Election manifestos and voters' Right to Know

Rule 4A and Form 26 should be amended for a mandatory status report on promises

Dr. Akshay Bajad | August 7, 2020


#Elections   #parliament   #parties   #manifesto   #voters   #democracy  
(Illustration: Ashish Asthana)
(Illustration: Ashish Asthana)

Recognising the importance of election manifestos, the supreme court directed the election commission (EC) of India to frame guidelines directly governing the contents of the election manifestos in the case of S. Subramaniam Balaji v. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors. reported in (2013) 9 SCC 659. Although the EC issued certain guidelines on election manifestos, framed in consultation with the political parties, it failed to consider that the voters ought to have a right to know as to what happened to those promises made in the election manifestos. A failure on part of the political party or for that matter a candidate in disclosing the status of the promises made in their election manifestos before the next elections deprives a voter his right to know and thereby denudes him from making an informed choice.

Election manifestos are generally drafted by the political parties and candidates keeping an eye on forthcoming elections and are generally published and well publicized. The political parties and candidates bag the votes by making promises in the elections, however, the voters are kept in dark, when it comes to giving them an opportunity to know the correct status of all such promises made. It shall be difficult to hold the political parties and candidates responsible for non-fulfilment of each and every promise made in the election manifestos, however, what would be the harm caused to such political parties and candidates if a disclosure with regard to the status of the promises is required to be made by them while filing nominations.

Till recently, the candidates used to propagate the manifestos published or released by the political parties to which they were affiliated. However, during the last few elections, several candidates belonging to different political parties, taking into consideration the local issues, have been coming up with their own manifestos giving an account of what would they do for their constituency if they are elected. The safeguards, although few, laid down by the EC govern only the election manifestos issued by the political parties and not the individuals.

There is a statutory vacuum regarding regulation of election manifestos to the extent of tracking the performance of the political parties and the candidates and accountability to the public thereof. The Representation of People Act, 1951 as well as the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 although have recognised the right to know of a voter, however, the same is insufficient. The information sought under Section 33A and Form No. 26 pertains more to the conduct of the candidates in their personal capacity. However, it is more important to call for information with respect to their conduct as a representative of people. The voter’s right to know about the agenda of the political parties, their accountability and sincerity towards the promises made by it is much more fundamental and basic for the survival of democracy. The voter may think over before making his choice of electing law-breakers as law-makers. The vacuum regarding the information relating to the promises made in the election manifestos and their status has resulted into deprivation of right to know of voter as guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. Such a disclosure would ensure that the voters make an informed choice while casting their votes which is very much essential for a participatory democracy. If there is provision for a status report, it can strengthen the democratic process and also restore the confidence of the people in it. Furthermore, such a disclosure would also keep a check upon the political parties inasmuch as all such parties and candidates shall publish their manifestos after thorough research thereby restraining them from making false promises with a view to filling their vote banks.

Why the provision of information as to the past performance of a candidate and political parties with respect to the election manifestos is essential?

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution includes right to know of the voters about their candidates and their performance in their tenure before any citizen exercise their franchise.  The supreme court recognized the voter’s right to know for the first time in the case of State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain & Ors., [(1975) 4 SCC 428] at Para 74, and has widened the horizons of the right to know of a voter while reiterating that the said right is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) in the case of Lok Prahari v. Union of India reported in (2018) 4 SCC 699. Further, in the case of Union of India v. The Association for Democratic Reforms, [(2002) 5 SCC 294] held in Para 22 that a voter has a right to elect or re-elect on the basis of the antecedents and the past performance of the candidate. Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression with regards to voting and this right shall include the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kind.

Any political party is not liable to disclose information under RTI. As such, the citizens of the country are left with no option to find out the status of the fulfilment or otherwise of the election manifestos. For a participative form of democracy, it is important that the voters are educated in a right manner. It is all the more important that people cast their votes after knowing their candidate and not for any other extraneous considerations.

Therefore, in order to make our democracy and our election process transparent and to give the voters all the information they require about the political parties and the candidates so that the voters could exercise their right to vote wisely, parliament should amend Rule 4A and Form 26 appended to the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961; thereby seeking information regarding the status report of the promises of quantitative nature made in the election manifestos of the candidates along with that of his/her political party from the candidates; as well as the EC should also issue guidelines regarding submission of an affidavit containing statement with respect to the status of the promises of quantitative nature made in the election manifestos of the candidates along with that of his/her political party from the candidates by suitably modifying the Model Code of Conduct.

Bajad is a researcher on good governance and policy.


 

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