Toothless Election Commission
It is election time again and the Election Commission is back in business with the usual toothlessness.
The only body in India, other than the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, to have a Constitutional status has not been as courageous as CAG, which was instrumental in exposing Commonwealth Games scam and 2G spectrum scam.
Not just these elections, the EC has turned into mere spectator to use of black money and muscle power in elections and growing dominance of tainted politicians in electoral politics.
The elections in Tamil Nadu witnessed seizure of over Rs 60 crore of unaccounted money. But, the fact remains, the EC was able to catch less than 10 percent of black money in operation. EC knew that a political party has ordered gifts for disbursement to voters worth Rs 12 crore in Tamil Nadu but was not able to take any action.
The ongoing elections has resulted in catch of over Rs 35 crore of announced money in just Uttar Pradesh and Punjab even though intelligence agencies have indicated that hawala operators were playing a big role in circulating black money from foreign.
“We have increased vigil, what more can be we do,” was a remark of an election commission official when asked how the body plans to check abuse of black money in elections.
The easiest way is to take prompt action against candidates found guilty of submitting fake election expenditure reports instead of keeping the case hanging on for almost entire term of the elected representative. The EC in October 2011 held Umlesh Yadav, a legislator in Uttar Pradesh of Rashtriya Parivartan Dal, guilty of submitting fake expenditure details, two months before it announced election schedule for UP and other states.
The EC appointment expenditure observers for all constituencies also raises question mark as action against candidates has been minimal for overshooting the prescribed limit of Rs 16 lakh for assembly segments or up to Rs 40 lakh for Lok Sabha seats. Not even a single candidate in last Lok Sabha polls was debarred for spending the then expenditure limit of Rs 25 lakh. The commission, which has absolute powers to conduct elections, has failed to think innovatively.
This is just one facet of EC’s failure. Since 2004, when it proposed a series of electoral reforms, the commission has failed to convince the government on even one reform that can cleanse the electoral system.
Instead, in name of electoral reforms, the government agreed to what suited political parties more than the general public. Ban on opinion polls terming it unfair electoral practice and enhancing the expenditure limit for the candidates. But, it did not agree on debarring people with serious criminal record from contesting or giving powers to election commission to de-register a political party found guilty of violating electoral norms.
Since mid 1990s, the commission has been seeking more powers by amending the Representation of People’s Act to curb electoral mal-practices but the government has been unwilling on the ground on absence of political consensus. The past tells us that where there is a will there is a way and Parliament has approved changes in laws without absolute political consensus.
Where the election commission has failed is in raising public awareness about the need of electoral reforms although Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) S Y Quraishi has raised the pitch, without much success in the past one year. Already, the credibility of the office of CEC has eroded as former CEC M S Gill agreed for Rajya Sabha nomination from the party in power.
The weapon in the commission’s hand — the model code of conduct — has proven to be a rude political joke played on the Constitutional body. It is a weapon used to make noise but not to take action against leaders flouting electoral norms.
The EC got the statues of BSP supremo Mayawati and party symbol elephant wrapped in Uttar Pradesh, thereby creating an election issue in favour of BSP. It asked the Central government not to implement 4.5 percent minority quota, a fortnight after the decision was announced and enabling the Congress to drive home its political point. EC knows well that no new appointments can be made during election process.
From this, I understand one point. That disillusionment of a large electorate with the political system is not wrong. After two decades after electoral reforms were suggested, the government has not been keen on implementing them and whatever little changes have taken place are courtesy the Supreme Court.
We all should push for “serious” electoral reforms once the elections are over as done in a fight against corruption in 2011.