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Has Election Commission become a vestigial appendage of ruling BJP?

The actions of the Election Commission of India give the impression that its duty is to pull up the Opposition and turn a blind eye towards the ruling party’s offences.
Last Updated 27 November 2023, 06:02 IST

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) never misses a chance to highlight the virtues of a ‘double-engine’ sarkar — the criminally egregious, anti-constitutional, and anti-citizen propositions with which leaders from the party remind the electorate in a state that they need to vote for the BJP in order for the smooth running of the government. This, in turn, means that if a non-BJP government is formed in the state, its working with the BJP-ruled Centre might be fractious.

Come elections, of the many heads that rear up to help the tinpot dispensation in New Delhi are those of the law-enforcement forces and pre-eminently is the Election Commission of India (ECI), which does its best to queer the pitch for the opposition parties in an already uneven playing field. The good work done by successive central election commissioners (CECs) — J M Lyngdoh comes readily to the mind — to rescue the ECI from the obloquy it had earned during the Emergency and its prolonged aftermath has been reversed by supine and pusillanimous members of the ECI in the past decade. The few commissioners who have tried to stem the rot have been brushed aside.

This has been demonstrated abundantly in the current round of assembly elections to five states, which are crucial pathways to the general elections due in about six months. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is on a sticky wicket in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, while it is not even in the ballpark in Telangana and Mizoram. Which is why it needs a generous hand to crash into the tape.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was hit with a show-cause notice on November 24 for calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a harbinger of bad luck, referring to his presence at the stadium bearing his name for the cricket One-Day International World Cup final. That’s hardly actionable, whichever way you slice it.

Gandhi also called Modi a pickpocket. Surely, it shouldn’t take the ECI personnel any brain-dislocating feats of intellection to figure out that it was a metaphorical and polemical statement. Were it to be taken literally, Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and many BJP leaders should be banned from campaigning. They’ve made an art form of slinging unproven allegations about much worse than pick-pocketing against the Gandhis and a host of Opposition leaders in the most lurid of language.

But let us take a few violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) by Modi and Shah which flew, while Congress general secretary (and star campaigner) Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, and Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal have all been asked to explain themselves for trifling offences. On November 15, before polling in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (second phase), Modi urged voters, at an election meeting in Barmer, Rajasthan, to press the lotus button to punish the Congress. Indefensibly, he told his audience to vote for the BJP as if they were ‘sentencing them [to death] by hanging’. This can be seen as hate speech and could invite prosecution, but the ECI let it go even though the offence was nailed by Kharge and other Congress leaders.

Addressing a meeting in Gadwal, Telangana on November 18, Shah promised voters that they would get government-sponsored trips to the Ram temple being built in Ayodhya if they voted a BJP government. Freebies? MCC? Is the ECI listening? Shah’s delinquency in Rajasthan was recidivist. The Shiv Sena (UBT) complained on November 16 of the same promise made in the course of the Madhya Pradesh campaign. Despite written representations, there wasn’t even a peep from the election watchdog, which now appears to be a vestigial appendage of the ruling party.

It started much earlier, though, when the ECI prevaricated on the regime’s plan to mobilise government officers in all districts to publicise this dispensation’s ‘successes’ via a circular dated October 17. It banned it in the election-bound states only, whereas its effects would redound to the BJP’s benefit if it was allowed anywhere. Similarly, in early October, the defence ministry had directed its departments to set up 822 ‘selfie points’ dominated by Modi’s cutouts where citizens would be involved surreptitiously in campaigning for the regime. Apart from the misuse of other agencies, this involved the deployment of defence personnel for political purposes. Not so much as a murmur from the ECI.

We the citizens can safely expect the ECI to ignore the BJP’s infractions when the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections gets underway. Since there’s no telling what dirty tricks and game-changing fireworks the party will manufacture, it will be up to each citizen to see through the smoke and smash the mirrors.

(Suhit K Sen is author of ‘The Paradox of Populism: The Indira Gandhi Years, 1966-1977’.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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(Published 27 November 2023, 06:02 IST)

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