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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On May 19, 2024

    By Karan Thapar

    “I’m strict and I may be stern but I’m always fair and transparent. You get what you see. There are no sides to me”. This was how T. N. Seshan, arguably the Chief Election Commissioner who made the Commission an admired institution, used to describe himself. Then he would add “whilst I sit on this chair I have a job to do and I’ll do it to the best of my ability. Wild horses can’t stop me”. No wonder he was fondly called ‘Bulldog Seshan’. It was a moniker he revelled in.


    Alas, the Election Commission of today behaves like a very different animal. It’s more pet dog than guard dog, if you want to extend the analogy. It seems to have forgotten the need for fairness and transparency. It’s no longer determined to do its job even in the teeth of fierce resistance. Instead, it seeks the easy way out.


    A month has lapsed since the Prime Minister’s Banswara speech – in fact, in thirteen days from now voting will have concluded – but the Commission has barely acted in response to accusations the PM blatantly breached the model code of conduct as well as the Representation of People Act. Consider what it’s done.


    Unlike the case of K. Chandrashekar Rao, A. Raja, Supriya Shrinate and Randeep Surjewala, it decided not to issue a notice directly to Modi. Instead, it wrote to BJP President J. P. Nadda on the flimsy grounds Modi is the Party’s star campaigner. The notice did not mention the PM by name or designation. Only the annexed documents did that. When the Party failed to respond on the specified date, it readily agreed to a week’s extension. Thereafter it agreed to one week more. Even after receiving a response, the Commission is in no hurry to take a decision. This deliberate prevarication suggests it’s playing for time.


    Meanwhile, what has the Prime Minister done? On virtually a daily basis he’s continued to demonize Muslims in Hindu eyes with repeated allegations that reservations intended for OBCs, STs and SCs will be snatched and given to them. Even mangalsutras and streedhan – and if you have two buffaloes, one of them – will be grabbed and given to Muslims.


    Is this not compounding his original breach by careful and deliberate repetition? Is it not disregard for and defiance of the Commission’s authority?


    All the Commission seems to be able to do is sit back, listen and twiddle its thumbs. Why has it not taken tougher action? Why has it not moved to act suo moto? Why has it not called out the PM or, at least, the BJP for this continued, actually ceaseless, defiance? Article 324 of the Constitution gives it all the powers it requires. What it lacks is the willingness to exercise them. That means it lacks the commitment to a fair election. It lacks the moral imperative to act fairly, equally and transparently.


    Imagine what T. N. Seshan would have done. He would have called out the Prime Minister, loudly, bluntly and unhesitatingly. He would have barred him from campaigning for two or three days. And then he’d have held press conferences and given interviews to explain and justify his action. In return the country would have applauded and breaches of the model code would have immediately ceased.


    No wonder Ramachandra Guha, one of our highly-regarded historians and an astute public commentator, says the present three Commissioners have brought “dishonour and disgrace” to the institution. He adds when the history of the Commission is written they’ll be remembered as amongst the worst. He’s right.


    But the sad truth goes deeper. In the first instance, the injury is to our democracy. We’re proud of being the world’s biggest but the Election Commission is hollowing out that boast. And don’t think the world won’t notice. Their correspondents are on top of the story.


    Ultimately, of course, it’s us, ‘we the people’, who’ll pay the price. By failing to act the Commission has let all of us down.

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