EC credibility takes a beating in 2019 LS poll

By Yashwardhan Joshi. Dated: 5/11/2019 11:44:20 PM

Is the Election Commission really free and fair? The institution that has been conducting free and fair polls over the years finds its own conduct coming under public glare this time round. Though fingers had been raised at its functioning in 2017 when it announced separate schedules for Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat in what was said to be an attempt to help the ruling BJP, it is in the on going Lok Sabha elections that its credibility has taken a beating.
So much so that many in the Opposition feel that EC now stands not for the Election Commission but for 'eroded credibility'. All this while it has failed to take any action against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah for the seemingly blatant violations of the model code of conduct and the Representation of the People Act.
When Sections 1 and 3 of the model code clearly state that no candidate an cause communal tension and when Sections 123 and 125 of the Representation of the People Act are equally clear that no candidate can promote feelings of enmity and hatred between different classes, the EC finds no violation in PM's speech that opposition candidates have been forced to flee to constituencies where the majority has become minority.
But when BSP leader Mayawati urged the Muslims not to vote for the Congress to avoid the division of the minority vote, she was temporarily barred from campaigning. Similarly, BJP leaders Yogi Adiyanath and Maneka Gandhi were condemned and temporarily barred from campaigning after they sought votes on communal lines. But that too after the Supreme Court reprimanded the poll body for not taking action against the violators. Doesn't this paint the Election Commission as an institution partial to the PM and the BJP president?
"Why would a prime minister talk of minority and majority. Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas. You rule by majority, but you cannot rule for majority. It's completely distasteful (PM's speech),"says RLD leader Jayant Chaudhary.
The EC also did not take any action against Modi for a roadshow after he had cast his vote in Gujarat, though Section 4 (6) of the model code bars any procession on polling day. Modi was also given a clean chit as the Election Commission did not see any violation of the model code in Modi seeking votes in memory of Pulwama martyrs and for the Balakot strike, though the poll body had earlier declared that the armed forces cannot be dragged into the poll campaign.
According to Senior lawyer Santosh Hedge, the PM can speak for his government, its policies, but the soldiers of the country do not belong to any government. They are India's soldiers. What happened in Pulwama or Balakot, India did it. It is not this government or that government. Which ever government is in power, is tasked to take necessary security measures.
"What the PM's speech imply is to basically identify the army with the government, and that is dangerous for democracy," he adds. The EC also seems to have favoured the PM when it suspended a poll officer for searching a car in PM's convoy, though the rules clearly state that an SPG protected is not exempted from search.
In fact, there were eight complaints against the PM so far for violation of the election rules, but he was given clean chit in all, and so was Amit Shah who had also referred to the armed forces in his election speeches.
According to political observers, allegations of partiality by the EC seem to hold water since the complaints against the opposition candidates were disposed of in 3-6 days, while it took more than a month to look into the complaints against Modi. And no notice was given to the PM to reply to the complaints against him, though it is an accepted practice.
And taking so much time to dispose of complaints serves little purpose because once election is over the damage is already done. Going to courts then makes no sense. Jaiveer Shergill of the Congress says the model code of conduct has been so blatantly violated by the PM that it should be called the Modi code of conduct.
"Sitting on opposition complaints for more than three weeks and transferring officers in States only where there is non-BJP government, that's when you come to know that the mission of the EC is only to salvage the sinking fortunes of the BJP," he says.
In five of the complaints against Modi and Amit Shah, one of the election commissioners in the three-member poll panel had given dissenting views, but the views were not made public.
Three former chief election commissioners have concurred that the grounds for rejecting the complaints along with the relevant provisions of the model code or advisories should have been communicated to the complainant. "In the interest of transparency, a core value of EC, dissenting view if any should also be available to people to know,"says former CEC Nazim Zaidi.
However, there was no mention of it on the EC's website. In another case of apparent partiality, BJP candidate from Bhopal, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, has been allowed to contest despite she being a terror accused and out on bail. Jayant says the EC has been completely ineffective in battling criminalisation of politics. It's time the EC stood up for this. And for all the democratic values it embodies.
Yashwardhan Joshi is a Journalist of long standing and commentator on issues of Administration and Social Issues.



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