Patna, Oct 11 (IANS) People should rise above caste and religious lines and not vote for politicians known for muscle and money power if they have to cleanse the system, former Election Commission chief K.J. Rao says.
Rao said in an interview here that it was no easy task for the poll panel to ensure free and fair polls in Bihar although the situation had greatly improved in the past decade.
Speaking before the start of Bihar’s staggered assembly elections from Monday, Rao said it was important for voters to pick candidates with clean image.
“People should rise above caste, religion, to use their secret franchise to elect their representatives. They should not vote for ‘bahubalis’ and ‘dhanbalis’,” he told IANS referring to terminologies used for politicians in Bihar with muscle and money power.
Rao, who retired from the Election Commission in 2006, said money power was influencing the Bihar elections this time more than ever before. He said if people felt threatened by political leaders who used muscle and money power, they must vote for NOTA on the voting machine — None Of The Above.
“It is people and only people who have to decide whether they should vote for facilities like education, health, jobs, basic infrastructure or to vote for his or her castemen or ‘bahubalis’.”
Rao is general secretary of the Foundation for Advanced Management Election founded by former chief election commissioners S.Y. Quraishi, J.M. Lyndoh, T.S. Krishnamurthy and N. Gopalswami.
Rao was here in connection with the release of the list of candidates with criminal cases.
The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) said in its report that a third of the candidates for the second phase of the Bihar polls on October 16 had criminal cases registered against them.
Most such candidates belonged to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
“We have tried to create awareness among the electorate to vote sincerely and not get influenced by money, muscle power, caste or religion,” said Rao.
He admitted that it was a big challenge for the Election Commission to ensure free and fair polls in Bihar.
Although the poll panel had initiated certain measures, it still was no easy task.
“In the last one month the Election Commission has strictly dealt with money power, muscle power and caste politics to ensure that everyone, particularly the poorest of the poor, can vote.
“No doubt the situation has improved in Bihar. It is not like in 2005 when people were afraid of muscle power, booth capturing and other malpractices.”
He said the number of candidates with criminal background had declined due to the intervention of the apex court.
“For many, election is like a business. Invest huge sums for heavy returns.
“The political parties have to blame themselves for fielding tainted ‘bahubalis’ and the rich. All this increases the chance of use of black money in elections.
“Politicians and leaders are not bothered about electoral reforms. Political parties are free to use huge sums of money. There is no check on their expenditure during elections.”
Rao added: “There should be a ceiling on expenditure by political parties. But political parties have not come forward to check the flow of money during elections.
“In fact there is no inner democracy in most political parties.”
He said that if the huge amount of cash seized by police in the last 20 days was any indication, then it was clear that the use of black money was rampant in Bihar.
“Going by what I have observed during my visits to rural Bihar, the use of money is likely to influence voters.”
(Imran Khan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)