EC discovers its powers, finally

election commission of india

The Election Commission has finally been forced to act on some serious complaints of violation of the model code of conduct, and though the actions might be considered late, they are certainly welcome. It has slapped campaign bans on four leaders — Yogi Adityanath and Maneka Gandhi of the BJP, Mayawati of the BSP and Azam Khan of the Samajwadi Party — for different periods, as punishment for the offensive remarks they made in the last few days. A pro-active and duty-conscious commission would have acted earlier on the complaints. It told the Supreme Court that it did not have the power to act, inviting a rebuke from the court. The commission seems to have discovered its power after the court’s reprimand. The Election Commission might need more powers in dealing with various electoral offences, but commissions in the past have used existing and available powers without being timid. They have not pleaded helplessness. There are complaints of violations of the model code not only against these four, but against others too, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Will the commission act on these complaints, too, which are equally serious? 

The action taken against the four leaders might be considered inadequate, too -- just a rap on the knuckles. The comments that they made were not just offences under the election rules but crimes under other laws relating to communal harmony, treatment of women, etc. Adityanath’s comment was rabidly communal and Azam Khan’s comment on actor Jaya Prada was abominable. Both are serial offenders, too. It is a matter of shame that the leaders do not seem to be contrite, even after the commission’s reprimand and action. Mayawati has sought to challenge it in the court. All these are senior leaders with decades of experience in politics and public life. But they showed that they did not care for the basic norms of electoral contest and democratic culture, courtesy and decorum in public life.

Standards of public life and the norms of electoral conduct have deteriorated over the years and the benchmarks have steadily gone down. It is not just because the quality of human material in politics is getting poorer but because there is an inability or unwillingness on the part of democratic institutions and regulatory bodies to assert themselves and push back against pressure and coercion. Only the first phase of a long seven-phase campaign is over, and it might get more vitiated in the coming weeks. The Election Commission has to be prepared to deal with more violations of the code and even difficult situations. It should prove that it can do so without needing to be prompted by the court.  

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EC discovers its powers, finally


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