That was a super conference in Bangalore yesterday, organized by CERI and FAME. The Foundation for Advanced Management of Elections comprises of almost all the former Chief Election Commissioners of India. Since CERI has been working in tandem with the Election Commission and since Dr. J M Lyngdoh wrote the introduction to Raj’s recent book on Electoral Systems it was natural that FAME proposed to CERI a jointly organized national conference in Bangalore. The queer pitch that was set by them was the theme: Is India in need of a different electoral system?
But we did not anticipate that this would turn out to be one of the best programmes of CERI and FAME. Justice Venkatachalaih, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India spoke voluminously on the need for a different system but was unable to spell out the details. The man was absolutely honest about the state of democracy in India. He decried the level of corruption in Indian elections with vehemence. Mr. Gopalaswamy, the former Chief Election Commissioner of India even used sentences that were from the heart and mind together. He called the present situation in India a ‘rape of democracy’ and later after my lecture supported my proposal for Proportional Representation system in India. But the most vocal votary of PR system in India was Mr. Krishnamurthy, former Chief Election Commissioner of India who openly proclaimed that he supported the call of M C Raj for PR system in India. This morning when we got up from bed Jyothi told me: “I feel PR system has already come to India”. Such was the sentimental impact of the conference.
And Jyothi herself made a major contribution to the conference by her presentation on the need for PR system in the context of exorbitant use of money power, muscle power, casteism and communalism in Indian elections. Before Ms. Rama Devi, former Governor of Karnataka gave her valedictory address there was a galaxy of panelists who dwelt on the present pathetic situation of Indian democracy and governance, decrying the fact there was the least attention paid to governance. Mr. Gopalaswamy even said that if the present situation continues soon there may be an uncontrollable situation in India.
It was interesting to listen to Mr. Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha for the first time. He called me an architect of electoral systems and himself a mechanic. Dr. S K Biswas, President of the All India Progressive Forum confirmed that India needed the mechanics as much as the architect. Dr. Bhure Lal focused on the need for cherishing a strong love for the nation. A former military man that he is he was true to his color. Mr. Shridhar Pabbysetty of the Karnataka Election Watch said that reform may call for a revolution. Finally ADR and CERI are moving closer. Mr. Mendiratta, Legal advisor to the Election Commission of India listed out the limitations the Election Commission has in implementing many strictures it wants to. He also appealed to cooperation from the civil society to inform the Election Commission of any violations at the time of any election and a special number in which they can directly call.
At the end Raj lapped up the suggestion of Mr. Gopalaswamy to form a coalition in Karnataka for monitoring of elections and to further the cause of electoral reforms. Mr. K J Rao and General Jhingon of FAME did the mobilization of the eminent people along with Raj. That cannot undermine the clarion call by Mr Rao for all key players to come together and carry for the campaign in the best interest of the nation. Joby and Vivek made the entire event smooth with their stupendous infrastructural contribution.
But the success of this conference was the quality and number of participants. We expected and booked the place for 150. We suspected that about 180 might turn up and were prepared for that with the Hotel Capitol. But ultimately Vivek and Joby had to rush additional chairs to accommodate the 225 participants. This was amazing. The response of the Welfare Party of India, The Praja Rajakiya Vedike, The Mount Carmel College students, The All India Progressive Forum, the Communist Party of India, The Civil Society Summit group, The Booshakthi Vedike, many individual friends who came and connected after many years, the media etc. made it a memorable event.
One of the staff of FAME had an interesting conversation with CERI group. When asked how the conference was he jerked in to say that he would give 15 marks for the event. Vivek was shocked and asked: ’15 out of how many?’ The other guy shook the life out of the others by saying that it was a 15 out of 10. He was highly elated at the composition of participants. ‘We could hear the cry of children, the group of students from a very prestigious college in Bangalore, the otherwise abled persons, the sex workers, the NGOs and the political parties….We never had such a crowd in any of our previous conferences of FAME.’
For the first time, the media came out generously with its coverage. The press conference was jointly addressed by FAME, CERI, political parties and civil society groups. We hope the media will come out with some well-written articles on PR system. Totally four former Chief Election Commissioner of India being in full support of PR system should make an inroad in the mindset of the government. Together with the intensity of the campaign all over the country we should be able to reach our campaign goal much faster than we anticipate.