ADR’s Media Dialogue on Haryana Elections

Paid news and influence of muscle and money power real threat to free and fair elections, 
feel members of media and civil society organizations


Sept. 25, 2014

Ahead of the 2014 Haryana assembly elections, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW) today organized a Media Dialogue at the Press Club of India, Delhi, to brainstorm on mounting pressure on Political Parties to restrain them from fielding candidates facing criminal charges and misusing influence of money power in the coming polls and other related issues.

The Media Dialogue was divided into three enriching and highly useful sessions:

1.    The State of Governance and Functioning of Government Institutions in Haryana

Speakers (Left to right): Sharad Gupta (Dainik Bhaskar), Archana Kapoor (Radio Mewat),  Prof. Jagdeep Chhokar, Founder Member, ADR and NEW, Former Director In-Charge, IIM-Ahmedabad, Tridib Raman (NTI Media Ltd--ETV), Satya Prakash (Hindustan Times)

The distinguished speakers spoke about the existing state of governance in Haryana and the implications of weakening government bodies on the upcoming elections. 

Mr. Satya Prakash said, caste and community has always played a vital role in Haryana elections and the representation of women is also very low in the state. Attention has to be paid to thwart the attempts of political parties to appoint corrupt and politically loyal bureaucrats at key positions. Civil Society Organisations and the media should put pressure to appoint only fair, independent and honest officers at key positions. It is very important to improve the condition of democratic institutions in the state by putting checks and balances against each other.

Tridib Raman said, earlier violence was quite prevalent during elections in Haryana but now the condition has significantly improved. He also mentioned that in the 90s, shooting incidents and booth capturing were quite common and voters could not even get out of their houses to vote due to fear.

Archana Kapoor, while narrating incidents and issues faced in Mewat district, said that the biggest issue in elections is caste based politics. If a candidate is fighting elections, despite being corrupt, he will be voted to power. She said that there was hardly any support from the Police during elections. She further informed that women and young voters were still not allowed to vote. Despite being only 70kms away from the capital region, there is hardly any development in the district. However, she was hopeful that the nexus between crime and politics, which prevents the common man from exercising his right will soon be broken.

Sharad Gupta said, institutions are dysfunctional in Haryana. They are almost non-existent. Every government which comes to Haryana  is involved in many scams in the state. He said that the major industry in Haryana was that of ‘Change of Land Use.’

Prof Chhokar said, ECI takes pride in saying that violence has stopped and EVMs make it impossible for booths to be captured due to the heavy involvement of security forces. However, he felt that this is disturbing and a cause of worry as even though the ballots were being cast, they were being cast under the shadow of the bullet.


2.    The Issue of Paid News and Media’s Responsibilities during Elections

Speakers (Left to right): Sanjay Kapoor (Hardnews), Vipul Mudgal, Visiting Senior Fellow, CSDS,  Alka Saxena,  Journalist

The speakers talked about the increasing influence of Paid News and how it has plays a major role in opinion building process, especially in relation to the elections and suggest ways to deal with this menace. 

Vipul Mudgal said, paid news is quite evident. All the laws in Haryana in the last 10 years have been passed without any discussion in the Assembly. Vested interests may have been writing the entire policy because of lack of intervention. He said intervention succeeds eventually. Therefore right interventions in the right places is needed.

Alka Saxena said, the journalists and media houses involved in paid news should be heavily penalised . The term “paid news” was coined around the 2004 elections and became fully established as an industry in 2009. She said that both politicians and journalists or media houses approach each other for mutual monetary or other benefits like allotment of land, licenses for other businesses etc.

Sanjay Kapoor said, Paid news is against the spirit and ethics of media. Paid news became even more prevalent during the time of recession. Since revenue was low, media houses had to resort to other mediums of generating revenue. Freedom of press can always be upheld if editors stand up to the pressure. He said that Marketing executives are also influencing editorials and there is no more autonomy in editorials.

All the panellists felt that there should be some form of self-regulation in media and strict penalties should be enforced.

3.    Curbing the influence of money in elections

Speakers (Left to right): Siddharth Pandey (NDTV), P. K. Dash (ECI)Maj Gen Anil Verma (Retd), Head,  ADR & NEW, Rukmini Srinivasan (The Hindu) and Shahid Parvez (The Statesman)

The speakers focused on the increasing influence of money power in the elections, the link between muscle and money power and efforts at mitigation.

Dr. P.K. Dash thanked ADR for making good, rational and impartial analysis of the facts put up on the website as the ECI has limitations in making such analysis. There are many areas where ECI finds that the law is not doing enough and in such areas ADR has been doing a good job.

Without money a multi-party democracy cannot function. At the same time the excessive use of money by any of the stakeholders is worrisome. One of the major concerns during elections is vote buying. The ECI seized Rs. 315 crores of cash in a duration of 20 days. Similarly, ECI has also seized huge amounts of illegal liquor and drugs.

There is no law which bans carrying of cash and so the ECI started with flying squads, and static teams in places where such incidents are likely to happen. Money is being carried in surreptitious ways, in the bonnet of the car, in helicopters, ambulances etc. Such incidents have been noted in the Lok Sabha elections.

Shahid Parvez said, most of the money swirling through our political system is black money. We must make our system open, transparent and clean. ECI has directed all political parties to record the details of every donor, even below Rs. 20,000. This will be a revolutionary move and will help improve transparency and accountability in our political system.

Guidelines which does not have statutory backing can be amended to provide more powers to the ECI. Maintaining meticulous records for every donor will be a positive step towards making the political parties transparent and abolishing black money from elections.

Ms. Rukmini Srinivasan stated that there is an evident influence of money in elections. The chances of winning of a candidate with high assets is far greater than the chances of winning of a candidate with low assets. She further said, that civil societies and the Election Commission have made many significant moves towards greater transparency in the election expenditure of political parties and candidates. She also stated that while some suggested methods were of fast tracking the cases against MPs, she was wary of this move as it would overburden the courts. Further she stated that the efficacy of NOTA is still left to be measured as it is possible that NOTA is being used in reserved constituencies with greater propensity in order to hinder candidates from the lower castes to come into power.

Mr. Siddharth Pandey said, that ADR’s press releases have been particularly helpful to the media and the ECI.
He summarized his opinions briefly by stating that Public-Private Partnerships are the order of the day. When media persons like him use the RTI to garner information from PPP enterprises they hit a roadblock. He further stated that there is a lot of money being funnelled through the private sector and this opacity in the funding of political parties through the private sector is part of the problem of money in elections.
He concluded by stating that the Election Commission needs to be given greater powers.

The media persons recommended that the appointment of MCMC committees should be unbiased. Capacity building of members is also necessary. ADR and other civil society should frame a policy to build transparency and accountability.

There are very few CSOs in Haryana. We can focus on civil society activism. Media can assist in encouraging civil society to acquire momentum, coherence and visibility.

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