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Why do our Election Commissioners Remind us That They are Sonia-Manmohan Appointees?

by A. Surya Prakash

On May 1, 2014, the Congress Party's Vice-President, Mr.Rahul Gandhi, made an extraordinary prediction while addressing a rally at Solan in Himachal Pradesh. He said if Mr.Narendra Modi became India's Prime Minister, 22,000 people would be killed in violence. And from where on earth did he get this insight? From Japan! According to him, the Japanese told him that they were ready to help us build roads, but they feared violence if Modi was at the helm. Mr.Gandhi told his audience that he agreed with the Japanese and his own estimate was that 22,000 people would die!

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lodged a complaint with the Election Commission regarding this vile comment and demanded that the commission proceed against Mr.Gandhi. After much deliberation, the commission issued a notice to Mr.Gandhi on May 9 and asked him to explain by May 12, failing which it threatened to take action against him. However, on Mr.Gandhi's request, the commission gave him further time till May 15.

Apart from the fact that his comments are loathsome, smack of gross irresponsibility and constitute hate speech that could inflame communal passions, they are also rather juvenile.

First of all, do we need the Japanese to built roads when Indian infrastructure companies are building airports and huge projects across the globe? Secondly, this shows how poorly Mr.Gandhi is acquainted with the Japan-Modi equation. Japan is high on the agenda of a Modi prime ministership. Whatever happened to Mr.Gandhi's backtoom boys? That apart, let us now move onto another incident concerning Mr.Gandhi and see how the EC handled it.

On May 7, when Amethi went to polls, Mr.Gandhi, the candidate from that constituency, roamed around polling booths and violated the Conduct of Election Rules. The allegation against him was that he entered the Phoola polling station without permission of the presiding officer and ostensibly "inspected" an allegedly defective voting machine. There were photos in the media showing him inside the voting enclosure, not just in the booth. Mr.Gandhi, to be best of our knowledge, has no skills in electronics and even if he did, he had no business to ‘inspect" a voting machine which is allegedly defective. It was also alleged that he had entered several other polling booths in the constituency in similar fashion. And, what did the EC do?

After investigating the complaint the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Uttar Pradesh had this to say: "It is possible to infer that neither Mr.Gandhi sought permission to inspect the voting compartment nor was he stopped by anyone from doing so". Just look at the tentativeness with which the CEO reports this matter betraying his solicitousness to Mr.Gandhi. "It is possible to infer….." he says. Since he had investigated the matter, he should have had the courage to cut all this out and say that Mr.Gandhi had entered the compartment without permission, period. Secondly, although what Rahul Gandhi did was a violation of the rules, the CEO lets him of on the ground that Mr.Gandhi did not violate the secrecy of the ballot because he left the polling station before polling began. Pray, since when have candidates been allowed to loiter around voting compartments before commencement of polling? See how considerate the CEO is towards Mr.Gandhi?

The point to note is that the CEO did not reprimand Mr.Gandhi for violating the rules. On the other hand, he laboured a lot to let him off the hook. As regards Mr.Gandhi's activities in other polling stations, there is no investigation and no action. Why? The Chief Election Commissioner Mr.V.S.Sampath offers an even more convoluted explanation for the EC's inaction in this regard. He says Mr.Gandhi's presence at other polling stations that morning were not examined because the complaint made to the commission related only to the Phoola polling station!

Let us now turn to an allegation against Mr.Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate and see how the EC has handled it. On April 30, 2014 an allegation was made against Mr.Narendra Modi by the Congress Party that he had flashed the BJP's election symbol ‘Lotus" and addressed a media conference near a polling station in violation of election rules. Such was the Election Commission's anxiety to proceed against Mr.Modi that within hours of receipt of complaint and on the very day of the complaint, the commission took action and directed the Gujarat Administration to register an FIR against him for violating election rules. It did not even conduct a preliminary enquiry to ascertain the facts before issuing this directive to lodge a criminal complaint against Mr.Modi. You can assess the commission's extraordinary interest and alacrity in this case when you see the EC's directions to Gujarat's Chief Secretary. It said "Compliance reports in this regard should be sent to the commission latest by 6.00 PM today. Copies of complaints/FIRs should also be furnished to the Commission along with the compliance report". It also directed that FIRs be lodged against all TV Channels that had broadcast Mr.Modi's comments. Later, the Gujarat administration, on investigation found that Mr.Modi's encounter with the media was well beyond the 100 metre distance from the polling booth as stipulated by the EC. So much for the EC's "special diligence" vis-à-vis Mr.Modi.

Even more shocking was the decision of the Election Commission to deny Mr.Modi, the candidate from Varanasi, permission to hold a rally in the holy city in the final days of the campaign, while allowing road shows for Mr.Rahul Gandhi and the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr.Akhilesh Yadav, who are not candidates in that constituency. This is probably the first time in the history of our elections that the EC has prevented a candidate from holding meetings and seeking votes from the electorate.

In the light of this evidence, the following conclusions would seem reasonable: The Election Commission took nine days even to issue a notice to Rahul Gandhi and even gave him an extension of three days to respond when he made a speech saying 22,000 people would be killed if Mr.Modi became Prime Minister. We have not heard anything as atrocious as this in this election, but the EC treats Mr.Gandhi with kid gloves and hesitates to act. Second, Mr.Gandhi roams around illegally around polling stations and even ‘inspects' a voting machine, but the EC does not want to even give him a mild rap on the knuckles! On the other hand, the EC was willing to chase any chimera in order to damn Mr.Modi or obstruct his campaign, even in his own constituency.

The Election Commission is a three-member body. It comprises of Mr.V.S.Sampath, the Chief Election Commissioner and Mr.H.S.Brahma and Dr.Nasim Zaidi, Election Commissioners.

The Prime Minister, Mr.Manmohan Singh has brushed aside the opinion of the Justice Venkatachalaiah Commission that reviewed the working of the Constitution and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission that election commissioners must be selected by a collegium and with bipartisan consensus. Mr.Singh also has the dubious distinction of appointing Mr.Navin Chawla, who was indicted by the Shah Commission of Inquiry as a "tryant" who was "unfit to hold any public office" as an Election Commissioner in 2005. Thus, Mr.Chawla, who did not have the basic qualification to hold office in the Election Commission – commitment to democratic values – went on to become the Chief Election Commissioner as well. Since then, all Election Commissioners have been chosen by the Sonia-Manmohan duo.

There can be no doubt that the Election Commission, which is clothed with extraordinary power under Article 324 of the Constitution, to conduct itself in an independent and fearless manner, has fallen of its perch and now faces embarrassing questions from the public about its partisan conduct. Why do the Election Commissioners labour so much to remind us that they are Sonia-Manmohan appointees? It would be in public interest for the three Election Commissioners to tender their resignation and allow the new government to appoint fresh commissioners through the collegium route.

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