Election Commission Of India
Does it need Transformation?
India is ready to gear up for its biggest festival, the festival of world’s biggest democracy-17th Lok Sabha elections 2019. India’s democracy has its cornerstone on independence, neutrality and integrity of its Statutory and Constitutional bodies. To maintain and preserve this democracy India conducts elections every five year- a period that always turns into a mega festival, bringing people of different castes, color, languages and religions together.
India’s democracy is different from other democracies in the world because here diversity is not an exception but a norm. It comes with its own challenges and complexities. It requires an institution which stands tall under pressure and comes with new solutions and quick fixes in an ever-changing dynamics of Indian Elections.
Role of Election Commission of India
Election Commission is the watchdog of India’s conduct of fair and transparent elections. It is arguably one of the most valuable institution. An institution which holds the task of deciding the next government and keeping the faith of democracy alive in its people.
According to Article 324 of Indian Constitution, the Election Commission of India has the power of superintendence,control and direction of the entire process of elections of the Parliament, offices of President and Vice-President of India and Legislature (State Legislative Assembly & State Legislative Council) of every State.
The task of the EC starts from the beginning. EC initiates the election with the enrollment process. Given the population of India, which runs into billions, it is a humongous task. The demographic transitions and diversity makes it even more cumbersome and arduous. EC not only give the citizens, power to vote but also ensures that citizens have access to voting. It can only be succeeded when good infrastructure, hard terrains, security challenges are overcome with innovative solutions. EC ensures that all these obstacles are subdued.
EC’s next step is to ensure that the election process in the country is running on sound track. It can only be possible when the guidelines and laws, which are put in place are supervised fairly. The job of EC is to provide level playing field to all, such that election results reflect true results-one, which are in accordance with people’s aspirations.
Thus, it is important that the quality of the institution is maintained so that its credibility and accountability is never put into question. EC should be the sacrosanct organization whose character shouldn’t be questioned and its trustworthiness is always held at high regard.
Why EC needs a Makeover?
In recent times, EC’s veracity and reliability has been challenged. Many political pundits and political parties have doubted, whether EC is playing a fair and impartial role. It is constitutionally entrusted to work as an agent, which ensures righteousness in the election process. But, recent incidents have created doubts whether, EC is a fair and unprejudiced organization or whether it has become an agent of the ruling party.
In this new age of digital evolution, various new mediums have cropped up which pose new challenges to EC. EC’s roles and its guidelines were established by the Constituent assembly who had not envisaged such issues. With every new guideline, current candidates and political parties come up with novel ideas to bypass these rules. Controversies regarding appointment, partisanship, paid news, voter bribery and hate speech have come to the fore. Thus, EC has to be on its toes to create new possibilities and solutions.
Let’s take a look here at various issues which are grappling EC.
Independence and Political Influence
A public interest litigation (PIL) is being examined by the Constitution Bench of Supreme Court which seeks the strengthening of the Election Commission of India (ECI). It includes a proposal to create an independent mechanism to appoint the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs) who are, at present, simply appointed by the President of the day, without any defined criteria or process.
At times, it has appeared that EC is favoring the political party (either in relaxation of Moral Code of Conduct or calling up of election dates as seen during Gujarat assembly elections). This is a dangerous trend, which could cloud the issue of independence and reliability of EC.
A framed guideline proposing the criteria of selection and removal of ECs and CEC should be constituted.It should make sure that its work ethics and values are not called into question.
The last Lok Sabha Elections of 2014 was the most expensive election, whose expenses were borne by the national exchequer. With the rise of voter’s aspirations and political parties’, intention to reach the wider audiences has led to the increase of money power in elections.
EC has set a limit for funding of the elections for both- the parties and candidates. But rules have been flouted to attract voters. Cases of voter bribery and use of black money have been in the news.EC has failed to check the flow of illegal cash.Although, electoral bonds are being touted as an answer to the prayer for preventing the use of unaccountable money, EC should come up with other novel ideas to halt this plague.
Criminalization of Politics
The past Lok Sabha elections have seen the rise in number of candidates who have criminal past. As the political parties hustle to win the seats, money and muscle power are being used for maximum gain. EC sought Supreme Court’s aid to stem criminalization of politics.A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court gave its judgment on criminalization of politics asking it to bar politicians facing heinous criminal charges like rape, kidnapping and murder from contesting elections.
Also, candidates must declare their, income, education and criminal past and the cases pending against them. Although, it is a positive step, but it takes long time for EC to go through rigorous checks to verify the information provided by the candidates. This delay in action prompts the rise of false information by the candidates.
The next big challenge to ECI comes in the form of paid news. It has become a big menace to EC. There have been instances where reports have confirmed the authentication of paid news. However, the challenge is how to control it, since the news is already in public domain.
EC has earlier punished candidates by taking action against them, but the fact that it is still rampant, proves how candidates are using loopholes under the very nose of EC. Even if a news is a paid news, it has become difficult to establish that it is paid news, because of lack of circumstantial evidence and lack of records. The collusion between media and political representatives has led to promotion of fake news in such a manner that it is being increasingly difficult for EC to distinguish between fake and real news.
Use of Social Media
Social Media is an evolving platform. It provides us a means to disseminate information and propaganda at a faster rate. The influence of social medium has risen with increasing use of mobile-internet technology. Hence, it is no brainer when the political leaders use this medium for their campaigning. The scale and depth of this platform is so vast that EC is finding it difficult to control the level of information. It is impossible to regulate each and every promotional messages or videos.
EC has a monitoring committee to keep tabs on print and electronic media for advertisement of political nature which may cause harm to the fabric of the society or goes against the moral code of conduct. The social media committee mainly relies on the complaints made by the voters or any other vigilante. As the scope of social media is vast and boundless, EC should look towards multi-stakeholder involvement. It should create new guidelines to dissolve any ambiguity as to what can be propagated and what cannot.
Allurement of ECI
Over the years, EC has transformed itself into an accountable and credible institution. The way it has been able to uphold its values and ethics is a testimony to it. EC has changed its way of working keeping in mind the evolution of the society and people. It has provided us with different recommendations and proposals to keep the political parties in check. No one can be in two minds about the work ethics and neutrality of EC. Nonetheless, the onus lies on EC to maintain its efficiency, integrity and impartiality.
As EC is a Constitutional body, like a Caesar’s wife, it should be above public suspicion. From outwards, it shouldn’t appear that EC is favoring any candidate or any political party. It should act independently and equitably. EC should make sure that all the challenges are met in a timely manner and complaint raised by the public is resolved satisfactorily.Every election brings with itself its own issues and complications. Election Commission should be ready in earnest to tackle these and metamorphosis is needed for EC to evolve and mature.
EVM and VVPAT
Indian elections in various States for legislative assemblies had earlier come in question when they were accused of being staged or managed. There have been protests by the opposition parties that EVM(Electronic Voting Machine) was being digitally hacked and the results were in turn being given in favor of the ruling political party. After many attempts to shrug off these accusations, EC has at last taken the decision to use VVPAT in these elections.
It is of utmost importance that a positive message is sent to the public that elections in India are of free and fair nature. EC, as a Constitutional organization should not be a party to any involvement of rigging of the elections. However, a stain has been left because EC failed to convince the citizens quickly and damage to its reputation was already done. The EVM tampering controversy is still alive anddoubt still lingers among the voters, thus proving a challenge to the watchdog.
Source : CSE (MAY, 2019 ), pg no. 54-55