Recent years have seen a small, yet significant beginning in the direction of cleaning up the electoral processes. The Election Commission has been supportive of these initiatives by maintaining a firm and transparent stand and enforcing electoral rules with firmness and autonomy. In addition a number of citizen’s initiatives have also made their mark in demanding fair elections and in attempting to identify, highlight, and remove practices of criminalization and deceit.

Rajasthan is on the threshold of the next state elections to the legislative assembly. The scramble for candidature and the gearing up of the election machinery has already begun. In order to discuss the potential and possibilities of greater citizen’s participation in election processes the NCPRI (The National Campaign for Peoples Right to Information) and HCM – RIPA (Harish Chandra Mathur – Rajasthan Institute for Public Administration), Jaipur organized a one day workshop in July, bringing together political parties, officials of the state election commission, the State Government and citizen’s groups from across Rajasthan. The workshop was held with several objectives one of which was to establish a dialogue between political parties, election commission and citizen’s forums on how to ensure transparency and democratic adherence in the forthcoming elections.

One of the objectives was to establish a dialogue between political parties, election commission and citizen’s forums on how to ensure transparency and democratic adherence in the forthcoming elections.
The highlight of the Jaipur workshop was the full attendance and participation of the Central Election Commission and the State Election Commission including the Chief Election Commissioner of India J M Lyngdoh and the State Election Commissioner, I J Khanna, and the State Chief Secretary R K Nair. Also notable among those who attended this consultation and are active in campaigning for electoral reform are the Association for Democratic Reforms in Ahmedabad, Loksatta in Andhra Pradesh, the CHRI and the recently constituted Campaign for Electoral Transparency in Delhi. Nearly 150 participants from over 50 NGOs, media and people’s organizations and the representatives of five out of the six recognised political parties of the state participated.

The Chief Election Commissioner James Lyngdoh emphasized that the Commission looks forward to the active participation of independent, non-partisan citizen’s initiatives in assisting the Commission. He explained that the Commission had a vested interest in attending and encouraging such initiatives because the task of ensuring free and fair elections could not be carried out without popular participation and support. The Commissioner pointed out that even for the enforcing of the executive orders, ordinary voters, and citizens groups had a critical role to play. He felt one of the biggest challenges was to ensure clean electoral rolls so that voters could exercise their franchise.

In symphony with that, one of the important recommendations of the meeting was on improving the fidelity of electoral rolls. Aruna Roy, Coordinator of NCPRI Rajasthan emphasized the urgent need to revise and correct voters’ lists across the state. She pointed out that this was a contentious issue and leads to serious doubt on the credibility of the election processes. The meeting was unanimous on suggesting to the Election Commission that verification of inaccuracies may be initiated by reading out the electoral rolls in both rural and urban local bodies like ward sabhas/gram sabhas, and other mohalla samities.

And remarkably, this suggestion was swiftly acted upon by the Commission. On the 6th of August, the EC passed orders for the five States going to the polls at the end of this year. It directed that voter list verification and revision be intensively undertaken in Ward Sabhas, Gram Sabhas, Resident Welfare Associations, Mohalla Samities etc. This exercise is to be completed by 15th September, so that the revisions are completed in time for the State Assembly elections in the five States of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Delhi, and Mizoram. Clearly, enhancing the fidelity of the electoral rolls is a pressing matter for the EC. Admitting there had been several problems during the recent intensive revisions, the EC’s order says:

    “The Commission has taken a serious note of these lapses and has taken decision to clean the electoral rolls by adopting both long-term and short-term measures. The long-term measures include changes in the procedures and guidelines for future intensive revisions and the new guidelines to this effect shall be issued soon. Since your State would be going to polls during the current year, the Commission directs that the following short-term measures should be strictly followed to increase fidelity of the existing rolls."

    "After considering all the facts and circumstances before it and also the representations and suggestions from various Non-government Organisations working towards improvement of the electoral process in the country, the Commission has decided to disseminate and publicise the electoral rolls through the existing elected rural and urban local bodies and other responsible organisations on the ground. The entire electoral roll of the concerned areas shall be read over in the meetings of these bodies in the presence of the general public."

    "Based on the feedback of this exercise, necessary steps shall be taken to enrol new eligible names, to delete existing ineligible names or to correct the incorrect entries. A copy of the electoral roll shall be made available to these organisations for viewing by the general public, even after these meetings. The availability of electoral rolls in these organisations will be helpful in eliciting their cooperation in the continuous updation of rolls later.”

    For details see EC's order, (MKSS' transcript)

The MKSS’s Coordinator Aruna Roy expressed delight at the EC’s order. “Such a huge exercise will not be effectively carried out without the active participation of citizens groups. With respect to upcoming state assembly elections, there is very limited time to carrying out this sort of revision. Nevertheless the EC’s order offers an opportunity to publicly examine existing electoral rolls, and ensure that corrections are made. It is the first step in ensuring the citizens right to vote. We hope that we can collectively make use of this opportunity, and also recognize its importance as an entry point for the citizens right to participate in, and monitor the electoral process."

MKSS has also pointed out in an update that in Rajasthan orders have already been issued to read out Panchayati Raj electoral rolls in a similar fashion in ward sabhas. The organization feels it would therefore be ideal if both sets of electoral rolls (assembly and panchayat) are read out together in the ward sabhas/gram sabhas/ mohalla samiti meetings so that duplication of the process and consequent confusion can be avoided.

The July workshop witnessed the spirit of partnering and common resolve generated between citizens groups and state machinery. With several state elections around the corner and Lok Sabha elections next year, the EC’s order is a promising outcome, perhaps heralding the beginning of an equally promising partnership for civil society.