Giving Election Commission the Due It Deserves

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Polling officials sit inside a hall of a school as they inspect the performances of electronic voting machines and other election material before heading to their  polling stations on the eve of the first phase of General elections in Dibrugarh, Assam, . AP Photo/Altaf Qadri
Poll officials sit inside a school as they inspect electronic voting machines before heading to their polling stations on the eve of the first phase of General elections in Assam. AP 

Handling a country with an electorate of 814.5 million voters is no child’s play and India’s poll panel deserves respect for it

TAHMINA LASKAR

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f the veteran Indian television journalist Prannoy Roy is to be believed then India’s elections are the world’s envy and the governance by the Election Commission of India is one of its kind; so much so that administrators from other countries have come to India to learn about the poll panel and its mantras. “Please give the Election Commission the respect it deserves,” an emotional Roy added.

While the first part of his statement, whether or not the Indian elections are the world’s envy is a matter of debate but the efforts by the Election Commission in running the entire election circus are indeed laudable. The EC was an otherwise regular constitutionally established body without much steam until TN Seshan came along and gave it its sense of gravity and depth.

Seshan, who took over as the election commissioner in 1991, was perhaps one of the most dynamic administrators India has known and his stint with the EC made him even more popular.

However Seshan’s singlehanded administration was seen by many as dictatorial and authoritarian and thus came about a multi-member EC with a Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.

Handling a country with an electorate of 814.5 million voters is no child’s play and that too when politics is at its nadir; personal attacks and objectionable speeches form most of the political discourse with little semblance to what actually is a political debate.

When one of my colleagues pointed out that on the action taken by the poll panel that “EC is like a messenger which can only deliver letters and take no action” my reaction at the first instance was “what a farce?” But then with only quasi-judicial powers at its disposal what more could be expected of the EC!

It can only take cognizance while the judiciary remains the real guardian. But will the already overburdened judiciary ensure the speedy disposals of such complaints? The answer most likely is a no.

The EC’s orders should be complied with by political offenders and if not then cases of contempt should be lodged imposing strict penalties for non-compliance.

What the poll panel is facing right now is the proverbial double-edged sword of not encroaching on judiciary and still remaining the effective executive that it is without earning the legislature’s wrath.

This is where administrative law comes to the rescue which blurs the lines between these constituents to give way to good governance. The poll panel has been evolving each day; it is rediscovering itself with each elections and is one of the most effective executive wings of the democracy.

The poll panel is regarded as guardian of free and fair elections. In every election, it issues a Model code of Conduct for political parties and candidates to conduct elections in free and fair manner. The Commission issued the code for the first time in 1971 (5th Election) and revised it from time to time.

It lay down guidelines for conduct of political parties and candidates during elections. The need of the hour is that EC comes out of its mere persuasive role of ensuring electoral morality and for that serious reforms are necessary and one of them would be to give extraordinary powers to enforce EC orders at least during the elections.

The popular discourse goes that EC has no spine and acts merely on political pressure in a rubber stamp manner with inherent biases is not entirely true and I hope for a day when for the sake democratic ideals this should even hold partially true.

To all policy makers and legislators, I would say “give the election commission the respect it deserves and make its contempt punishable”.
All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Caravan

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