Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Reflection in the jigsaw

Arun Shourie: Wednesday, May 30, 2007

In the concluding extracts from his new book, Arun Shourie makes a case for a strengthened judiciary, compulsory voting and a reformed legislature
The judiciary

Just as the authority of Parliament vis a vis the Executive must be lessened, that of the Judiciary must be assiduously preserved... the methods of selecting judges, of transferring them, for verifying their conduct when the need arises, have all to be made more robust than they are — and several proposals have already been advanced for this purpose. But, as that discussion will also make evident, it is not enough to preserve provisions for judicial review. The judges have to act the freedom and independence that have been accorded to them by the provisions. The assault on them through alterations like the 39th and 42nd amendments was defeated. But ever so often, the judges themselves have leaned over to assist the Executive in its excesses. That is the point to which we return later in the book.

Elections and voting

So as to further minimise social influences, voting should be compulsory. Both the Election Voting Machine and the compulsory Multi purpose National Identity Card should have biometric identification marks.


For elections to legislatures, three modifications are necessary:

The size of the constituency has to be increased substantially so as to lessen the sway of one section or caste;

The link between the electorate and the winner has to be weakened; and

Qualifications and disqualifications for candidates have to be tightened.

Apart from scheduling elections simultaneously, the first step which is necessary was suggested by L.P. Singh in Electoral Reform. The rationale for a modified list-system is as follows. The present system of single member constituencies leads to the sorts of problems we have encountered earlier: for instance, the expectation, on the one hand, of the voter that the MP must attend to his personal problems; and on the other, the compulsion of the MP to put catering to voters and their controllers before all else. By contrast, if all of India were one constituency; parties declared lists of candidates; voters voted for parties and not for individual candidates; each party got to send members to parliament in proportion to its share in votes cast; in such a system, the link between the voter and the MP would be substantially reduced, and one set of problems would be minimised. But India is a continent. A person may have done exceptional service in Kerala and yet be unknown in the Northeast.

As for qualifications, candidates for the Lower House must be at least graduates. As for the Upper House, we need today not a Chamber of States but a Chamber of Talent. Therefore, in addition to being at least a graduate, a candidate must have distinguished himself in a profession including business and agriculture.

Disqualifications as they have been prescribed have become a farce: a list that lets criminals get into legislatures is actually worse than a farce — it is an accessory to a crime against the country... The first change that is required is that, from the moment charges are framed by a court against a person — whether he is a sitting member or not — he should cease to be a member and be disqualified from contesting an election till he has been cleared of the charges. For the one who has been falsely implicated, the incentive would then be the opposite: he will strive to ensure as expeditious a disposal of his case as possible.

‘But our opponents routinely implicate us in false cases,’ politicians say. First, the disqualification commences once charges have been framed by a court of law, not from the moment the police or some investigating agency has filed them. Second, this apprehension can be allayed by requiring that the charges be framed at the level of a sitting judge of the high court. Third, that such persons are inducted to man the courts as will serve the interest of the rulers of the moment, especially courts before which these cases are to come up, will only mean that, knowing that the next person could use the courts against them also, politicians will have an inducement to put more robust persons into courts.

‘The Parliamentary System: What we have made of it, what we can make of it’
By Arun Shourie

ASA/Rupa & Co, Rs 495

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