The EC’s selective treatment of Modi’s speeches makes it look like an enabler of the ruling party than a neutral monitor
So far, the concept of an attack on the country’s institutions was considered a “compulsively contrarian” view of the debating, intolerant elite with little consequence or trickle-down effect. But the way the Election Commission (EC), entrusted with the very serious task of ensuring a free and fair election in a neutral manner, has been going about implementing the Model Code of Conduct, even a man most ordinary has begun to question if indeed it is the rightful keeper of morality. For it appears that it finds no fault with the manner in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the ruling BJP party chief Amit Shah go about their campaign styles but has reservations about all the others, the Opposition primarily, and some fringe rightists secondarily. Just to appear neutral. First, it dragged its feet in acting against the BJP’s star campaigners and got going only when the Supreme Court reprimanded it. And when it did, the EC overrode internal dissension and absolved both Modi and Shah of making speeches that appear inflammatory when compared to others. So even though Modi refers to the Balakot strikes and appeals for vote in the name of the armed forces or Shah says that Modi sent “his” Air Force to Pakistan, they are only highlighting national security and not using the military for their end use, according to the timid poll panel. In comparison, Yogi Adityanath is less privileged and not authorised to use “Modiji ki sena.” Modi’s “minority is the majority” remark on Congress chief Rahul Gandhi choosing Wayanad, implying he didn’t care for the majority, or Shah’s public query if processions there were reminiscent of Pakistan, also don’t qualify as deepening polarised faultlines in the EC’s book. Neither does the boast of the nuclear arsenal not being Diwali crackers. The EC doesn’t feel these speeches are appropriating the election process but probably sees them as part of nation-building.
That being the case, what authority does it have to draw the line for lesser offenders? If sectarian undertones, incendiary intentions and even open appeals to horse-trading are certified as legitimate, then it just doesn’t embolden our star speakers, it has a cascading effect on other candidates, who can stretch their belligerence to extremes citing precedent. And a precedent once set will always be quoted to justify future discourse. Also, the Prime Minister, as a holder of a Constitutional post, should be made to appear more circumspect than violating its spirit. In that sense, the EC has made this election significant in terms of allowing transgressions of all democratic norms. And appears beholden to the government that has appointed it. Is it time for reforms in the EC then? Many experts agree that there should be a neutral mechanism of selection of office-bearers and the panel should be vested with statutory powers. Others say that the Commission is not toothless and armed with enough powers to have an immediate impact, far more powerful than seeking legal redress. Even if the ultimate punishment under the model code is censure, warning or an advisory, the moral implications of them being issued to a star candidate would be too visible to ignore. S/he has to respond and risk exposure in the public space. That is a far more potent check and balance. But who will bell the cat? As we have said in our earlier comments here, the Constitution gives the EC extraordinary powers, even the right to countermand elections. The office of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is empowered and it depends on the person holding it to make what he wants out of it. One still remembers the maverick TN Seshan, who went overboard at times, but as CEC during the early 1990s, he did raise the status of the institution in his charge and manage to keep politicians across the spectrum in check. He was not scared to use the power mandated to him by law. And he revamped the system as the transparent mechanism we know today by staying within the ambit of the law. The CEC has the same protection as a Supreme Court judge and cannot be removed summarily. Unless the EC thinks the poll results are a foregone conclusion, it better take some reassuring steps to restore credibility. Democracy can no longer look like a puppet regime.
Courtesy: The Pioneer