Former Chief Election Commissioner of India, Mr. T.S. Krishnamurthy, who presided over elections in the largest democracy in the world, India, shared his experiences during talks in Toronto and Vancouver last week. His visit was co-sponsored by Canada India Foundation (CIF).
The event in Toronto was attended by prominent dignitaries including former Prime Minister of Canada, The Right Honourable John Turner and the new Consul General of India in Canada, Mr. Akhilesh Mishra, as well as executives from CIF, Economic Club of Canada, Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce, Canada India Business Council and Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.
And in Vancouver he had an interaction with reporters at the Ashiana Restaurant (in Surrey).
When he first joined the Election Commission in year 2000, Mr. Krishnamurthy broke the tradition of Election Commissioners in India being appointed only from India’s elite Indian Administrative Service (IAS), by becoming the first officer to be appointed from the equally important but less high-profiled Indian Revenue Service (IRS), a testament to his personal reputation and integrity. Speaking of the unique features of India’s electoral process, he said “No court can interfere in the election process in India from the date of announcement of elections to the announcement of the results of the election”, adding “Such a provision exists in no other country in the world”. Another feature unique to India, according to him, was the existence in the national constitution of a special chapter devoted to the Election Commission. While not being autocratic, India’s Election Commission had both the responsibility and the authority to take any course of action to address an election issue as determined by it, Mr. Krishnamurthy said.
As the Chief Election Commissioner who oversaw the first use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) in India, Mr. Krishnamurthy defended the EVM’s against charges of potential for tampering. He pointed out that the devices, which were invented and built in India, had 10 security safeguards built-in, had been certified by India’s leading institute of technology and although often challenged, tampering of EVM’s had never been successfully demonstrated in court. The key benefits of EVM’s in India, according to him, were ease of use by populace with a high level of illiteracy, savings of paper and fast tabulation and announcement of results.
Speaking of some of the challenges faced by Indian democracy, Mr. Krishnamurthy said that the political party system and party dynamics presented the weakest link in the democratic process in India and emphasized the need for electoral reform in this area. To address this, he said, the Election Commission established a model code of conduct for the parties, thereby creating a level playing field for both the ruling party and the others, and strictly implemented it, imposing fines and penalties for violation even against the ruling party when warranted, and transferring public election officials who had a conflict of interest. Among potential reforms he suggested was the inclusion of the negative voting option, which would enable voters to vote against a specific candidate, and a different option than the “first-past-the-post” method of choosing the winner of an election contest. He cited former Prime Minister John Turner’s statement that “elections do not guarantee democracy, people do”.
In Toronto, Akhilesh Mishra complimented Canada India Foundation for its leadership in advancing Canada India relations and said that he looked forward to working closely with CIF. He also thanked members of the local Indo-Canadian community and the people of Toronto for their warmth in welcoming him in his new role. Ms. Rhiannon Trail, CEO of Economic Club of Canada, thanked Mr. Krishnamurthy, Canada India Foundation and all the attendees for making the event a success.
Canada India Foundation (CIF) is a national, non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization formed to foster support for stronger bi-lateral relations between Canada and India; to educate Canadians on the changing face of India; and to increase the participation of Indo-Canadians in the public policy process in Canada.