Seminar on Electoral Reforms

The twin day seminar on ‘Electoral Reforms’ organized by the Department of Political Science of Maharaja Agrasen College was indeed a commendable one. On the first day we got an opportunity to listen to and interact with renowned Professor MP Singh. His vast academic experience was on display when he spoke on a range of topics which included intra-party democracy, state funding of elections, appointment of the election commissioner & on direct democracy’s features like referendum, initiative and recall. He even elaborated on how India had gone from being a federal state to a quasi federal and now to a quasi con-federal state. I got the opportunity to question him on subjects like the economic feasibility of the idea of state funding of elections, relationship between individual centric and party oriented politics and on the proposal of having a cross political collegium while appointing the Chief Election Commissioner.

On the second day the guest speaker was none other than Mr KJ Rao, former adviser to the Election Commission of India. He is hailed as the hero of the 2002 Assembly Elections of J&K and 2005 Assembly Elections of Bihar. He was also appointed as an international observer for the 2004 Presidential Elections of USA. Mr Rao is basically remembered for his administrative acumen and how he managed to identify bogus and fake voters. During the course of his speech Mr Rao shared with us numerous anecdotes of his long and celebrated bureaucratic career. He told us the practical problems associated with conducting free and fair elections. He recalled how he took on the might of criminals contesting polls and spoke on the need for elimination of muscle and money power from politics. I again got an opportunity to do a bit of quizzing and this time my query was related to restoring or rather ensuring equilibrium among the electorate by providing different communities with the same electoral strength and influence by means of a mathematical formula which equalizes the number of votes cast by different castes, communities and factions.

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Pre-Election Agenda Separates Indian & American Culture

The difference between American and Indian culture gets exposed and becomes evident when we compare the agenda dominating the pre-election scenario in the polity of these two countries. In both the countries when a person runs for public office we delve deep into his past and look for loopholes (this work primarily being carried out by the media and the candidate’s opponents) with the intention of discrediting him and derailing his campaign.

In India we tend to estimate whether the person is corrupt or honest and the second thing (in many cases the numero uno concern) which plays on our minds is whether he is communal or secular. In America the elections are largely issue based but in the initial stages there is a great amount of focus centered on the sex life of the candidate as to whether he has committed what we call marital infidelities or has he had too many partners. This political example serves as a clear line of demarcation between the cultures of these two countries.

The psychological mindset exhibited by Indians during elections is largely based on insecurities coupled with a communal outlook which is detrimental for the society whereas the American mindset is based on intellect and voyeurism which is again a symbol of shame. Both societies need to overcome massive limitations. The Americans need to obfuscate their too much of emphasis on sex whereas the Indians need to evolve their thinking and untangle the web of communalism and casteism.