Friday, 26 April 2013

Citizens should fund elections

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw & TV Mohandas Pai 

Karnataka is now going to see a new government after the May 5 elections. Citizens all over the state are visibly angered by the massive increase in corruption from which they have suffered badly. They have seen naked display of cronyism, use of ill-gotten gains in buying legislators, blatant and rampant corruption, and the like. They are disgusted at the failure of governance and declining quality of life all over the state. They have seen the wealth of all their legislators increase manifold and are not sure whether this is due to legitimate efforts or because of undue misuse of power. Money is becoming the sole determinant of success in politics, and public service has become the casualty. 

Why are good, honest citizens not getting elected? Why are good, honest people who become legislators compromising over a period of time? Why is there such massive use of money power? Why do our leaders think that by being corrupt and accumulating black money they can buy votes and come back to power? 

The reasons are clear. There is no great leader who is charismatic enough to move the electorate in Karnataka. There is no great idea which can move citizens to support a leader or a party. Finally, the educated middle class is apathetic towards politics and does not want to participate in the process or stand up as candidates and work their way up through grassroot politics. So in order to win, many candidates and political parties try to buy their way to power. Many people who have accumulated money through illegal means see political election as a means to ensuring legitimacy in public! Unfortunately, these people are in the majority in the legislature, resulting in a devalued political system in Karnataka. But today, citizens want change, they want better quality of life and want a better, corruption-free future. 

The one solution which can solve this over time is for citizens to fund campaigns of political parties and election campaign of candidates. Today, all elections cost money and inflation means more money. Funnily, the Election Commission restricts spending for a legislative constituency to Rs 16 lakh only, which is less than Rs 10 per voter in constituencies which have an over 200,000-strong electorate. The chief election commissioner needs to contest elections after retirement and understand the absurdity of this limit. There is an urgent need to increase this amount to rational and reasonable limits. Because of this low limit, almost all serious candidates are forced to begin their campaign on accessing other unaccounted means of money if they want to win. 

How are campaigns funded? Election Watch recently said the Karnataka elections may cost about Rs 7000 crore for candidates, based on the estimated spending on Utttar Pradesh elections. It is quite clear that this money cannot be contributions received from the corporate sector or from citizens. It is beyond doubt that such money will largely be in the form of slush funds collected in cash (black money) from crooked contractors, corrupt officials, smugglers and the underworld, who have made money illegally. Since the source of funding is illegal, the winners are forced to compromise and return favours once they come to power, further corrupting the system. Many winners, too, look for return on investment if they put their money and look at elections as a business. The end result is the chaos we are seeing. We are neither seeing good and honest candidates winning nor good and honest people remaining honest after winning. Those that remain uncorrupted by the system are a scant minority. 

Citizens should, therefore, come forward to voluntarily fund election campaign of candidates and donate to the parties they believe in. This will increase the quantum of legal money for elections, increase transparency and create conditions for our legislators to remain honest. Over time, many good citizens, fired by the zeal for public service, will come forth as candidates, and one day, we can see change. Let us remember how our leaders fought for independence. Gandhiji and other leaders asked citizens to contribute to the freedom struggle and almost all did. Poor people ate one roti less and contributed, ‘pardhanashin’ women came out of their homes and gave jewellery, citizens sold their property and gave money; the rich, too, contributed massively. Obama collected $1b for his campaign from millions of people. The power of small contributions is huge. 

The only way to keep the wolves away in politics is by citizen funding of elections. All of us need to donate generously to candidates and parties of our choice. Increase your stake in your future and demand performance. Slowly, when honesty becomes a critical mass, we will change towards a better future 

(Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is B.PAC President and TV Mohandas Pai is its Vice-President)

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