The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Given the bureaucracy’s innate fascination with paperwork, there is certain to be some quiet jubilation among the babus at the Election Commission’s faithful compliance with the Supreme Court directive making it mandatory for all candidates to file exhaustive affidavits about their personal and financial antecedents. At one level, the move to make it mandatory for all aspiring legislators to supply details of their education, criminal records (if any) and family wealth will make democracy somewhat transparent. But before the custodians of rectitude are overwhelmed by an information overload, there is a need to strike a cautionary note. The detailing of assets is all very well in theory. In practice, however, this is a daunting task for any individual, and errors are certain to creep in, particularly when detailing movable assets. The EC has said that it is powerless to act against misrepresentation, and complaints have to be routed to the courts after the election. Does this imply that the country will witness a spate of election petitions declaring that the winner wilfully misled the electorate by not correctly stating the number of air-conditioners or television sets in his family’s possession' Given the national obsession with litigation, the possibility of the already overworked courts being additionally burdened with frivolous election petitions should not be discounted. In any case, apart from exposing every candidate to an unwarranted public invasion of privacy, it is debatable whether the extra paperwork will promote informed choice. The EC would be well advised to monitor the consequences of the new norms. If the results are either unintended or undesirable, it should have the courage to approach the Supreme Court to review the order before next year’s general election.

There is a need to be wary of the EC getting overburdened with extraneous projects. As the custodian of the democratic process, the EC’s main function is to confer legitimacy to popular choice. This essentially involves ensuring that the electoral rolls are accurate and untainted, guaranteeing the right of electors to vote freely and monitoring the accurate counting of ballots. Unfortunately, since Mr T.N. Seshan converted Nirvachan Sadan into an agency of intervention, some of these routine activities have suffered. There have been, for example, far too many complaints of doctored electoral rolls in Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. The EC’s response to these charges has been extremely casual. This does not augur well for the electoral process, and it is time the EC sets its mind to fulfilling its primary responsibilities. There are other bodies that can attend to the frills of democracy.

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