Sucheta Dalal :Building Public Awareness On Elections And Candidates
Sucheta Dalal

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Building Public Awareness On Elections And Candidates  

April 5, 2004

As elections draw nearer, Sucheta Dalal gives an overall picture of various state-level initiatives taken by some activists and NGOs. Financial Express, 5 April 2004.

Building Public Awareness On Elections And Candidates

By Sucheta Dalal

As the nation gets ready to vote in the 14th Lok Sabha, the drum beat of India’s cricket victories has nearly drowned out the usual din of public rallies and political parties are forced to grab voters’ attention by dazzling them with a parade of beauty queens and movie starlets. In the midst of these powerful and probably deliberate distractions, small groups of committed citizens, public interest activists and non-governmental organisations are struggling to educate and awaken people to their right and duty to ensure correct representation in Parliament.


The process is slow and hesitant, but activist groups have received a major boost from three separate developments. First, the landmark Supreme Court judgement of March 2003, along with an Election Commission order of the same month that made it mandatory for candidates to disclose, under oath, their assets (including those of their dependent family), educational qualifications and criminal record. Second, the EC order requires that affidavits filed by candidates would be widely disseminated through the media and posted on its website, to be accessed, downloaded and distributed by anybody. The EC also allowed rival candidates to file contrary information in similar sworn affidavits. Third, the Delhi High Court (in CWP No 4912 of 1998, Kushirva Bharat vs Union of India and others) order of March 2004 modified item 3(a) (iii) of the affidavit to include disclosure of dues for government accommodation, supply of water, electricity, telephones etc. This triggered a bill paying spree by candidates and netted a few lakh rupees for government agencies.

Empowered with this information, activist groups hope to build on the beginning that they made in exposing dubious candidates by disseminating information collated and analysed from their own affidavits, with inputs from the general public. They did this through public rallies, street plays and pamphlets. The access to factual, official information gave their statements greater credibility. The affidavits will now form a database and as Arvind Kejrival of Parivartan says would become “a benchmark for knowing acquisitions made from one election to another”.

Several NGOs such as the Peoples Union of Civil Liberty (PUCL), Lok Satta of Andhra Pradesh and the Action for Democratic Rights (founded by a group of academics and supported by key businessmen and industrialists) are making efforts to replicate Election Watch across the country through linkages with grass-root organisations in each State.

Will their effort be more successful this time? It’s difficult to say. As compared to the well-oiled machinery of politicians, civil society groups are usually handicapped by a paucity of funds. On the other hand, the media is playing a big role this time in using and disseminating information to call candidates to account. Even before the affidavits are filed, most news channels on television have lined up a series of debates and interactions with candidates. What we have seen so far shows a tough line of questioning and genuine public participation. The media is also going beyond grilling election candidates. The Express Group has started a campaign to motivate people to go out and vote and Channel [V] — a youth oriented music channel has also started an election awareness drive to “educate, involve and mobilize younger citizens” to participate in the election process.

The biggest national effort so far is the Election Watch campaign that was originally launched and coordinated by NGOs in 2002 and is being expanded to several other states for the Lok Sabha elections. They include Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.


-- Sucheta Dalal