Electoral malpractices by political parties and candidates is quite common in our country, but when the malaise afflicts a top national-level institute whose motto is “building capacity for good governance”, it’s time to sit up and take notice. On 15 January 2014, a high-powered committee looking into allegations of malpractice in the election of members of the executive committee of the New Delhi-based Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) submitted its report recommending that the election be declared null and void. A year later, the general body of the institute accepted the findings of the report.
The IIPA came into being on 29 March 1954, following a survey of public administration in the country by the late Paul H Appleby, then a consultant with the Ford Foundation. The survey had been commissioned by the Central government and the institute boasted of having the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru as its first president. That post is currently held by Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari.
The IIPA is an autonomous body funded by the Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. It has more than 11,000 members, including 140 overseas members, and has a nationwide network with 23 regional branches.
The election for the 2012-16 term of the executive committee, the top managing body of the institute, had been conducted in September 2012. Some of the candidates who lost got suspicious and started gathering information by various means, including the use of the Right to Information, on the way the election had been conducted. Forty-five IIPA members from across the country complained about electoral malpractice and irregularities to Ansari and IIPA chairman TN Chaturvedi.
To look into the allegations, Chaturvedi constituted a high-powered committee comprising former chief information commissioner AN Tiwari, former central vigilance commissioner Pratyush Sinha and former secretary general of the Rajya Sabha Vivek K Agnihotri. The panel was also asked to suggest an alternative mode of election.
After getting the ballot papers examined at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory,Chandigarh, and considering oral and written representations by nearly two-dozen members, the committee held the allegations of electoral malpractice to be true. It observed that 684 ballots — more than one-third of the total number — were invalid and concluded that the election had been held in violation of the byelaws of the institute. Forensic examination had revealed the presence of multiple handwritings on some ballot papers and the same handwriting repeated across different sets of ballot papers. The committee held that this amounted to compromising on the cardinal rule of secret ballot.
The 20 elected members in the 28-member executive committee opposed any discussion of the high-powered committee’s 114-page report, following which Ansari ordered a special meeting of the general body. At the meeting held on 16 January, the report was discussed at length and the election was held to be null and void. The elected members chose to walk out of the meeting.
Last March, the executive committee had decided not to implement the recommendations of the high-powered committee. “The executive committee is dominated by members who had been elected undemocratically,” says HR Bangia, who resigned last year from his post as the honorary secretary of the IIPA’s regional branch in Haryana. “How could they take such a decision? Those who had lost the election were utterly shocked.”
Bangia alleges that IIPA members were aware of the electoral irregularities for a long time but this was the first time that some of them complained. The executive committee met 12 times between 3 January 2013 and 15 January 2014 to discuss the allegation of electoral malpractices, but the 20 elected members did not allow the high-powered committee’s recommendations to be considered.
The high-powered committee has also recommended that the existing system of postal ballots should be replaced by a system of online voting. It has also suggested that the term of the executive members should be reduced from four to three years and no member should be allowed to hold office for more than two consecutive terms.