#NewsBytesExclusive: Former CEC SY Quraishi on elections, EVMs, and more
This year, the world's largest democracy, India, goes to polls to elect the 17th Lok Sabha. As the country gears up for the General Election, we got in touch with former Chief Election Commissioner, Dr. SY Quraishi, whose book "The Great March of Democracy: Seven Decades of India's Elections" was released recently. In an exclusive interview, he talked about democracy, elections, EVMs, and more.
Quraishi reveals whether he considers India a robust democracy
When asked if he considers India a "robust democracy", Quraishi said, "India's democracy has indeed stood the test of time. In a country of continental proportions, with unfathomable diversity, where the rest of the postcolonial world was torn apart by authoritarianism, we survived and thrived." "We have matured electorally, but we have a long way to go in governance and social equity," he added.
India continues to be characterized as flawed democracy: Quraishi
"We have a long way to go before we can call ourselves the world's most successful democracy," Quraishi said. "We are facing acute challenges at the moment; Inequality, communalism, corruption and casteism top the list but are by no means the only ones," he said "Undoubtedly, India is an electoral wonder, but our country continues to be characterized as a flawed democracy," Quraishi added.
'EVMs are the wonder machines of Indian democracy'
Political parties often blame EVMs for electoral losses. When asked whether elections can be rigged by hacking EVMs, Quraishi said, "The answer is a confident NO. EVMs are the wonder machines of Indian democracy." "Every party has blamed EVMs when they are in opposition...then goes on to win the elections with the very same machines. All they do is play political games," he added.
What EC should do to clear doubts over EVMs
Several incidents like EVM tampering or abandoned EVMs being found create doubts over the fairness of elections in the voter's mind. On how the Election Commission can tackle such incidents, Quraishi said, "Bridging trust deficit among the voters is the most important task for the Election Commission. They have to come out and openly, vocally and aggressively demonstrate that EVM tampering is simply impossible."
The former CEC's thoughts on 'One Nation, One Election'
On "One Nation, One Election", Quraishi said, "It sounds unrealistic at present. On one hand, the idea...is rhetorically extremely appealing... On the other, every state...follows its own political course." "If a particular state witnesses an upturned majority in case a few MLAs...shift their 'loyalty', then what is to be done?... What happens to states in case the Lok Sabha is dissolved prematurely," he added.
The most urgent electoral reforms required in India
Speaking about the most urgent electoral reforms, Quraishi said, "Curbing the abuse of money in elections through state funding of political parties and legislation to curb the entry of tainted legislators into Parliament are two of a plethora of urgent electoral reforms." "It is high time that all corporate donations are banned and common pool system of funding (parties) comes into force," he added.
Stand vehemently against electoral bonds for funding political parties: Quraishi
On whether electoral bonds have made the political funding system more transparent, Quraishi said, "I stand vehemently against the regressive system of electoral bonds for funding political parties. It isn't surprising that the 'reform' hasn't found many backers." "The two outgoing CECs have publicly expressed genuine concerns. The Election Commission expressed concerns about all four amendments for bringing in the electoral bonds," he added.
Quraishi on spread of fake news and misinformation
On the spread of misinformation, fake news, and hate speech on social media, Quraishi said India has more fake news than elsewhere, citing a Microsoft report. He added, "The EC has closely worked with Facebook...many steps have been taken such as limiting the number of WhatsApp forwards and tagging of messages to find the source. But without a doubt, more needs to be done."
What EC should do to control spread of fake news
Quraishi said, "For starters, the regulation that applies to news media must apply to social media as well. With the rise of new media, this is pivotal. Secondly, the IT Act needs to be revamped to reflect the realities of the age of social media."
Quraishi on what challenges he has faced during his tenure
On the challenges he faced as a CEC, Quraishi said, "I had outlined two challenges for me: voter apathy and money power. I set up two new divisions to deal with these." "Voter education proved to be a game-changer leading to a participation revolution. Money power continues to be a problem despite initial success," he said, adding hate speech during campaigns is another concern.
Youth must participate in elections proactively: Quraishi's message
"India belongs to its youth. They have to become politically alert. They must shed apathy and inertia and participate in elections proactively. They must come out to vote...without inducements. Stop complaining, start voting!" signed off Quraishi with a message to first-time voters and NewsBytes' readers.