Elections to 16th Lok Sabha concluded peacefully but it left behind many questions unanswered. Except the Congress, most of the contesting parties blamed the EC acting prejudice. Perhaps it is for the first time that the Chief Election Commissioner had to explain that the elections were held strictly in non-partisan manner. He also clarified that there is no discord among the Election Commissioners. The CEC had to give this explanation after one of the Election Commissioners HS Brahma expressed his displeasure over the denial of permission to election rallies of Narendra Modi in his own constituency Varanasi.
The way Returning Officer and DM of Varanasi Pranjal Yadav denied permission to Narendra Modi for rallies raised many questions. First, it was claimed that the proposed Ground of Benia Bagh was allotted to someone else for hoisting the national flag that day. Then it was argued that the permission was denied due to security reasons. Later it was said the Gujarat Police raised security concerns. Nothing can be more ridiculous than that the District Administration did not allow Modi even for a close door meeting with intellectuals. Is it not rubbish that a leader who holds a number of big rallies all over the country every day, faces security threat in a closed door meeting and that too in his own constituency? In this case, the EC's response raised many eye brows. First it backed returning officer Pranjal Yadav but later appointed Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar as special observer.
Read More: Article 35-A: A Fraud Under Article 370?
This is not the only case which exposed EC’s biased attitude. In the case of Rahul Gandhi’s entry into polling booth of Amethi on May 7, the EC took a lenient view. It gave him clean chit in Phoola Polling Station episode saying he had ‘visited the polling station at 10.15 am when the machine was not working and no polling was taking place’. Interes-tingly, Rahul was given clean chit, but the EC is said to be planning action against the presiding officer for failing to prevent Congress vice-president entering the EVM enclosure. The EC remained silent on Rahul’s presence at two other polling stations—Ashtabhuja Vidyalaya, Sahamau and Prathamik Vidyalaya, Koora—photographed of which were clicked by a photo journalist and were published in newspapers on May 8.
CEC VS Sampath, in an interview to PTI, justified the limited scope of EC’s probe saying Rahul’s presence at those polling stations was not examined as the formal complaint made to the poll panel related only to Phoola polling station. However, poll watchdog is not bound to only go by formal complaints to examine possible violations of the election law. It has powers to take suo motto notice of media reports and initiate an inquiry, but the EC is silent on it. Will the EC explain?
The Election Commission also proved to be ineffective in West Bengal, where the most blatant form of rigging took place, driving away voters and carrying out attacks on opposition cadres. This happened in three successive rounds of elections, but the EC officials posted in the State refused to act. There are many other complaints of rampant rigging in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The 71 days lengthy election process is also under severe criticism. The EC announced poll schedule on March 5 and May 16 was decided counting date. With the announcement of election schedule, model code of conduct comes into force and it affects the functioning of even the Panchayat body. Should the State governments and local bodies’ work be allowed to suffer for such a long period is the question being debated?
The other issue is about nomination of Election Commissioners. Presently, all the three ECs are from IAS cadre. Functioning of the EC is not purely of administrative nature and involves security and legal measures too. Keeping this in mind, one EC should be from IPS and one from the Judiciary.
-Dr Ravindra Agrawal (The writer is a senior journalist)