The Times Of India
Rukhmini Shrinivasan
New Delhi

NEW DELHI: How many candidates from your constituency were history sheeters in the last election? How many had rape or murder charges against them? Were any of them crorepatis and did any make it to college? If voters today have the answers to these questions, it can be attributed to the work of the Association for Democratic Reforms.

This organization is behind the event that's now routine before every parliamentary and assembly election in India: the criminal past and financial assets of all contesting candidates are made public, igniting a national debate and allowing voters to make an informed choice.

A PIL filed by ADR in 1999 resulted in the landmark Supreme Court order of 2002, making it mandatory for all contesting candidates to file an affidavit with the Election Commissiondisclosing their criminal, financial and educational background before the election.

After the then government passed legislation undoing the order, ADR went back to the SC, which struck down the Act as unconstitutional and restored its order. ADR began to track the affidavits. Since 2002, its National Election Watch (NEW) programme has covered two Lok Sabha polls, and all state assemblies, as well as Delhi Municipal Corporation.

"We put out this information out in three ways: through a helpline that people can call, through SMA and through the media," says Anil Bairwal, ADR's national coordinator. A small organisation that employs less than 30, ADR works out of a small office in Delhi's Hauz Khas, its phones buzzing continuously and several young heads hunched over Excel spreadsheets.

Set up by a group of IIM professors in 1999, ADR aims to bring about greater transparency and accountability in the electoral process. It relies on a big network of partner organizations (almost 1,200) whose volunteers work for its NEW programme. Bairwal believes ADR has helped make issues of criminalization of politics and the growing power of money part of the national debate. Now it is trying to work with political parties to ensure better intra-party democracy. "All grassroots political workers support this. We need to build public pressure to get the people heading the parties to change their minds," says Bairwal.

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