The New Indian Express
Trilochan Sastry

This is an important book from an experienced and knowledgeable former Chief Election Commissioner of India. Given the 800+ million voters, in a country as diverse as India, the book clearly brings out the challenges in conducting elections. The Election Commission of India and the voters of this country have together made the ‘miracle of democracy’ in India, something viewed worldwide with respect and admiration.

The book has a wealth of information about critical issues regarding Indian elections. The book traces the beginnings of democracy in ancient India, compares it with other democracies around the world and by the end, brings us to the modern period. The discussion of the composition, process of appointment, powers and functioning of the Election Commission of India (ECI) is very informative. A comparison of the ECI with Commissions of other countries is well brought out. Some of the important issues in the book include the way such massive elections are conducted, the administrative arrangements, the criminalisation of politics, the use and misuse of money in elections, the role of civil society, the media, and the vexed issue of paid news. Important legal issues and significant Supreme Court judgments are also discussed. The various measures and steps taken by the Election Commission to strengthen the process of elections and tackle issues of violence, black money and the misuse of government resources, caste and religion are brought out very well. Administrative measures including deployment of paramilitary and police to eliminate violence and disruptions in elections, flying squads to catch large illegal hoards of cash and gifts, the financial arrangements recently introduced to ensure greater transparency in election spending, and other well thought out measures are a credit to the Election Commission.

The book does not shy away from discussing some controversial issues that crop up during polls. It has worthwhile suggestions about curbing criminalisation and black money in elections, reinforcing the powers and role of the Election Commission, transparency in political parties, inner party democracy, dummy candidates, right to reject, right to recall, compulsory voting, and “None-of-the Above” (NOTA). It also goes into more far reaching changes like switching over from the current first-past-the-post system to other systems like proportional representation or the French style run-off elections to ensure the winner gets 50%+1 of the votes cast.

While bringing out the achievements of Indian democracy and the Election Commission, the challenges are also brought out well. The overall tone is positive and at times, celebratory. In the last chapter on reflections, however, it does ask some pointed questions that go beyond elections to the state of the nation, the people, the economy, the environment and public trust in institutions of democracy.

It is a well-researched book, accessible to the lay reader, and at the same time, worthy of scholarly respect. It gives valuable ideas on what the Election Commission can do within the existing legal and Constitutional structure. It also points out the legal and Constitutional changes required for reforms that are not possible within the existing structure. This should be useful to the Government, the Courts, civil society and to so-called ‘ordinary’ citizens. If it can trigger positive change, it would have more than served its purpose.

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