Poll promises remain routinely unfulfilled and manifestos turn out to be mere pieces of paper, for which political parties must be held accountable, Chief Justice of India J S Khehar said here on Saturday.
He was speaking at a seminar, ‘Economic Reforms with Reference to Electoral Issues’, organised by the Confederation of the Indian Bar. The seminar was inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee.
Slamming the reasons given by parties for failing to meet poll promises, the CJI said, “No consequence occurs whether promises are fulfilled or not. Every political party brazenly finds an excuse of not reaching consensus amongst alike partners. Even our legal system provides for no consequences to be suffered by political parties if promises made in the manifesto are not fulfilled. Uninformed citizenry, with a short-term memory, forgets and the election manifesto becomes a mere piece of paper. For this political parties have to be made accountable.”
Justice Khehar also noted that none of the manifestos released by parties in the 2014 general elections showed “linkage between economic reforms and the Constitutional goal of socio-economic justice” for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the marginalised. Economic growth, in his view, had to be coupled with economic justice and harmony.
The CJI also said that electoral politics in India centres around “mobilisation and politicisation” of social groups which were poor or disadvantaged. “Caste issues are projected in different ways to ensure a majority in each constituency.”
Ever since these marginalised sections began turning up in larger numbers to vote, electoral outcomes have seen “unprecedented volatility”, he said. This has forced political parties to seek new forms of political alignment, social engineering and support, he said.
He added that the the Election Commission had been taking action against parties for violation of the model code of conduct as per Supreme Court orders to formulate guidelines against freebies.
Justice Dipak Misra, the next senior-most judge in the Supreme Court, underlined the need for electoral reforms. “Purchasing power has no room in an election”, he said, adding that “a candidate must bear in mind that contesting elections is not an investment”.
He hoped for elections to be decriminalised and for selection of candidates with high moral and ethical values. Elections “must be perceived as an activity involving norms of fiscal morality”, he said, adding that the day a voter voted without being tempted would be “a glorious day for democracy”.
In his address, President Mukherjee called for accountability of elected representatives. All parties, he said, should develop a voluntary code of conduct for their working. He also noted that except in 1957 and 1984, no party had come close to 50 per cent votes in a general election.
Mukherjee also underlined the need to take a relook at delimitation of parliamentary constituencies, so as to increase their number. The President pointed out that the 42nd amendment Act of 1976 imposed a freeze on the population figure for readjustment of constituencies at the 1971 Census, which was extended by the 84th amendment Act of 2001 till 2026. As a result, he said, the Lok Sabha represents the population figure as per the 1971 Census, with 543 Constituencies for 1.28 billion people.
“If Great Britain can have more than 600 parliamentary constituencies, why can’t India?” he said.