By Shahid Jamal
The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering election process in India. It was created under Article 324 of the Constitution of India. The primary duty of the Election Commission is to conduct free and fair elections. Since its inception it has tried to maintain its credibility but in past few years people in general and politics in particular have raised many questions in the way it functions. Recently, a group of retired bureaucrats and diplomats, in an open letter to the President of India, also expressed their concern over the functioning of the Election Commission. They have mentioned in the letter that the institution of Election Commission is suffering from a crisis of credibility today.
How the Modi government has destroyed the key institutions is not hidden from anybody: from the Supreme Court to the RBI, from CBI to EC and from CVC to ED is completely under the control of the Modi government. Let me enumerate in detail how Modi has hijacked the autonomy of the constitutional bodies of India.
It was a shameful moment for the nation when in January 2019 the four judges of the Supreme Court had to organise a press conference to share their grievances, in which they clearly said that the administration of the Supreme Court is not in order. Many things that are less than desirable have happened in the last few months. The judges were not satisfied with the way the Apex Court was functioning. Despite their protest the government acted as if nothing has happened to the Indian Judiciary.
Under Modi rule an unprecedented and dire situation has arisen. An organized loot in the form of demonetization was done without discussing the pros and cons with the RBI Governor. The blunder of the Prime Minister has cost the youth of the nation scores of jobs.
The recent war among the CBI officers and the intervention of the government have also exposed the Modi regime. The CBI’s role as the handmaiden of the central government, its misuse to target opposition parties and political opponents have destroyed the credibility of an agency that was supposed to be in the frontline of the fight against corruption. Now it is obvious that the CBI acts as a puppet in the hands of Narendra Modi.
Among all the government institutions which came under the political influence of Modi government, the political subversion of the Election Commission of India is the worst threat to democracy. Needless to say that a healthy democracy can only be ensured with the free and fair elections and for conducting a free and fair election the institution organizing it should be genuinely independent and politically unbiased. If the function of the Election Commission is under political subversion, the democracy will die.
It is clear from the conduct of the Election Commission that it has lost its credibility. From the date of announcement of Lok Sabha elections 2019 till now, the so-called autonomous body of the Election Commission seems to be functioning on the will and direction of the ruling dispensation. I am saying this with a full sense of responsibility because once Prime Minister Narendra Modi was done with his 157 inaugurations across the country, the Election Commission announced the poll dates of Lok Sabha election on March 10, 2019.
Lok Sabha elections are going on across the country in different phases and the nation is celebrating it as a carnival. Almost every day hundreds of rallies are being held. All political parties are targeting each other; political leaders are exaggerating the amount of work they have done and also counting the failure of the political opponents. Poll observers have been appointed by the Election Commission to ensure that no political leader violates the Model Code of Conduct but it is surprising that in the presence of poll observers the leaders are publicly violating the Model Code of Conduct by spreading hatred and making misogynistic remarks against their political opponents in their speeches.
Sadhvi Pragya, a key accused in Malegaon blast, is dramatically fielded by the BJP as a candidate for Lok Sabha election. After getting ticket from the party, she has publicly dishounored Martyr Hemant Karkare who lost his life in 26/11 Mumbai attack. Sadhvi is on bail on health ground but she is healthy enough to contest election and attend political meetings. Despite acknowledging the comments of Sadhvi Pragya on Martyr Hemant Karkare, the Election Commission has lately served a notice to her but has taken no action to cancel her candidature. The Election Commission has only warned her to mind her language.
Though in a positive move, the Election Commission banned Yogi Adityanath, Mayawati and Azam Khan for a couple of days for violating the Model Code of Conduct, the amount of action the Election Commission has taken so far is not enough as the political leaders are still violating Codes with impunity.
The clear violation of the Model Code of Conduct can be seen on March 27, when Modi made a public announcement on TV channels about the successful launch of India’s first anti-satellite missile as if it was launched from the BJP headquarters and it was only his feat. As we all know that DRDO runs on taxpayer’s money; so taking credit for it is shameful and that too when the Model Code of Conduct is operational.
As far as violating the Model Code of Conduct is concerned, Narendra Modi tops among the leaders. He again violated the Model Code of Conduct by publicly making communally polarized speeches at Wardha on April 1 and Nanded on April 6, when the opposition asked the Election Commission to take proper action against him. The Election Commission clearly defended him and declared that there was no violation of the Model Code of Conduct.
Despite a clear warning from the Election Commission prohibiting political parties from using the name of armed forces for political gain in any manner during election campaign, Modi went ahead and asked people to dedicate their votes to the Martyrs of Pulwama and heroes of Balakot air strikes. India has seen many Prime Ministers losing elections but has never seen a PM losing his marbles. Although the Election Commission acknowledged the comment of Modi, it didn’t serve him any notice nor disqualified him from contesting the election. Since he is the Prime Minister, it seems the Election Commission can’t take action against him. If this is the logic of the Election Commission, this would be a murder of democracy. Indeed this is also a sign that India is heading towards dictatorship and the dictator would be above the law. The Election Commission is not merely ignoring the repeated blatant violations of the Model Code of Conduct by the Prime Minister but it is also favouring him by being lenient to him.
On April 16, the Election Commission suspended Mohammed Mohsin, a Karnataka cadre officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) for checking Modi’s helicopter after he had landed at Sambalpur in Odisha for addressing an election meeting. Is Modi above the law of the land? Is he above the constitution? Does the Model Code of Conduct not apply to him? These are the pertinent questions which can be asked of the Election Commission of India. By suspending the officer, the Election Commission has sent out a clear message to all other poll observers that if they follow the rules they will be penalized and suspended.
In a recent article, “A crisis of credibility?”, former Chief Election commissioner of India, S.Y. Quraishi, writes that the Election Commission has come under the scanner in 2019 general elections like never before in the wake of incidents involving a breach of Model Code of Conduct, particularly those by the ruling party. Despite having the constitutional autonomy, why is the Election Commission of India buckling under pressure? Mr. Quraishi provides a solution to this problem. He writes: “The genesis of the problem lies in the flawed system of appointments of Election Commissioners, who are appointed unilaterally by the government of the day. This problem can be settled once and for all by depoliticizing appointments through a broad based consultation as in other countries.” Being an Ex-Chief Election Commissioner of India, Mr. Quraishi knows well the root cause for the political subversion of the Election Commission.
It is time to think from a different angle on this issue, so that the transparency, credibility and autonomy of the Election Commission can be maintained. The Election Commission of India is the lifeline for the Indian democracy. It can’t afford to remain under political subversion because if this institution dies the democracy will automatically die. So to keep alive the democracy, the autonomy of the Election Commission is a must.
Not only the Election Commission but all the constitutional and autonomous institutions are losing their credibility in the eyes of citizens. It is high time for all the institutions in general and the Election Commission of India in particular to restore its constitutional power without getting influenced by any political leader or party. Else the Indian democracy will end up as a pure anarchy.
Shahid Jamal is an alumnus of Jamia Millia Islamia. Currently he is teaching PGT History in Crescent School, Ansari Road, New Delhi. He regularly presents papers in national and International seminars and writes for Urdu Newspapers and online portals.
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