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Role of crime, money increases as elections become excessively competitive: Former CEC

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New Delhi, Oct 11: The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW) organised a panel discussion on the recently concluded General Elections to deliberate on the experiences and learnings of the world's biggest electoral exercise and suggest possible ways to address challenges faced in the wake of changing dynamics of electoral politics in India.

Role of crime, money increases as elections become excessively competitive: Former CEC

Expert panellists and speakers from non-profit organisations, political parties, media, academic communities and former bureaucrats participated in the forum along with students, journalists and members from various civil society groups.

Maharashtra-Haryana polls: Parties spend 76 per cent of money on publicity

Maj. Gen. Anil Verma (retd.), Head - ADR, opened the forum by welcoming the guests and explaining the rationale behind the topics selected for the sessions of the event. Maj. Gen. Verma spoke of this in the context of the role played by ADR in educating voters to address the issue of criminalisation and money power in electoral politics as well as the urgent need for electoral and political reforms in the constantly transforming nature of democratic politics in India.

The former Chief Election Commissioner of India, Dr S Y Quraishi, delivered the keynote address for the first session on Crime and Money in Electoral Politics: Is it irreversible?.

Dr Quraishi mentioned that when elections become excessively competitive, the role of crime and money in the electoral process increases. He further asserted that the easiest way for criminals to become powerful and respectable is to enter into politics. He concluded by saying that not only the convicted candidates but those against whom criminal charges have been framed should also be disqualified from contesting elections.

Chairing the first session, Prof. Jagdeep Chhokar, Founder Member & Trustee - ADR, pointed out that we have a hollow democracy and if political parties do not ensure inner party transparency, democracy in India will stand threatened. Prof. Chhokar suggested that civil society, judiciary and media must work in tandem without the interference of the Executive.

Focusing on the issue of why voters choose candidates with criminal backgrounds, Jasmine Shah, Vice-chairperson of Delhi Dialogue and Development Commission, reiterated that voters elect such candidates to be able to access public services which the incumbent government has failed to provide.

On the issue of continuing trend of crime and money in electoral politics, Dr D Dhanuraj, Chairman - Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), said that criminality in elections has not been reduced mainly because of the existence of a license permit raj in the country, which is also one of the factors that have resulted in the entry of tainted and corrupt elected representatives.

Dramatic increase in number of MPs with pending criminal cases

Also on the panel was Maneesh Chhibber, Contributing Editor at The Print, who expressed doubts about whether the prevalence of crime and money in electoral politics can be reversed. He recommended that major reforms are needed such as the introduction of a Collegium system for the selection of Election Commissioners of the ECI, increased power to the ECI and concluding election petition in a time-bound manner.

Delivering the keynote address for the second session of the forum on Social Media, Election Expenditure & Voter Influence: Changing face of electoral politics in India, Dr. Nasim Zaidi, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India, proposed the introduction of a robust social media policy to regulate online behaviour of political parties and the need for providing statutory backing to the Model Code of Conduct to avoid misuse of social media.

Chairing this session, Dr Vipul Mudgal, Director - Common Cause & Trustee - ADR., raised the issue of social media becoming the new muscle power which has now become essential for parties to run a successful campaign.

Speaking first on the panel, Shivam Shankar Singh, Data Analyst & Campaign Consultant, spoke regarding the beginning of social media's predominant role in Indian elections and how the political parties start their social media campaigns long before the elections are formally announced, and how the platform is increasingly misused for propaganda purposes.

Adding to that, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Senior Journalist, Author and Political Commentator, highlighted the ECI's incompetence on the issue of misuse of digital platforms for election campaigning. He further added that the ECI was aware of the possible threats of untraceable campaigning on social media, but it preferred to turn a blind eye to it. He likened the Internet to a surgeon's scalpel, which can be used to remove the diseased part but instead is being used for maiming the public.

Pratik Sinha, Co-founder - Alt News, raised concerns regarding unregulated expenditure on surrogate advertising on Facebook and Twitter given that this money does not get attributed to the official expenditure of political parties.

Did you know, 41.34 per cent voters say cash, liquor, gifts are important factors for polling?

Ankit Lal, Social Media & IT Strategist with the Aam Aadmi Party, said that data is the new oil which is being mined every minute. He further added that mobile apps are being constantly misused to influence voters' behaviour.

Last speaker on the rostrum, Raman jit Singh Cheema, Policy Director and Senior International Counsel at Access Now, urged that all political parties must reveal the identity of their IT personnel in the public domain for ensuring political accountability.

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