The Constituent Assembly debates clearly state that Parliament is above the Election Commission. I said this before on the floor of this House. Shibban Lal Saxena made it very clear that the Election Commission should be appointed by a two-third majority of Parliament. I am not going into the Constituent Assembly debate, but, I want to quote from the Constituent Assembly debate of what Dr Ambedkar said. “The tenure of the Election Commissioner cannot be made a fixed and secured tenure. If there is no provision in the Constitution to prevent a fool or a naïve or a person who is likely to be under the thumb of the Executive.” We, as parliamentarians, that side, this side, have to take the responsibility to either amend the Constitution or bring legislation as to how the Election Commissioners are appointed.
My second point is, influence of money in elections. All the media have enough stories and facts are there, who got what, how they are spending. The problem is well known. What is the solution? Solution was, of course, given in 1962 by late Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji in a Private Members’ Bill. You should all read that Bill at some point; it is about private funding. A solution was given by Indrajit Gupta. Dr Manmohan Singh was part of the Committee; Ram Gopalji was part of the Committee; Somnath Chaterjee was part of the Committee; Malhotra was from the BJP. These were the recommendations. But, that was the Indrajit Gupta Committee. And from 1998, Trinamool Party has been on this. But, I would like to refer to the BJP Manifesto of 1999. I quote: “We will introduce necessary electoral reforms on the basis of the recommendations of the Indrajit Gupta Committee, the Goswami Committee, and the Law Commission Report so as to deal with the menace of defections, criminalisation, corruption, and to prevent electoral malpractices.” I am very glad that the BJP in its 2009 Manifesto said what they said.
The third problem is EVMs. We must not conclude a thing that if you are anti-EVMs, you are anti- technology. No. When the technology does not guarantee perfection, then, you have to question the technology. I want to quickly move on because we want ballot papers. Satish Misraji, Kapil Sibalji, and others, will be talking in great detail on this.
The fourth one is the multi-phase elections. In West Bengal, for 42 seats, elections were conducted in seven phases. I can have a full discussion on that. But, the country knows how these phases were done. UP had seven phases. So, the prime minister has also suggested, and this is also a part of the solution. He has suggested, “One Nation, One Election, maybe also, one phase.” Our view is — Don’t rush into anything; discuss it with constitutional experts, bring on the election experts, circulate a White Paper, get the political parties involved.
These are hard questions to be answered. Now, I would like to come to platforms. I call them cheat India platforms, Facebook, etc. So many of them are there.
International companies cannot interfere in Indian elections. This is nationalism. I am glad that the minister who is the law minister is also the IT minister. These companies, when they were started in the 90’s, with YouTube and all, they were startups. So, they were given the immunity of publishing. They were given the complete immunity from intermediate liabilities. It was started in the 90’s in America. We came here with an IT Act in 2000. In the 2008 Amendment Bill, these companies, in India, got the same freebies; that means, they were not responsible. Now, these companies are making big money; these companies are also using algorithms to decide on what goes where. Please revisit that 2008 IT Act. I am talking about legislation. I am not talking up in the air; I am not giving any old example. Revisit the IT Act.
My last point is about data misuse and surrogate advertising. Someone said that data is the new oil. There are serious questions on data. What do I mean by “surrogate”? If a political party advertises, it goes into that political party’s account. But what happens to people like “association of a billion mind” and so many others? It is like in whisky; you can’t advertise the whisky. So, you will advertise the mineral water and the glass. Sir, you can’t do that in an election. I am giving you the solution because there is so much on this data. We will give a notice to discuss how data is being misused where government data is used through companies like Jarvis Technology to target the voter. Everyone is saying that women voted more. Very good, we are also very happy. But, look into how many women were targeted after they got the gas cylinder, through the data which is available. The data is available to see.
It is my last point. I am happy that women voted. My point is on misuse of data. I say that I have got the solution in a good spirit, not as an Opposition member, because it is our data and our precious vote. ...(Interruptions)…We have done serious research. Our party has a view. A little bit of catcalls in the middle spoils it. The conclusion on the data is, in August, 2017, 9-0 the Supreme Court ruled on the Right to Privacy. The government keeps bringing up the Supreme Court that the Supreme Court said we needed to bring this Bill and that Bill. What have you done with the Right to Privacy?
Edited excerpts from Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien’s speech in the Rajya Sabha during a short duration discussion on need for electoral reforms in country, July 3.