ELECTION COMMISSION IS CAESAR’S WIFE
By Brigadier(Retd) Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
The Election Commission of India is like Caesar’s wife. The saying goes that Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion. Therefore, the Election Commission of India should be above suspicion. Its actions should be transparent. It should be prompt in dealing with complaints of all aggrieved persons and political parties promptly and impartially. It should not only be impartial but seem to be impartial. The Election Commission is a constitutional body and, therefore, must act according to the Constitution of India to which it has sworn allegiance.
The public perception, as of now, is that the actions and inactions of ECI do not inspire confidence among citizens in general. The aura of impartiality has gone. The number of serious complaints is going up day by day. The commission is unable to keep the word or adhere to time limits announced on its own website. Let me quote an example of a complaint against gross mismanagement of making electoral rolls which is a sine qua non of a free and fair election. The Chief Election Commissioner tendered a public apology for deletion of a large number of names of genuine citizens of India from the electoral rolls in Mumbai. Was any action of pinpointing the blame for this major faux pas taken? If so, who were the officials responsible for that act of treachery and what punishment, if any, awarded to them? The information is apparently not in the public domain. If it is there, it has not been publicized so that people‘s confidence in the fair working of the election commission is restored.
I am an eighty year old citizen of India and have voted in many previous elections. However, my name was removed from the electoral rolls prepared for the Lok Sabha elections of 2014. I lodged two complaints on line with the ECI and as per rule some reply should have been given to me within seven days of the complaint. Many “seven days” have gone by but the ECI is sleeping on my complaints. Will this negligence to address my complaint inspire confidence in the fair working of the ECI? I shall pause for a reply by the ECI.
The Varanasi episode of denial of right of the BJP candidate, Shri Narendra Modi to address a public meeting in Benia Bagh as a part of canvassing brought a slur on the ECI. The same opportunity was granted to other candidates. Apparently it entailed a charge of rank partiality by ECI to some political parties at the behest of the powers that be who were instrumental in appointing a weak candidate by pushing him up to the ECI. In turn that gentleman provided weak leadership to the august body and brought it into disrepute. Now, the whole country knows who the weakling is.
The citizenry is talking ill of the Commission for giving kidglove treatment to Rahul Gandhi and iron fist treatment to Narendra Modi for similar violations of moral code of conduct. The reason is the same as mentioned in the preceding paragraph. There is no need to emphasise the obvious.
The general consensus is that by not answering the letters of a senior political leader like Arun Jetley on the important issue of holding a public rally and attendance at the Ganga Arti, the ECI has NOT covered itself with glory. It has become the butt of a national joke that the Commissioners do not make independent decisions but await a nod or otherwise from an extra-constitutional authority. What Sanjay Baru did to Manmohan Singh in his book, “The Accidental Prime Minister” some writer will do the same to the Chief Election Commissioner. We await that day as it will redeem the honour of the ECI sullied by motivated errors of judgement of one weakling.
Well, there are instances galore to show that the Caesar’s wife has lost the credibility that it once enjoyed. Naturally, the fair reputation of the Election Commission of India stands not only damaged but fractured. Herculean effort will be required by the three Commissioners in unison to restore the lost prestige of the ECI. What was earned in almost half a century has been destroyed by one weakling in a jiffy. It is not a case of a series of errors of judgements but just paying back with interest the undue favours to political bosses in a ham handed manner.
The TITANIC sank because of the Himalayan blunder of the Captain of the ship. Is the Election Commission of India making an attempt to let History repeat itself? I shall pause for a reply.
PROCESS OF APPOINTMENT
It brings us to a pertinent point relating to the appointment of Commissioners to the Election Commission of India. Apparently, as of now, the political party in power is the Executive or the Government of India. It is the sole discretion of the Government of India, read the political party in power, to appoint an Election Commissioner. In due course of time, the senior most among the three Commissioners becomes the Chief Election Commissioner. In most of the cases they stand beholden to the political party in power that brought them into the limelight. Never mind if they deserved this elevation or did not. How can the citizenry expect those appointees to go against the wishes of their erstwhile political masters. Thus the system of appointment of Election Commissioners has a major lacuna that calls for a corrective action.
May I suggest that a Collegium of eminent social activists of national leanings, a retired judge of the Supreme Court who earned a reputation for honesty and integrity in public perception and a known expert in the Constitutional Law be formed by the Lok Sabha by a majority vote. It needs no underscoring that politicians of all shades and hues, both active and retired, be kept out of the Collegium. The said Collegium may be authorized to select the Election Commissioner from amongst academicians, jurists, retired Service officers, Financial Experts and retired bureaucrats who enjoy a good reputation for honesty, integrity and professional efficiency.
As of now, all is not well with the Election Commission of India. An interview given to the electronic media by Shri Hari Shankar Brahma, a sitting Election Commissioner , speaks volumes about his fairness, frankness and moral courage to admit what the problems were that hindered smooth and impartial working of the Election Commission of India. He deserves bouquets for admitting and pinpointing the cardinal mistakes. Above all, his desire to cleanse the system and restore the place of honour on the national and international planes to the ECI is indeed commendable.
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