Is that the headline for an advertisement we could see shortly? And similar ones for all political parties in India?
With Parliament being forced by Anna Hazare to discuss and, sooner or later, table some form of a Lokpal Bill, political parties have no choice but to significantly improve the quality of their candidates for any election.
There will be heightened public and media attention on candidates in any future election – will the candidate pass the Anna Hazare test? Is the candidate honest? Is the candidate likely to be corrupt if returned to power? Is the party he represents honest? Is the party likely to be corrupt if returned to power?
Even with the Lokpal, it’s not that the entire country will turn honest overnight. Indeed, it never will. However, there will be a measure of relative honesty and dishonesty – which means that candidates who are overtly corrupt or criminal will find it difficult to defend their characters if the public was made aware of them.
And the public will. Organisations such as Action for Good governance and Networking in India (AGNI) routine vet and publish details of candidates well before elections, giving voters an opportunity to make an informed choice.
For example, according to AGNI, in the last assembly elections, 82 candidates in Greater Mumbai had criminal cases against them.
Given the current mood against corruption sweeping the country, these 82 would be in big trouble if the elections were held today.
AGNI (I must underline that I use AGNI as an illustration; there are many NGOs doing similar work) suggests, for example, that one should vote for:
Candidates who have no criminal record of any kind whatsoever.
Candidates who make clear, honest and complete disclosures, as required by law, of assets/liabilities, including PAN number, pending criminal charges if any, and education – also disclose source of income / livelihood.
Candidates who make annual public disclosure of his/her assets and liabilities.
Candidates who eschew disturbances, use of money and muscle power, adhere to the Model Code of Conduct for political parties/candidates.
NGOs have been publishing information on candidates in all the elections for almost two decades now – but the Anna Hazare movement will certainly provoke more voters to sift through the data – and base their choice of candidate on such data.
It’s not just the voters; media has learned that it is profitable to focus on anti-corruption stories. Esha News service monitored all news channels from 3 April to 11 April, measuring, among other factors, whether the stories were positive/negative. The results? News channel coverage was negative only in the cases of 65 clips and positive in an astonishing 5592 instances.
With results like this, one can certainly expect that news channels will not tinker with a winning formula – they will amplify all stories of the dishonest – because viewers have proved they enjoy watching such stories.
With NGOs, voters and media paying increased attention to candidates, political parties will have to come to terms that they will have to evaluate prospective candidates using new parameters.
Vetting thousands of candidates will be no small or easy task, requiring skills that most of the politicians would not have. Is it time, then, for a human resources department in all political parties?