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Electoral Reforms - Independent Candidates

India has experienced a massive proliferation of independent political candidates over the past 40 years. Reports suggest that, during 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 3,234 independents contested the election across the country – an average of almost six per constituency. While independent participation has swelled, the electoral success of these candidates has obtained less than 5% of the total votes per constituency. In 2014, 3,182 independent candidates contested the Lok Sabha elections and only 3 won seats. Even if these independent candidates win, they have little to no direct influence on policy and no formal affiliation with the established political parties that form Government. Low vote shares and little direct policy influence drive the widely-held belief that independents are unimportant for political representation.

The 20th Law Commission under the Chairmanship of  Justice Ajit Prakash Singh and its Report No.255 was submitted on 12th March 2015 to the then Union Minister of Law & Justice Mr. Sadananda Gowda. The issue of Independent Candidates is being evaluated under Chapter XVI of the said report. It is surprising to find that there is no single specific provision under the Representation of Peoples’ Act, 1951 that exclusively deals with the criteria of Independent candidates. They often prove politically inconsequential influences the decision of voter impacting the election results. Hence, the scope of further expansion of this concept under the present context is studied in this paper.

BACKGROUND

Issues related to Independent candidates and its overall impact on the voting pattern has been dealt under the 170th Law Commission report wherein it was concluded the need for debarring independent candidates from contesting Lok Sabha elections. The NCRWC recommended the “discouragement” of independent candidates, who are often “dummy” candidates or defectors from their party or those denied party tickets. It was also proposed that “Only the political parties registered with the Election Commission under section 11(4) shall be entitled to put forward candidates to fill a seat in the House of the People [or Legislative Assembly]” In a bid to discourage non-serious candidates the  ECI  requested an amendment to section 34, RPA, (a) increasing the security deposit to Rs.20,000 for Parliamentary and Rs.10,000 for Assembly elections; and (b) empowering them to prescribe the security deposit before every general election. Apart from the figures cited in the 170th Report, the success rate of independent candidates remains extremely low

Supreme Court in Dhartipakar Madan Lal Agarwal v. Rajiv Gandhi recommended that Parliament devise ways “to meet the onslaught” of such non-serious independent candidates. It stated “Some independent individuals contest election genuinely and some of them have succeeded also but experience has shown that a large number of independent candidates contest the election for the mere sake of contesting, with a view to make out grounds for challenging the election. Presence of a number of independent candidates results in confusion, for the millions of the illiterate and ignorant electors who exercise their electoral right on the basis of ‘symbols’ printed on the ballot papers.”

REVIEW OF RECOMMENDATIONS OF LAW COMMISSION REPORT

Law Commission Report No.255

Scope for Improvement

The Law Commission agrees with its previous views expressed in the 170th Report and the NCRWC and ECI’s proposals for a number of reasons. First, without doubt there is a proliferation of dummy and non- serious candidates in elections.

With the given track record of performance a separate concept to define “Independent Candidate” should be specifically defined in the Representation of Peoples’ Act. Regulations should be made to curb that facilitates fielding of dummy and non-serious candidates by Major political parties.

Supreme Court observed that “The presence of large number of independent candidates makes the ballot paper of unmanageable size and ordinary elector is confused in the election booth while exercising his franchise. This leads to confusion.”

Based on the Supreme Court guidelines Parliament must take up extensive debate and devise proposals and strategies to identify genuine and serious candidates and fix eligibility norms for candidates prudently in the best interest of the voting public.

Commission agrees with the ECI’s views given in the context of increasing the security deposit, that a proliferation of candidates puts “unnecessary and avoidable stress” in election management and increases security, law and order, and election administration expenditure.

Instead of Increase of security deposit for candidates ECI should obtain a Bank Guarantee (Performance – with 50% backed up with collateral security third party/guarantee  not less than 10 lakh rupees wherein it assures the financial credentials of the candidate in terms of track record as well as it ensures seriousness and genuineness of the contesting candidates.

Proposals to discourage non-serious candidates have envisaged increasing the security deposits required under section 34, RPA. However, even the 2009 amendment to the RPA for independents, such an amount is not substantial enough to dissuade them or serve as an effect deterrent from standing, especially in the Assembly Elections are defectors from their political parties.

Apart from Security Deposit, as proposed above a Bank Guarantee for an amount equivalent to not less than 20% of the overall estimated cost of elections to that constituency should be insisted upon the candidates. This guarantee could be invoked or revoked only on approval or sanction of ECI and recovery of election related official expenses incurred by the ECI or the proportionate cost should be recovered from the candidates.

RPA currently does not empower the ECI to frame rules under section 169 or prescribe the cap on election expenditure by an individual candidate u/s 77 and Rule 90 of the Election Rules, the Law Commission does not recommend amending section 34 to vest such power with the ECI. As with section 169, RPA, the Central Government should prescribe the security deposit by legislative amendment notification in the official gazette, after consulting with the ECI.

RPA should empower ECI to frame Rules to prescribe cap on election expenditure including Security Deposit including Regulations for Election related violations of the Election laws.

There exists a practice of independent candidates standing with the same name as candidates from recognized political parties, and this can cause a real confusion in the minds of the public, which might only look at the name of the candidate instead of the party symbol.

This provision should be scrapped and the candidates should be identified by Names only in expanded form alongwith Father’s Name to identity the correct candidate by voters. The same shall be Allocated by ECI for a specific candidate only for a single election and will stand withdrawn after announcement of results.

Finally, proposals put forth in its earlier 170th Report and in the NCRWC’s Final Report that independents can always form a political party to contest elections if they want is correct inasmuch as it is cognizant of the fact that the process of forming a party under the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 and registering it under section 29A, RPA is not difficult.

Ballot paper should figure list of valid nominees or contestants in alphabetic order for all candidates from registered political parties. All Independent candidates should be listed separately at the bottom of list in its alphabetical order. This would avoid confusion to voters as the Independent candidates could be easily identified by the voting citizens.

Independent candidates are often deemed ‘frivolous’ or ‘spoilers’ by mainstream political figures and authorities, although there is little to no evidence on their effect on elections. They create a huge impact in the election results, especially whenever there is a fractured mandate.

Hence, the Debarring of independent candidates as recommended by the Law Commission will not pave way for fairness under the Constitutional concepts guaranteed in our Democracy. Voters should be periodically educated about the Election Process and its exercise of Constitutional duties.

 

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