Erosion of Election Commission as bulwark of democracy

:: M.Y.Siddiqui ::

For the first time, fingers are pointed at the independence of the ECI. People have witnessed sharp erosion in the independence and fairness of ECI. People are finding important decisions of ECI like announcement of date of elections and the enforcement of Model Code of Conduct increasingly as partisan and decided by the government. Officials from Gujarat, seen close to Prime Minister-Home Minister, have been appointed to the ECI, with the present Chief Election Commissioner not only being from Gujarat but also one who figures in the Nira Radia tapes where he talks to her about an acquaintance who claims he paid rupees nine crores to the Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court for a favourable judgement. Present CEC at that time was heading Air India. That CEC then did not bother to report this serious corruption of a judge to any authority but quietly mentioned it to a corporate lobbyist Nira Radia speaks volume about his integrity.

If one looks at the functioning of Indian democracy today, one is shocked to see complete erosion of democratic institutions to the detriment of Constitutional democracy and public interest. To begin with, Election Commission of India (ECI), created under Article 324 of the Constitution of India read with two laws, the Representation of the People Act, 1950 and 1951 respectively, a plethora of rules and regulations and a Model Code of Conduct, all with a reservoir of unbridled power to conduct fair and free elections in the country, has been degraded by an authoritarian fascist NDA Union Government so much so that people have lost faith in its efficacy as a credible institution of the very foundation of democracy as conceived and envisioned by the founding fathers of the Constitution. Last six years have witnessed unprecedented assault on this prime mover bed rock of the electoral processes required to establish and strengthen democracy. In the present circumstances, ECI is no longer the cradle of democracy much less its gate keeper.

For the first time, fingers are pointed at the independence of the ECI. People have witnessed sharp erosion in the independence and fairness of ECI. People are finding important decisions of ECI like announcement of date of elections and the enforcement of Model Code of Conduct increasingly as partisan and decided by the government. Officials from Gujarat, seen close to Prime Minister-Home Minister, have been appointed to the ECI, with the present Chief Election Commissioner not only being from Gujarat but also one who figures in the Nira Radia tapes where he talks to her about an acquaintance who claims he paid rupees nine crores to the Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court for a favourable judgement. Present CEC at that time was heading Air India. That CEC then did not bother to report this serious corruption of a judge to any authority but quietly mentioned it to a corporate lobbyist Nira Radia speaks volume about his integrity.

It is because of the erosion of public confidence in the independence of ECI for the first time since Independence in 1947 that people have become nervous about the integrity of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and there is now a persistent vociferous demand by the people and opposition parties to revert to ballot papers. Added to this, elections in the last six years have been increasingly influenced by money power, as never before. This is because ECI has failed to enforce the limits of spending by political parties, but also because parties and candidates have begun to get unlimited amount of money from their corporate cronies. Apart from not fixing limits of spending by political parties and not making laws to ensure that parties and candidates receive and spend money only through banking channels, cashless transactions which PM wanted to impose through demonetization, three retrograde changes in the law of election funding have increased the role of money power and the corporates hijacking the elections

Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act, brought primarily to prevent party’s candidates and public servants from getting and being influenced by foreign funds, has been amended to allow foreign funds to incorporate donations, which earlier with a maximum of 7.5 per cent of corporate profits, has now been removed to allow unlimited corporate funding. Worst of all, a new anonymous political funding machinery has been introduced via the instrument of banking channels in the name of electoral bonds, paving the way for bribes by corporates to the ruling parties. Device of electoral bonds that maintains anonymity of donors has helped the ruling BJP receive more than 90 per cent of thousands of crores since it was introduced in the General Budget 2017-18. It has, among other coercive funding from other dubious sources, helped BJP buy out legislators in states after states to prop up and expand its governments by bringing down opposition ruled state governments with complicit governors.

People remember the golden period of ECI presided over by T.N.Seshan in 1980s for his stellar performances as CEC when the Commission was known for its prowess, as envisaged in the scheme of the Constitution, to conduct free and fair poll. His was a shining glory when the Election Commission functioned with panache and aplomb by treating all political parties equally and alike without any overt and covert favour to the ruling party. In contrast, the current ECI has become a lackey of the one-man NDA Union Government in the process losing its sheen as an independent, fair, objective, non-partisan credible electoral machinery (institution) of repute to enjoy unhindered goodwill and trust of the people!

About the Author

M Y Siddiqui

Mr M Y Siddiqui is the former Director (PR&S) at Government of India, as Spokesman of various Ministries (New Delhi). After his retirement he is now a well known columnist and critic. He writes on government plans & implementation and issues of deprived segments of India.

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