Indian Election Commissioners Mere Spectators?

N.S. Venkataraman for BeyondHeadlines

Indian election commissioners are known to issue notices and warnings to political parties who violate the election rules and norms, but they rarely punish them effectively. An impression is increasingly gaining ground in the country that the election commissioners view the violations by the political parties in a routine manner.

There was a notorious assembly election in Tirumangalam in Tamil Nadu a few years back, when crores of rupees were spent by the then ruling party to bribe the voters openly and finally it won with thumping majority. This method is now known in Tamil Nadu as “Tirumangalam formula”.

The then chief election commissioner said during his interaction with the journalists that the electoral rules were violated severely in Tirumangalam. This was all that he could say but could not gather the courage to countermand the poll. In case he had done this, this would have done lot of good in cleansing the electoral politics in Tamil Nadu to a considerable extent.

In recent times, we have also heard the election commissioners advocating strong measures in conducting polls, after their retirement.

Now that the persons like Kejriwal and his political party are in the election fray, the forthcoming parliamentary poll campaign is bound to become murky and unruly, with politicians using vituperative and abusive language and making wild allegations, while treating the dictates of election commission with contempt and scant regard.

These persons think that the election commissioners will only issue warnings and notices and will not go beyond this. If such trends would continue in the next few weeks, then the forthcoming parliamentary election itself will become a mockery.

The election commissioners, who were bureaucrats and have shaped themselves as election commissioners, should realize that election commission is not merely an administrative body but a constitutional body with great responsibility and inherent powers to conduct the elections in a free and fair manner.

In the past, the election commissioners have been hesitant to discipline the politicians during the election times in an effective manner and this probably was due to the confusion amongst the election commissioners themselves as to what extent they should go in the matter. Perhaps, the election commissioners think that any of their strong actions may be challenged in the court and the judiciary may strike them down. However, this is an unnecessary fear amongst the election commissioners which arise only due to their lack of realization that they are, in fact, as much a constitutional body as the judiciary.

In the past, there have been no occasion when the judiciary has failed to recognize the due role, responsibility and powers of the election commissioners, particularly during the election period.

It is very important that the election commissioners should immediately convene a meeting of all the political parties and issue a firm warning to them that any violation of the electoral procedures would be viewed very seriously and those violating would be punished very severely. It is absolutely necessary that the election commission should reiterate and redefine what it considers as violative of the acceptable electoral practices and clearly state as to what would be the type of punishment that it would impose. Such punishments should certainly include barring the erring persons from contesting in the polls, if it would become necessary.

Certainly, the election commissioners should avoid giving an impression that they feel helpless in tackling the misbehavior of the politicians and political parties.

[Views expressed are personal.]


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