Serious questions have been raised about the neutrality of the Election Commission and the fairness of some of its actions and decisions in recent months. Its conduct of the Gujarat election has come under criticism for its seeming bias in favour of the BJP. There was no convincing reason for it to withhold the announcement of the poll schedule for Gujarat when it announced the date for Himachal Pradesh. This was probably to enable the central and Gujarat governments to announce sops to the people before the model code came into force. On the last day of campaigning, it issued a notice to Rahul Gandhi for giving TV interviews after campaigning ended and ordered the filing of FIRs against channels which aired the interview. But it ignored Prime Minister Narendra Modi's roadshow on voting day, which was shown on TV. When Congress complained to the EC, it said it would act on the matter after the conclusion of polling. Later, it withdrew the notice to Rahul Gandhi, probably because it could not find a reason not to issue one to Modi, too.
The EC's flip-flop has drawn attention not only to its unfair conduct but also to Section 126 of the Representation of People Act, which bans election meetings and public display of poll-related material on the eve of polling. This was relevant till two decades ago when campaigning was done through public meetings, rallies, etc. But a lot of campaigning takes place through social media now, which cannot be checked. It may be unfair to disallow campaigning on traditional media when there are no restrictions on campaigning on social media. The commission has set up a committee to study this and suggest amendments to Section 126.
It is unfortunate that the Election Commission, which was considered a credible and impartial institution, has been embroiled in controversies and attracted adverse comments in recent months. Its decisions during the Gujarat election campaign have strengthened doubts about its impartiality. It is pointed out that the CEC and the members of the commission have previously been closely associated with Modi while he was chief minister of Gujarat. The Election Commission has a vital role in a democracy and its credibility should be beyond question. There is a strong case for changing the method of appointment of the CEC, who is now selected by the government of the day. If eligibility criteria are laid down and the selection is made by a panel in which both the government and the opposition are represented, that will enhance the acceptability of the commission. Both the Supreme Court and the Law Commission have supported such a procedure, and it is better than the present system.