'Lost trust in EC': Civil society bodies to form citizen's vigilance commission

Under the banner of ‘Wake up Karnataka’, activists, former bureaucrats and experts held a six-hour long discussion to chart out ways to make the Election Commission (EC) accountable and discuss possible outcomes on the counting day.
Last Updated : 21 May 2024, 16:24 IST
Last Updated : 21 May 2024, 16:24 IST

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Bengaluru: Over 120 civil society organisations on Tuesday came together to chalk out an action plan to protect India’s democracy with its leaders pointing to the Election Commission’s “failures” that have raised concerns over the “possible manipulation” of the votes on counting day.

Under the banner of ‘Wake up Karnataka’, activists, former bureaucrats and experts held a six-hour long discussion to chart out ways to make the Election Commission (EC)  accountable and discuss possible outcomes on the counting day. More meetings are planned in New Delhi and other places.

Briefing the media, political economist Parakala Prabhakar said such an event was necessitated by the EC’s repeated failures.

“So, we have a serious and limited objective: that the people’s will should be reflected on the ballot, whatever that it is. If that were not to happen, the civil society will have to challenge it to assert the civic rights of the people,” he said.

Prabhakar said the way the election commissioners were appointed by keeping the chief justice of India out of the selection committee had cast serious doubts about the impartiality of the EC.

"We are not accusing the EC of anything. However, it is for the EC to establish that our doubts were unfounded," he said, noting that the EC's actions have further added to the doubts.

He said the EC's failure to take action against repeated violation of the model code of conduct by the prime minister and bigwigs, the refusal of the election commission to publish Form 17-C (the final count count of the polling data) "even today" and the role of the EC in denial of voting and the way the EC writes letters to the political parties do not give confidence to general public.

Retired IAS officer M G Devasahayam said elections in India never had the current cloud of doubts and suspicions which have arised this time.

"After the emergency of 1975-77, I was part of the electoral process as the district magistrate and returning officer of Chandigarh. The question before the people was almost the same: democracy or dictatorship? People, through a clairvoyance, stood as one and voted democracy back. The elections at that time were absolutely free and fair. Back to 2024, the atmosphere and the mood of the people is almost the same. The stumbling block is that by and large elections are not free and fair," he said.

Devasahayam said the EC's stand against cross verification of votes with VVPAT could lead to massive stealing of the mandate of the people. "As civil society, we are telling the returning officer that we are watching you. We don't doubt your integrity. All we want is that the will of the people prevails," he said.

Activist Teesta Setalvad said the complete capture of the media makes it crucial for a citizens vigilance commission comprising former judges, bureacrts and police officers to monitor the entire process of the EC.

"Is the EC following the law in issuing Form 17(C) and holding a secure counting process without fear and favour. We are also going to conduct independent media polls to show the growing support for opposition states. We believe that the government is jittery and leaders of the government are making vicious statements. We must at counting booth level, ensure that citizens remain vigilant," she said.

Congress working committee member Gurdeep Sappal said the general perception before the polls that the election was one-sided has changed. "People have voted in large numbers to vote this government out. Now, the number of votes counted will decide the outcome. It is the duty of the EC to ensure that people have faith in its process. Unfortunately, this trust is missing," he said.

He said the EC's assertion that political parties have to do their data analytics before coming to the commission was outrageous.

"Any institution which indulges in such whataboutery has something to hide. We never thought there would be a day in this country when the EC will refuse to give even the data of the votes polled on a particular day," he said.

He said in many constituencies, the returning officers have refused to provide data on the votes polled in booths. "This shows that something is not in order. We request the EC to instruct all the ROs to share the data with all the candidates," he said.

Nadeem Khan of United Against Hae said in Uttar Pradesh's Sambal and Amethi, voters have been lathicharged with police and security forces misbehaving with women. "We have lost faith in the EC. We have two doubts. First, they will steal our vote. Second, they will steal the mandate by forcing winning candidates to join their party. People will come together to ensure both don't happen," he said.

Linguist and cultural activist G N Devy said the need to be responsible and accountable to the idea of democracy, freedom and fair play in constitutional processes, from election to the transfer of power.

Farmer leader Badagalpura Nagendra said the election of 2024 was between the people of India and the dictator. "Dictators don't accept defeat, they will try to avoid accepting the result. We will not allow that to happen," he said.

Published 21 May 2024, 16:24 IST

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