Saturday, March 31, 2018

Age Debate: Are doubts over EC valid?


Published : Mar 29, 2018
The Election Commission needs to re-establish its image of being an impartial body.

 The EC’s conduct even at the time of Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat was far from impartial. (Representational image)
Many times EC has been partial to BJP
Pankaj Sharma

The Election Commission (EC) is one of the most respected institutions in India. Its impartiality is essential to ensure free and fair elections. It is unfortunate that in the past few years there have been several occasions when the nation witnessed thick clouds of doubts over the EC’s integrity. These clouds become darker when we find a leader of the ruling party declaring the poll dates for Karnataka even before the EC’s announcement. How could this happen?
The EC’s conduct even at the time of Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat was far from impartial. The timing for poll dates in both these states had raised several doubts. In 2012, the results of state elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat were announced on the same day. But last year the elections to these two states were scattered over weeks — the polling dates in Himachal preceding those in Gujarat.
The EC notification brings into force a Model Code of Conduct forbidding any new concession or project announcement by a ruling party as it might influence voters. So, while the Model Code of Conduct came into force in Congress-ruled Himachal Pradesh, the EC delayed the notification for BJP-ruled Gujarat, giving ample time to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to inaugurate new projects and announce new schemes.
One more indication of the EC’s partial behavior was slapping a notice on Congress president Rahul Gandhi for giving an interview to a TV channel a day before the second phase of polling in Gujarat. The EC’s “fairness” raised serious questions at that time: Did the EC  react when in 2014, a “selfie” flaunting the lotus symbol outside a polling booth by BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi went viral on social media? Did it react when this time Mr Modi went on a “semi-roadshow” in an open car after casting his vote? Why is it that the EC, that never even mildly raises an eyebrow when Mr Modi flouts the “code of conduct”, was so prompt in objecting to Mr Gandhi’s interview and filing an FIR against the TV channel? Why the EC did not react when, in 2014, Mr Modi gave several interviews between different phases of polling?
The EC also ignored the TV interviews of BJP president Amit Shah and railway minister Piyush Goyal during the voting phases. But the bigger issue is the farce of stringing out polls over weeks and months. The EC may have a decent reputation for impartiality the world over, but it is also laughed at for its insistence on a lengthy poll schedule that defies logic and paralyses decision-making.The EC’s impartiality comes under serious doubt when it doesn’t pay attention to the complaints about malfunctioning EVMs.
In the past few years, the EC has lost its reputation as an autonomous constitutional body entrusted with ensuring fair election, and words like “puppet”, “completely shameless” and “spineless” are being used for it. It must try to re-establish its impartiality.
Former chief election commissioner T.N. Seshan awakened a sleepy institution to its own powers in the early 1990s. After that the EC had grown in stature as a neutral and impartial minder of the poll process. It had cleaned up many of the visible distortions. But the institutional integrity is not something that can be acquired and left unattended, it must be — and it must be seen to be — constantly reiterated and upheld.
The writer is an office-bearer of the Congress Party

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