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Sunday 13 February 2011

National Election Watch - Political party reforms -13th Feb 2011

The Second day session of the 7th National Conference of National Election Watch was held on Sunday the 13th Feb 2011 at IIT, Chennai.   The proceedings (recorded through live blogging) is given below:
The earlier 4 proceedings of the first day sessions are available in the following links.
Inaugural Session
Discussion on Electoral Integrity
Discussion on Election bound states
Media and Elections
Photo stream of the second day sessions:

Live report of Second day proceedings from Central Lecture Theatre, IIT Madras. (Reported by Arun Sudarsan, Binny Alexander and Chandni Chandran)

(Live reporting starts at 9.30 am)

POLITICAL PARTY REFORMS (Inner Party Reforms and Financial Accountability)
Chair: Prof. Jagdeep Chokkar
Panelists: Mr. T K S Elangovan (DMK), Mr. Gnana Desikan (INC), Mr. Madhavan Kutti (CPI-M), Dr. Maithreyan (AIADMK), D Raja (CPI) 

Chair: The Election Watch and ADR have been working in the scene for many years. The aim is to bring about transparency into the system. Two major issues that stick out are internal party democracy and financial accountability.

Dr. Maithreyan (MP, AIADMK): Happy to represent my party here in the Conference. The present system of first-past-post system has not allowed the party system to crystallise and stabilise. There is a large number of criminals getting elected to the representative bodies. There are large instances of cash for votes scam. Does this imply that a large section of the electorate is forced to be corrupt? In a recent study, it has been estimated that in the upcoming Tamil Nadu elections, each candidate will spend approximately 5-10 crores. For years, ECI had remained a passive institution. But with the coming of T N Seshan, the scene changed. Of late, ECI has been more successful in curbing money and muscle power during elections. Though I may be digressing from the topic of discussion, I feel the main issue is to make elections free and fair. Talking about inner party democracy may be futile since dynastic rule is the order of the day though it is a very important issue to be tackled.

Mr. Desikan (MP, INC): Good morning everyone. Reform must start from the political system itself. INC has a constitution which provides for election rules for each of the PCCs in the country. INC has made a parallel election authority at the centre and state level which has been quite successful in more than half the states in India. In a democracy, dissent is a right. One is entitled to voice his opinions. But a party member may not be allowed to air his views outside his party. The dissent has to stay within the party system to maintain the political system of India. INC allows it members in legislature to voice their opinions during Question Hour, discussions on Private bills etc. 

Mr Madhavan Kutty (CPM):  One of the things I will be talking about is the RTI act. It is an important tool for developing a democratic ethos in our country.  A public interest broadcasting system which challenges the biased mainstream media will also do much to improve the state of democracy in the nation.Decentralisation of power will also lead to less corrupt parties. Despite the increase of financial capital, our democracy teeters dangerously on the brink of collapsel. Our rural voters are voting in larger numbers than ever before - this should not make us forget the plight of the agrarian system and of farmers. Political reforms should be organic. Corporate tycoons get elected in our country with surprising regularlity. It is immature to talk of innert party democracy at this stage.We should try to influence the political environment to ensure that political parties act democratically. If we are not to succumb to a 'media'ted election, a public broadcasting system is a must.

Mr. CA S B Zaware (ICAI): I am here to present the views of the  study group of the Institute of the Chartered Accountants of India. These views after being divulged to the public, and their opinions/ reactions being factored in, will be presented to the Election Commission. Under the Income Tax act of 1961, every political party is required to submit annual returns to claim the exemption from tax. For this , accounts need to be regularly and accurately audited by chartered accountants. The party should maintain books of accounting on accrual basis.  According to me, the annual earnings is a public document and as such, should be freely available to the common man. Further, we hold that financial documents should be submitted  within 6 months after March 31st. Right now, these financial documents are prepared and audited, but not submitted or exposed for public review. This should be changed. It should also be published in English in the national newspaper and in the local languages in the regional newspapers. Source of income of political parties is sale of coupons. We are unable to track this money. Therefore, it is said that there should be a system of checks and balances. Political parties should follow accounting standards - related party disclosures are part of this. The auditee appoints the auditor now - that is, the political party. We suggest the auditor be chosen for the political party and be rotated on a regular basis to ensure independence and forestall corruption.

Mr. T.K.S Elangovan (DMK): As organisation secretary of the DMK, I will speak of inner-party democracy.  In the DMK, democracy is followed in the truest sense. Office bearers will not be changed before their alloted term of 5 years runs out, except in cases of wrongdoing. Party accounts are audited by internal auditors and then handed over to external auditors- everything is transparent. A point about dynastic rule - the party itself is a family affair. However, one particular family does not dominate. The entire DMK is a family. However, that  does not make us compromise on inner-party democracy.

D. Raja (CPI):  The country is passing through a moral crisis today. Credibility crises exist in all spheres- judiciary, bureaucracy, defense included. In such a situation, national conferences like these are very important. What is a political party? What is my party? We are a party of the working-class. Our hierarchy is not personality-centric. We are going to enter a life of contradictions. Ambedkar said : In politics we will have equality while in social and economic life we will have inequality. But in our social and economic life, we shall by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny equality. This places our democracy in peril. If this continues for long, those who suffer will blow up our democracy
  We do not recruit criminals in our ranks and when there is no question of recruiting criminals there is no question of electing criminals to our ranks.

Mr. R. Velu (PMK),Former Railway Minister : Our party policy advocates against liquor and tobacco. Campaigning on this platform lost  us the election. If we ever come to power, the first measure will be to eradicate drinking. No other political party can make this claim. Women are the ones most affected by the curse of alcohol. 
We feel that greater funds should be allocated in the budget for education and health.Focus on rural youth. 
We maintain proper accounts and submit returns on time. Financial transparency and inner party democracy are assured with the PMK.

 We now have a question and answer session with the panelists.Here are a few questions posed by the audience:

 Why are you not getting pre-approval from the Election Commision for the sale of donation coupons?
Why do we not have open book-keeping for the party's finances?
Why is service tax  not imposed on proceeds from the sale of donation coupons?
Do members get receipts for donating money?(posed to the CPI)

The panel answers:

Service tax is applicable only when services are rendered or received, therefore it is said that sale of coupons is beyond the purview of service tax.

Mr. Gnana Desikan(INC): In the future, political parties will discipline themselves. I am willing to entertain any discussion/debate on inner party democracy and auditing.Political leadership is built on psychophancy and I stand by it. Praising a leader is something I am free to do, without license or permission. We also support the amendment made by Manish Tiwari allowing MPS to disagree with their political party.

Mr. Elangovan(DMK):  Educated people who are critical of government should enter politics . The only power available to many people in India is the power to vote. To exercise this power, they take money. So power does corrupt. My party's government in TN has provided employment for 5.5 lakh people in government in the past 5 years. Political parties are essential and inseparable from the system of democracy.

Mr. Madhavan Kutty(Leftist): A political cycnism damages the political system. Politics plays an important rule even at the grassroots level. There is a kind of hypocrisy in the middle-class cynicism.Cynicism is not the answer. The Election Commission is toothless and so cannot monitor party elections.

Mr. D.Raja(CPI): Our accounts are properly audited. All donations to our party are transparent and accounted for.We have electoral tactical lines which decide our alliances. Black money debases value and undermines our electoral system. Try to understand while bashing politicians, that not all politicans are bad. Be objective in your criticism and your statements. In a democracy, it is political parties that form our government. Respect that fact - politician-bashing is futile and pointless. A politician's life is always under scrutiny. Our lives are difficult. At the end of the day, we try to serve the nation and its people.

Mr. R.Velu(PMK): No other party in the country has provided for the general secretary to be a Dalit. Ours is not a communal party. The ruling party wants to suppress opposition parties and it will adopt any tactic to achieve this end. Our party has enlightened leadership.

Moderator's closing remarks: Democracy is in peril because of the contradictions inherent in providing both social and political equality. We as citizens expect more and better governance and cannot be faulted for this.




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