This article is written by Anjaly Ann Joseph from Government Law College, Ernakulam.
The technocratic constitutional institution of election commission is a priceless gift from our constitution makers, their commitment to democracy and sagacious vision for the smooth running of democratic process is embodied in the creation of an independent election commission. With the evolution of the country, the election commission rose into the position of a powerful super structure and over years it has been able to attain great reputation among the general public .
There are various constitutional and statutory provisions relating to election commission such as Article 324 which begins as “The superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to Parliament and to the Legislature of every State and of elections to the offices of President and Vice President held under this Constitution shall be vested in a Commission”. It further continues by laying down the structure of the commission and appointment of members. Article 329 places a bar to the intervention of courts in election matters, Article 329(b) of the section mandates that courts cannot entertain any matters related to election disputes other than in a manner laid down by appropriate legislature. As with the statutory acts, Representation of People’s Act 1951 deals with issues such as delimitation of constituencies as well as processual details and the basis of electoral system and the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Conditions of Service) Act 1991 established a three member election commission.
Along with these provisions, several other provisions related to election of the president touches upon the working of the election commission. All the possible power of the commission was explored and liberally applied after 1990. It was the cavalier approach of the then Chief election commissioner T.N Sheshan that fortified the commission. His bold initiatives include stringent enforcement of model code of conduct, introduction of voter id cards, ceilings on election expenditure. He applied the above mentioned power in the constitution to defer election at several times along with instances of him cancelling elections at the last minutes. He even dared to cancel poll campaigns by leaders.
But now the tide has turned. Internal dissent within the commission became public a short while ago. Moreover it had a tough time taming the political leaders and enforcing code of conduct. And there exist allegation that EC has become handmaiden of the ruling party. It is doubtless that the erstwhile faith in the commission among the general public have tarnished.
Recently the commission became the subject of blatant criticism by conducting elections amid the COVID surge. The election proceeding that extended over two month were conducted on the poll bound states of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. All the COVID protocols were ignored and the mega rallies of the political parties turned out be super spreader rallies of the mutant virus. Apparently soon after the polls there a huge rise in the COVID cases and death rates have turned alarming. But the election commission, who is independently in charge of overseeing the election stood as a mute spectator all throughout.
Lately courts have taken up the issue and pronounced EC entirely responsible for the deadly spread on the second wave. It was the Calcutta High Court that came first came forefront expressing dissatisfaction with EC on the wide scale breach of COVID norms in the West Bengal election. And the High Court pulled up EC for not using its powers. As a result EC banned roadshow and rallies. However, these it is evident that these restrictions had little effect on ground.
Then came the notorious remark of Madras High Court calling EC officials murderers. High Court named EC singularly culpable for the deaths to the extent that it even threatened the of stopping the counting of votes . Consequently increased restrictions were affected by the election commission on the counting day. Moreover EC was extremely offended by the remark of Madras HC, moved to Supreme Court of India against it. The Supreme Court agreed that the remarks were derogatory but refused to expunge them and refused to restrain media from reporting the oral remarks.
It is worthwhile to note that on the other side of all these drama, we have the common man, whose very life and livelihood is affected by COVID. They are mercilessly prosecuted for flouting a single safety norm. Official statics have come out with massive spike in four states and one Union Territory after Elections. Already Kerala and Tamil Nadu is under lockdown and the state of Assam is under night curfew. The lockdown will have grave effect on the livelihood of people ,who are already stooped in misery. And it is no sin to think today, that even though democracy is for the people, the democratic processes insensitive to the lives of people is a mere sham.
As a final code, it is to be said that there is a ‘collective culpability’ in the government and its institutions for apathy to its citizens against putting all blame on EC. The same courts turned a blind eye to the negligence of the political spectrum and to the plight of common man. Court was ready to spill the beans only at the last hour. Evidently there are stark instances of apathy of the judiciary from the beginning of these testing times. Reverting back to the issue here, the part of political parties cannot be condoned. Even media, especially local media in poll states, directed their entire attention to the political vendetta and failed to inform the citizen on the doom about to fall on them. There is a saying that “apathy is the acceptance of unacceptable”. In this instance several segments joined hands to make the unacceptable possible. So, there is a collective responsibility for the indifference shown by all quarters.
Curated by Shivanshika Samaddar of National Law University, Delhi.