Congress President Sonia Gandhi advocated keeping candidates with criminal records out of politics, while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged the educated middle class not to “shy away from politics.” Gandhi also lamented that money and muscle power has made a very strong influence on the country’s politics.
The year-long Diamond Jubilee celebration was inaugurated by President Pratibha Patil in the company of the top leaders.
Besides Singh and Sonia, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj attended the inauguration.
Around 30 heads of electoral bodies from various countries and diplomats were also present.
Appreciating the role of the EC, which was established on January 25, 1950, in conducting free and fair elections President said the impediments, lacunae and malpractices in the electoral process would have to be removed. She said India has impressive democratic credentials, but has to face the challenge of becoming a ‘role model’ for other countries.
As the country's top leadership went into an introspective mode, Vice President Hamid Ansari dubbed as a ‘blot’ the extensive media-related malpractice of ‘paid news and coverage packages’.
Expressing concern that Indian politics was not attracting the best and the brightest, the Prime Minister said educated professionals and the country's growing middle class should participate in the electoral process. On many occasions, they even did not go out to vote, he said. Poor turnout in many constituencies, the Prime Minister said, undermines the “legitimacy of the victor in a ‘first past the post’ system that we follow”.
He said that there was general worry that people without sufficient means cannot contest elections.
“The background of many contestants, and quite often the winning ones, does not inspire confidence in the voters. There is no easy answer to these questions,” the Prime Minister said.
He said the EC had worked on some of these problems and given its recommendations.
Praising the poll panel as “one of the pillars of Indian democracy" the Prime Minister said it had performed extremely well the “onerous task” of conducting elections in the last 60 years.
“A large proportion of our voters have voter identity cards, proceedings in sensitive polling booths are video-graphed, political parties have free time on national television. Ballot papers and ballot boxes have been replaced by electronic voting machines. Results now get declared in one day,” he added.
Complimenting the Commission, Singh said, “These improvements have contributed not only to the speedy conduct of elections but also in enhancing the transparency and credibility of the whole electoral process.”