The Election Commission of India today said it is ready and willing to act on the subject of increased disclosure related to funding of electoral promises. Chief Election Commission of India Rajiv Kumar made the announcement after declaring the dates for the upcoming state assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram.
Kumar was responding to queries about various freebies and announcements made by parties ahead of the elections. Parties such as the Congress and the BJP have made several promises to the electorate, including ones such as holding caste surveys, free gas cylinders and increasing farmer pensions, if elected to power.
“I don’t know why they don’t remember anything for five years, and they start recollecting things in the last one month or 15 days. Anyway, that is within the domain of the governments,” Kumar said.
The issue, however, is more complicated than it appears at first, because some parties — particularly the right-of-center Bharatiya Janata Party that runs the central government — feel uncomfortable about making ‘socialist’ promises, such as increasing or establishing pensions and payment schemes. Some others, such as Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress Party, are more generous about making such promises.
At the same time, BJP cannot ignore the demand for social security in a country with one of the world’s highest levels of income and lifestyle inequality.
Meanwhile, Kumar said the commission opposed the current free-for-all as far as such ‘populist’ promises are concerned, as they have the potential to ‘bankrupt’ future generations.
“One of the concepts involved in this is [the liability] on the present vs future generations,” Kumar said, referring to the tendency for governments to fund welfare schemes by taking loans against future receivables. “Are you going to mortgage the future generations? This is a balance that needs to come,” he added.
He said the public has the right to know the ‘big picture’ so that they can take an ‘informed choice’, he said.
He termed such promises ‘populism’ — and said the victors in an election are often caught in a difficult situation after making such promises.
“..all these promises have a strong flavor of populism, and therefore, it is difficult for anyone who emerges victorious to either carry out the promises or ignore them,” he noted.
Kumar also pointed out that the commission has not made such disclosures mandatory, but is in favor of making it so. However, given that several people have separately complained to the constitutional courts of India against such populist announcements, the commission has chosen to wait for the courts to come out with their decision on the subject.
“The commission will act as soon as clarity and decision is available on the subject,” he said.
Separately, the Election Commission of India also announced the dates of the upcoming elections to the five states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Mizoram.
The first to go to the polls will be Mizoram and Chhattisgarh, on Nov 7, followed by Madhya Pradesh on Nov 17, Rajasthan on Nov 23 and Telangana on Nov 30.
The commission has put in place several new systems to curb the flow of “money, drugs and liquor’ during the upcoming state elections, and plans to replicate these measures in the general elections next year, Kumar said.
One of the key changes brought about this time is that all government officials who are involved in the election process must now cast their votes ahead of, rather than after, the public has caste its vote.
This was done after it came to the commission’s notice that some associations and groups of government officials were negotiating with candidates as soon as the elections were closed to the public.
“Voters using postal ballot becoming an interest group and deciding, after the poll, where to cast the poll, was not the right practice. If the government servants and postal ballot users in an area start bargaining, then it’s not fair,” Kumar said.
s. Anyway, all these promises have a strong flavor of populism, and therefore, it is difficult for anyone who emerges victorious to either carry out the promises or ignore them. Therefore, the public has the right to know how the freebies will be funded, so that it can make an informed choice.
The upcoming elections are seen as a semi-final before the big battle next year for a chance to rule at the Center.
The results of the semi final, if adverse, are expected to make the current dispensation at the center — the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance — more populist. India’s rural economy is in pain, while the affluent and upper middle class have found their incomes continue to rise in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.