A time for rethink on poll process?

A contestant organized a second wedding reception for his niece and her husband to throw a lavish non-vegetarian lunch for the voters of his constituency.

The recent elections to the Legislative Council in Karnataka showed how such polls are increasingly turning into a farce. The exercise witnessed a new low, especially the manner in which a section of the contestants brazenly sought to woo the voters through cash and kind.

Even though the elections were held for 25 of the 75 Council seats, the lavish spends by many of the contestants left one wondering whether the time had come to review the poll process, if at all.

Available reports suggest that many of the candidates were so desperate to win that they thought nothing of “gifting” Rado watches, smartphones, laptops and expensive saris to the voters. Not to mention paid holidays for the families in addition to hard cash.

In some cases, the contestants were said to have sent their gifts by courier though not without confirming later about the delivery. If this was not bizarre, a contestant thought nothing of asking his newly married niece and her husband, to sit through a second wedding reception. The sole purpose being to throw a lavish non-vegetarian lunch for the voters in the constituency concerned.

This was not all. One of the candidates, with support from his political party, made the electorate swear on the almighty that it would vote only for him. It is noteworthy that the electorate comprised members of local corporations, gram panchayats and their chiefs, gram sabhas, urban and local corporations and civic bodies.

In other words the voters were themselves elected members of their institutions. In view of the fact that as many as 125 candidates had thrown their hats into the ring for the 25 seats, it is not difficult to imagine the benefits that were on offer for the voters. More so, as some constituencies had a greater number of contenders.

Incidentally, the BJP was contesting 20 seats, the Congress 21, the JDS 18 with the ever-growing tribe of Independents touching 60.

The hard-fought elections finally saw the Congress steal a march over its rivals by winning 13 seats with the BJP, a close second with six and the JDS accounting for four.The Independents had to be content with just two.

Interestingly, for the candidates the path was not easy as it was an extremely difficult exercise to get the ticket from their parties. Considering that many seasoned politicians were left out by their parties, accusations flew thick and fast that the tickets were being sold at a premium. This also explains why there were scores of rebel candidates.

A matter of concern

Inevitably, the question that arises is: why is it so important for the candidates to get a seat in the Legislative Council? Is it merely the status associated with being a member and the associated power? Or, the fact that there is always a possibility of becoming a minister if one is from the ruling party? On both counts the answer is not difficult to find.

Let us not forget, for the political parties the Legislative Council is an ideal place to accommodate senior leaders who they may not want to antagonise.

Besides, on paper, the Council members who serve a six-year term, unless re-elected, get to share their expertise and knowledge on matters of state benefiting, ostensibly, the Assembly and the accompanying debates on subjects of importance.

Accordingly, it is no coincidence that they are called the seniors. And the Wise. Which explains perhaps the importance and the need for the Upper House, some might say, which is supposedly a storehouse of wisdom.

At least that is the intended objective. In fact, ideally the Upper House should comprise statesmen, men of learning, constitutional and related experts whose expertise can be invaluable for the state.

Gesture to veterans

The manner in which the elections were conducted this time, however, have made a mockery of the avowed objectives with which the legislative council was set up in the state.
Besides, the common lament is that such councils become a refuge for the discarded politicians who cannot get elected by the people directly. The ruling party keeps its veterans happy by electing or nominating them for the Upper House.

In this context it would not be out of place to mention that a few years ago two industrialists, who were nominated by a political party as their Rajya Sabha candidates from the State, managed to win their seats with ease.

Their win did not come as a surprise even though they were neither from the State and nor did they reside here. Nor for that matter, did they have any political affiliation. This, predictably, led to speculation that several politicians, cutting across party lines, had benefited from these wins. Admittedly, this was rubbished as loose talk by those in the know.

Nevertheless, in this context it would not be out of place here to refer to a recent news report from Jind near Chandigarh. A Congress politician was quoted as saying that a minimum of Rs 100 crore was required to win a Rajya Sabha seat.

According to him, he learnt this from one of the Upper House members. The latter had claimed that while he had budgeted for 100 crore, he ended up saving Rs 20 crore in the end.

Notwithstanding the furore these remarks raised, the fact is that they do cause concern over the election process for the Upper Houses, especially closer home in the state.

Upper Houses in 7 States

The Karnataka Legislature consists of the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council. The assembly strength which was 208 in 1957 increased to 216 in 1967 and to 224 in 1978. It now comprises 224 elected members and one nominated member.

The Council comprises 75 members out of whom 25 are elected by the legislative assembly, 25 by local authorities, seven each by graduates’ and teachers’ constituency and 11 members are nominated by the State Governor.

The legislative council or the Vidhan Parishad is also called the Upper House. The Parliament has the power to create or abolish these Councils, currently in seven States, on the basis of resolutions adopted by special majority in the State Assemblies concerned.

Its members are elected for a period of six years and like the Rajya Sabha one-third of the members retire every second year.

 


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