OPINION | Unable to tame PM, EC and SC have failed

Both the EC and the SC have let down Indian voters on issues that have direct bearing on  the ongoing General Elections.

Five phases of this long drawn-out, utterly indecent election will be over by end of the day on Monday, May 6. And the Supreme Court is still reminding the Election Commission (EC) to decide on the complaints of violations of the model code of conduct by the man holding the highest executive office in the country since the day elections were announced. By now, with five clean chits to the prime minister, it is quite clear that the EC is compromised. It will not act on the complaints until it is forced to by the court, and when it does, it will let the prime minister off on almost any ground it can find. The Election Commission of Sunil Arora could not do otherwise.

We, the people, are fools to have believed that if not its own sense of duty, at least public outrage and the Supreme Court’s orders would force the EC to act on the prime minister’s egregious violations of election campaign ethics. Instead, on each complaint against him that it has decided so far, it has bent over backwards to find a loophole through which to let the complaint sink. The signal was clear from the beginning. The Election Commission waited patiently until the prime minister finished announcing all kinds of sops to various sections of people to announce the elections. When it did announce the schedule, it was clear that the only purpose of the zigzag schedule, with 2-3-4-7 phases in states that had never had multiple phase elections, was to allow the prime minister – the BJP’s only campaigner who can draw crowds and votes – to campaign in every possible constituency and maximise his chance of winning.

Then the prime minister decided to throw the EC’s model code of conduct to the winds and do as he pleased. When he came on TV to announce to the anti-satellite weapon test, the EC first put it out that it was a national security issue and so the PM was not at fault. When it was pointed out that it was no national security crisis or emergency that required an address to the nation while the code of conduct was in force and that it was a mere defence test, albeit well-timed and calculated to bolster Narendra Modi’s sagging image, the EC finally found a technicality – neatly 'arranged' for it by the prime minister himself – to rule that it was not a violation of the poll code: prime minister had used a private broadcaster, and not the official Doordarshan, to boast to the nation! It did not matter to the EC that the prime minister had disregarded the spirit and ethic of the model code of conduct. Only that he had not seemingly violated the text of the code.

“Don’t use armed forces to seek votes”, the EC sent out a circular to political parties, after the PM and the BJP put up posters of the Pulwama martyrs and Wg Cdr Abhinandan, etc., at their rallies and sought votes in their names; don’t use religion to seek votes, the poll code says. But the prime minister has gone on doing exactly this day in and day out since the elections were announced. So long as he can cleverly do his dog whistle politics, the EC will pretend it did not hear anything.

“Congress has insulted Hindus…Rahul Gandhi is running away to a constituency where the majority is in minority”, “Will you dedicate your first vote to the Pulwama martyrs and to those who carried out the Balakot airstrike?...If you press the Lotus button on the EVM, the vote comes directly into my account”, the prime minister screams in rally after rally, but CEC Sunil Arora finds nothing wrong with any of this. Although his officers on the field do, and his fellow election commissioners also apparently do. What message has Arora sent down to the officials on the ground trying to enforce the model code of conduct and run a free and fair election? That the PM’s violations are not violations and there’s no point in them reporting them as such? That the PM is above the code of conduct or any such thing and so his helicopter and aircraft cannot be searched and anyone who dares to will be suspended?

The prime minister, desperate because he cannot win elections on his economic and development performance, will not give up his me-only-patriot-they-all-anti-national, me-only-saviour of Hindus-they-all-appeasers of Muslims politics. And the EC has buried itself in that very samshaan-kabrastan of Indian politics. The poll code of conduct is dead, the Representation of the People Act doesn’t matter. Only Modi and his desperate need to win the election at any cost do. NaMo TV – of which Josef Goebbels would have been proud -- drones on.


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Sixty-six retired bureaucrats feel so embarrassed about the actions and inaction of the EC that they write a letter to the President of India requesting him to ensure that the EC performs its duty without fear or favour. To no avail. The ‘blog minister’ in the government rages against the bureaucrats, all the smaller vultures circle around the bureaucrats and their letter. The EC gets the message. It knows what not to do.

Military veterans write to the President to ensure that the armed forces are not exploited for votes. First, government ministers say, “Ah, some veterans did not sign the petition, the veterans who circulated the letter are lying”. The ‘blog minister’ blogs again; the defence minister virtually calls the veterans Congress agents. The EC gets the message. It knows what not to do.

EVMs malfunction, VVPATs record votes wrongly, and in all such cases so far across the country, from about 2015 onwards, the malfunctioning EVM always cast votes to the BJP invariably, regardless of what button was pressed. No one knows why. But the EC remains stubbornly and wrongly wedded to the idea that EVMs cannot be tampered with, and that all is now well with the VVPATs in use.   

Or, look at the curious case of Maneka Gandhi. A six-time MP and Union minister threatens Muslims in her constituency to “vote for her or else…” The EC, egged on to act, punishes her with a two-day campaign ban for the offence. But days later, after having been thus punished, the lady repeats the offence. And this time, the EC lets her off with a warning! Punishment for first offence, a mere warning for repeating it?

What will it do in the case of Yogi Adityanath, against whom it has sent a third notice? Warned and let off the first time, given a three-day ban the second time, he has felt emboldened to shoot back at the EC, “The election dias is not for singing bhajans, it’s for attacking the Opposition.” Attacking the Opposition not on issues, but by calling them “Babur ki aulad”. 

The only job — albeit the most crucial one for our democracy — the EC is tasked with is ensuring free and fair elections. Ensuring that the ruling party and its leaders and the prime minister of the country do not ride roughshod over the code of conduct and over the institution that is supposed to enforce it is essential to do that job. Regardless of what the outcome of the elections will be, the Election Commission of Sunil Arora has failed to do so.  

But it is not only the Election Commission that has failed us this election. The other constitutional high priest of our democracy, the Supreme Court, too failed us over one crucial issue – Electoral Bonds. The ruling party has collected untold crores from unknown sources, many of which may be inimical to the sovereignty and interests of India, thanks to the subterfuge indulged in by the ‘blog minister’ to bring the bonds scheme into effect. A petition was filed against it two years ago. The Supreme Court sat on the petition until close to the elections, then said there was not enough time to consider all the issues involved and even refused to stay the operation of the scheme, thereby letting political parties – especially the BJP -- collect thousands of crores to run the election campaign. Pray, what are the deep issues involved in the matter that the court needed more time to consider about a scheme that plainly, brazenly negates transparency and endangers democracy and India’s sovereignty?  

The EC routinely transfers officials in the states to ensure a free and fair election. It is perhaps time to do the same at the top of the Election Commission itself. There are still three weeks in the election process, two more phases of campaigning and polling, and four days between the end of voting and counting day. We may yet be able to salvage the democratic process by having a committee of former chief election commissioners oversee the process. Otherwise, our democracy may well be facing a “qatl ki raat”.   

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