchant of Venice] Dear Mr. Gandhi, Like some Daniel come to judgment, you just breezed into the Maken show and in one fell swoop, cut through the Gordian knot of political chicanery with such admirable force that even the Honourable Prime Minister got nicked while being thousands of miles away. And for that, Mr. Gandhi, the nation is in your debt without actually being in a state of near-perpetual servility that you and your ilk define as indebtedness.
Your motives for doing so and the timing of it all? Ah well, let us not play party-pooper lest in a moment of capriciousness, you decide to overturn your own judgment. We know what we know, and that, my dear is that! Mr. Gandhi, since your word is policy – a point that has been made clear by the courtiers who busied themselves singing hosannas in praise of your bold stand – here are a few other issues you can wave your ‘nonsense’ wand around before you go back to your male boudoir for a deep slumber.
The RTI Amendment Bill: If the Cabinet Note on the RTI Amendment Bill dated 23 July 2013 is to be believed, the Government is scheming to extend the ‘exemption’ to all 1,444 registered political parties. We hope you will go through all 79 pages of the document we have hyperlinked above. What gives, Mr. Gandhi? The RTI is an excellent Act – one of the best in the world, in fact – and bringing the political parties under public scrutiny is only going to strengthen transparency and democracy. So, may we urge you to dismiss (as double-distilled baloney?) all such Machiavellian efforts by your colleagues to overturn the progressive CIC ruling?
While we are at it Mr. Gandhi, could you spare a moment and check if all political parties (including yours) have submitted the audited accounts for 2011-12 to the EC yet? Here are some more issues Rahul Gandhi could take up. PTI image The Election Commission: For some strange, inexplicable reason Mr. Gandhi, the usage of words like ‘Election Commission’ and ‘sufficiently empowered’, causes immense cognitive dissonance in our minds. In fact right now, the dissonance is so distractingly overpowering that we are visualizing a Beverly Hills Chihuahua peeping out of a fuchsia Birkin.
How very unscary Mr. Gandhi! We hope you would agree that what the EC receives as financial reports is, as some call it, pure fiction. It has to be fictitious if 85 percent of your own party finances come from ‘unknown’ sources. Your friend and ally, the NCP does one better with 91.5% of funds from unknown provenance. Without mandatory financial disclosure and penal powers, the role of the EC is that of a paper tiger that merely publishes all that is handed over to it. If you are indeed serious about reforms, look toward the US Federal Election Commission which has stringent disclosure norms as well as limits for different categories of contributors from individuals to Political Action Committees.
Furthermore, cash donations cannot be made exceeding $100. Compare this with India where it is an open secret that a large part of political funding is in the form of cash donations. It is not enough to say that political parties in the most advanced democracies do not come under their RTI laws without looking at other laws that demand transparency. You may also be aware of the counter-affidavit filed by the Union Law Ministry to clip the EC’s powers under Section 10A of the RPA ’51 (disqualification of a candidate for submitting fraudulent and fictitious election accounts) in a bid to apparently protect Ashok Chavan.
What is it, if not nonsense of colossal proportions Mr. Gandhi? Totalizers: The recent SC ruling which directs the EC to include a NOTA option on the EVM is a welcome move, more so because existing procedures were violative of the citizen’s right to cast a secret ballot. However Mr. Gandhi, you must read this report here to understand how this fundamental right to a secret ballot continues to be violated on another front. And we quote: Currently votes are tallied by individual EVMs at individual polling stations. This exposes the trend of voting in a particular voting station, making the electorate of that area vulnerable to backlash by candidates or elected officials in retribution.
The Election Commission recommends an amendment be made to the Conduct of Elections Rules to provide for the use of “totalizer” for counting of votes cast at more than one polling station where EVMs are used, so that the trend of voting in individual polling station areas does not get divulged and the electors may not be subjected to any harassment or victimization on that account. We don’t know what you feel, but we are of the opinion that NOT implementing the above-mentioned recommendation is unadulterated balderdash.
Bill on the Right of those in jail to contest polls: In the theatre of the absurd, one more Act unfolded pretty swiftly during the monsoon session. While your Government was enacting the Right to Food Bill, it also moved to protect the right of those in jails to contest elections by amending Section 62 of the RPA ‘51. Are 30 percent criminal MPs not enough that you are seeking fresh enrollment from those behind bars?
This, of course, follows the familiar pattern of overturning the Supreme Court’s judgement [10 July] that those in jail cannot vote and hence cannot qualify to contest elections. What is even more grotesquely absurd is Kapil Sibal saying: “The Supreme Court is right because it is final. It is not right because it is right.” One could say that Mr. Zero-loss has been tottering along, dangerously close to the edges of this contempt-of-court thingamajig. Were an ordinary citizen to utter similar words openly, his derriere would have been hauled all the way to the nearest court, 11 times out of 10. Are we to conclude then, that some derrieres are undraggable whilst others are summarily draggable?
Criminal Justice System Reforms: This is an area which could do with some “complete nonsense” kind of interventions from you Mr. Gandhi. For starters, there are these 7 directives by the Supreme Court which could do with some nudging and pushing in terms of implementation. A kind word from you – angrily uttered – to the respective State Governments, Ministries and authorities could be the game-changer which you have been desperately seeking. Furthermore, there is this little matter of increasing the number of judges to about 50 per million citizens – Mr. Gandhi, the SC had directed the government on this matter way back in 2002. For the full monty on these issues, please click here, here and here. Random Suggestion: Dimple Yadav, Mr. Gandhi, was declared elected unopposed from Kannauj in June 2012 since all other contestants reportedly withdrew their nomination at the last moment. Some were allegedly intimidated into doing so, if one were to go by the media reports – this one for instance.
If this kind of electoral malpractice is not nonsense Mr. Gandhi, then, pray tell, what exactly constitutes nonsense. Could you please look into the underlying loopholes in electoral laws to ensure that such a farce is never again perpetrated in the name of democracy? We fervently hope you would agree that this kind of match-fixing by parties such as Congress, BJP, SP and BSP defies all acceptable norms of political conduct. We sincerely hope you will take the contents of this letter seriously and in the right spirit Mr. Gandhi. We now leave you with a quote from Oscar Wilde’s “The Soul of Man under Socialism”: Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them.
Bhanupriya & ShiningPath Bhanupriya is an Open Data & Transparency campaigner and the Asia regional coordinator of Open Data Barometer while Shining Path is a regular blogger on FirstPost. Views expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation(s) they serve or may have served in the past. They can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com respectively.