By Shyam Khosla
No one questions Election Commission's(EC) long and unblemished record of conducting credible and clean elections even in trying circumstances. If the Indian elections are recognised the world over as a genuine exercise in participative democracy, the Commission can rightly claim part of the credit. However, of late, the EC has shown an unhealthy tendency to expand its area of authority beyond the limits prescribed by the Constitution. A case in point is its repeated attempts to ban opinion and exit polls. It didn'tsucceed in this unjustified attempt because these were shot down by the Supreme Court. The question is not whether the pre-poll surveys and exit polls are credible and influence the voters one way or the other. The issue is that these are legitimate exercises and the EC has no authority to lay down the law. Another infirmity from which the Election Commission suffers is its proclivity to act as a monarch on the eve of and during the run up to the elections. Two years ago, it brushed aside with contempt the Gujarat government'splea to hold early elections on the untenable premise that the law and order situation in the state was not conducive for conduc-ting elections. Is the law and order situation in Bihar, North-east and J&K better than what was then obtaining in Gujarat? All that the EC achieved was that it kept the communal cauldron boiling. The NDA government'slegitimate demand after the dissolution of Lok Sabha that elections be held before summer was turned down on the ground that revision and updating of electoral rolls would take time. If the poll percentage in the closely contested elections is lower than expected, it is largely because of the voter fatigue caused by a tiring campaign and the unkind weather. EC couldn'tcare less, President'scall to vote positi-vely and in large numbers notwithstanding.
How effectively the EC used the time it took to update and revise electoral rolls is evident from the fact that several lakhs of citizens? names were deleted from the rolls. Celebrities in Mumbai and Bangalore complain that they couldn'texercise their right to franchise because their names were mysteriously deleted from the rolls. Some of them said they had been voting for the past 20 years but couldn'tdo so this time round because of the incompe-tence of the EC.
Reports from Andhra Pradesh are more depre-ssing. About 20 per cent of the voters had their names deleted in Prakasam district alone. The situation in other districts was not much better. The same is true of rural Bihar. Who is responsible for this mess? Commission officials blame voters? apathy to verify that their names figure in the list. They also accuse political parties of not bringing these errors to the notice of the officials.
Isn'tthe Commission barking up the wrong tree? It is its primary duty to ensure that all eligible citizens are listed. It can'tescape its utter failure and ineptitude by passing the buck to voters and political parties. The EC must take the blame for this monumental bungling.
The long delay in holding parliamentary elections has affected work on major development projects. Having assumed the role of the ?real masters?, once the model code of conduct came into operation, it ordered that the work on new roads to be constructed as part of the massive National Highway project shouldn'tbe taken up till after the elections. Metro Rail Corporation is anguished that the work on the project in Delhi would be delayed by three months, as the government has been rendered ?powerless? to give approval for new works. The EC went to absurd lengths in its (mis)interpretation of the code of conduct by ordering the veiling of all portraits of the Prime Minister that were put up on the National Highways long before the elections were announced. It pulled up officials for going to the airport to receive BJP leader, L.K. Advani. The latter is the Deputy Prime Minister and normal courtesy demands that senior officials receive him. It is no one'scase that Advani gave orders to the officials or had a closed door meeting with them. So, merely extending a courtesy to the Deputy Prime Minister violates the code of conduct! Or so the EC thinks.
The Commission holds the political class in utter contempt. Is it because these superannuated officials have the itch to take on the political leaders they have been crawling before throughout their careers? Politicians are no angels, but treating them with contempt poses a grave threat to democracy, for one can'tthink of functional democracy without politicians. Successive CECs have been making totally unacceptable and derogatory comments on politicians. One of them had the audacity to say that he had politicians for breakfast. Another showed his class by describing politicians as cancer. Election Commission must do some introspection and stop running amok. It shouldn'tinterfere in areas that fall outside its domain, like deciding poll issues. Such issues are better left to political parties and the voters. It must be wary of a situation in which the country may ask for a code of conduct for the Election Commission!