Go beyond words

Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s call to curb the use of money and muscle power in elections will not be opposed by anybody. She made the call appropriately at the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Election Commission of India which has the task of conducting and supervising elections and ensuring that they are held in a free and fair manner. It has conducted 15 Lok Sabha and 326 assembly elections, though it has been less successful in containing the influence of money and muscle power. It has monitored the expenditure of candidates and has campaigned against criminals joining the fray. But its efforts have had little impact, as everyone who has observed the recent elections knows and as the bio-data of candidates and elected representatives show. Mrs Gandhi’s call also underlines the fact.

The irony is that Mrs Gandhi can do more than the Election Commission or anybody else to implement her own call. She is the leader of the country’s largest party and she controls the government. There are at least 150 MPs in the Lok Sabha with criminals charges against them and 41 of them are Congressmen. The party is only marginally behind the BJP, which has 42 MPs in that category. The dubious distinction of having an MP facing the maximum number of criminal charges also goes to the Congress. All these MPs faced these charges before they contested the election. The Congress and Mrs Gandhi could well have denied them the ticket. More than one-third of the candidates in the recent Jharkhand elections faced serious criminal charges and many of them were from the Congress. The number of crorepati MPs in the present Lok Sabha is 300, which is twice the number in the previous Lok Sabha. To be rich does not prove that money power was used to influence elections. But the fact that more numbers of richer people get elected sends out a clear message.

It is not as if there are no laws against the use of money and muscle power in elections, though they can be made stricter. But for them to be effectively implemented, the political and government leadership should have a stronger will. It is dishonesty and hypocrisy on the part of leaders to make such a call without trying to do what they can.

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