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11 April 2017 Editorial

 

11 APRIL 2017 

A damning indictment

RK Nagar bypoll cancellation

UPDATED: APRIL 11, 2017 00:23 IST

Debar candidates indulging in electoral malpractices from contesting again

By cancelling the by-election to the Dr. Radhakrishnan Nagar Assembly constituency in Tamil Nadu, the Election Commission has gone well beyond indicting the ruling AIADMK (Amma), and its candidate and deputy general secretary, T.T.V. Dhinakaran. In its elaborate order, the EC also raised the possibility of disqualifying a candidate for a period up to six years if the candidate exceeded the prescribed limit for election expenses by either directly incurring or authorising them in the campaign, and for three years for failure to render a correct account of the expenses. Clearly, the EC, while detailing the series of violations that its personnel recorded, was not being defensive of its own monitoring of the electoral process. The order recalled the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, relating to disqualification of a candidate, and the source of the EC's own powers, Article 324 of the Constitution. During the Assembly election last year, the EC had postponed polls in two constituencies citing electoral malpractices, but nothing more came of it. The same candidates of the two major parties, the AIADMK and the DMK, contested the elections when they were held later. This time, expressing its "anguish over the sordid state of affairs", the EC stated that the methods adopted by parties and their leaders to bypass the monitoring of unauthorised and illegal election expenses needed to be dealt with a heavy hand. Without doubt, the tone and tenor of the order reveal a seriousness of purpose that goes beyond the immediate circumstances of the R.K. Nagar by-election.

For Mr. Dhinakaran, the stakes were higher than for any other candidate, desperate as he was for political legitimacy and a possible shot at chief ministership. There was a popular impression that he tried to pay his way to victory by systematically distributing cash, ward-wise, through ministers and party functionaries. The EC did its best to monitor the electoral process, through an unprecedented number of central observers, flying squad teams, static surveillance teams and video surveillance teams. But these did not appear to have had a deterrence effect. There were complaints of innovative forms of inducement: milk tokens, mobile phone recharge coupons, newspaper subscriptions, cash transfer to no-frills bank accounts and payments to mobile wallets. But despite the registration of cases, arrests and identification of malpractices, it was clear that ruling party functionaries were continuing with their offer of inducements and allurements. When the Income Tax department submitted a report dated April 8 about its search and seizure action at the premises of Tamil Nadu Minister C. Vijaya Baskar, the EC concluded that the electoral process had been vitiated irredeemably. If public confidence in the democratic process is to be restored, the EC must ensure that candidates indulging in such electoral practices are debarred swiftly.

 

Transformative visit

Sheikh Hasina India visit 

India assures Bangladesh on Teesta water sharing, as the two countries broadbase ties

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's assurance to visiting Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of an "early resolution" to the Teesta water dispute has firmly brought the elephant in the room to the fore. Mr. Modi's statement, made in the presence of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, has been widely welcomed. It defined both India's commitment to the Teesta water-sharing agreement and the Central government's commitment to working with the West Bengal government to conclude the agreement for which the framework was initialled in 2011. The holdout is clearly political; hence the resolution will only come from political dialogue, and must be forged quickly. Both governments would do well to understand the advice hidden in Sheikh Hasina's message during a speech where she praised "all parties and all politicians" for coming together and clearing the land boundary agreement (LBA), to swap enclaves India and Pakistan held in each other's territory, in 2015. "Like in 1971, the entire Indian people came together for Bangladesh for it [LBA]," Ms. Hasina said, stressing the need for bipartisanship to prevail in ties. Credit for the strength of the relationship should go also to the previous Manmohan Singh government. Dr. Singh and Ms. Hasina expended significant political capital to transform ties, particularly on cooperation on terrorism, and the frameworks for the land swap and water-sharing arrangements.

Nevertheless, it is to the credit of both Mr. Modi and Ms. Hasina that India and Bangladesh were able to make progress on other issues such as energy cooperation and connectivity, signing a total of 22 agreements, with another 14 in the field of private investment and MoUs. The MoU on a framework for defence cooperation essentially formalised existing arrangements for defence exchanges, military training and high-level defence visits, while the agreement of cooperation on peaceful uses of nuclear energy endorsed the existing training programmes for Bangladeshi scientists at Indian facilities. India's announcement of further lines of credit of $5 billion, including $500 million for defence purchases, the largest such LoC extended to any country so far, is important. In a context where connectivity is the new currency to extend one's influence and where China is taking the lead with its Belt & Road initiative, India has chosen well to extend funds to rebuild old railway lines, and construct bridges, power plants, ports and roads in Bangladesh. Plans to revive inland waterway channels are also under way, and hold the potential to increase connectivity with Nepal and Bhutan. Not only will these measures strengthen the bonds with Bangladesh, with which India shares its longest international border as well as historical bonds, they will help India connect to itself, to the benefit especially of the northeastern States.

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