Charged with bias, the Election Commission - a constitutional authority with colossal powers - has blinked. It could be perceived as an affront to democracy itself, writes Gajanan Khergamker
When Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi defied the State orders, he called ‘unjust’, and embarked on a road show in Varanasi despite being prohibited by the district administration, it was perceive as a ‘violation of the Code of Conduct Rules.’
Narendra Modi was supposed to hold a rally in two places in Varanasi but was only given permission for one just road show. According to the State and Election Commission, Modi was denied from holding the rally for security reasons. But, the BJP termed it as a ploy to stop their Prime Ministerial candidate from canvasing and accused the Election Commission of being ‘biased’ and working under pressure of other political parties. Narendra Modi is contesting from Varanasi against Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal and Congress’s nominee Ajay Rai.
A little earlier, Modi was accused of ‘influencing voters’ after he posed for a ‘selfie’ showing his ‘voting finger’ while holding the BJP election symbol in hand. Also, he made a public speech when he came out after casting his vote. First Information Reports (FIRs) were file against him and the Election Commission booked him for violating the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
Some dubbed the Election Commission of being ‘too harsh’ on Modi for booking him for violating the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The opposition had a field day after the selfie incident but BJP maintained that Modi had not flouted any laws. The party’s claims however seemed founded when the day after the selfie incident the police affirmed that Modi did not flout any rules since he made the speech outside the restricted 100-metre radius.
Going by the way thing did, they seem that Modi is the only one violating election rules day after day and with flagrant disdain for the law. But, it’s not just the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate who has been booked for not adhering to the Code of Conduct Rules. Political aspirants and leaders from every other political parties have been charged with flouting election rules.
Just a few days back Congress’ Prime Ministerial candidate too made news when he was seen at three polling booth just hours before the election process began. Reportedly, he had gone near the EVM area to ‘inspect’ the EVM machines in Amethi. Rahul Gandhi is the sitting MP from Amethi.
Election Commission maintained that entering the polling area is a violation of rules.
A candidate can talk to the voters outside the polling booth but entering the voting compartment is only for the voters, polling officer and the presiding officer. Congress, however said that it ‘believes’ that merely examining the EVM machines in the polling booths is not a cognisable offence.
And, even though EC agreed that entering the polling area was an offence, it decided not to book Gandhi because he was only there to inspect the ‘faulty’ EVM machine (at Phoola polling station at Amethi) and left before the new machine came or the polling began. The EC reasoned that “since Rahul left the polling station before polling began, he did not violate the secrecy of ballot and also did not hinder the polling process in any way.”
When asked about Gandhi’s presence at two other polling stations - Ashtabhuja Vidyalaya, Sahamau and Prathamik Vidyalaya, Koora – where there was no broken EVM machine, the EC said that ‘Rahul’s presence at these polling stations was not examined as the formal complaint made to the poll panel related only to the Phoola polling station.”
It is essential to note that the EC has the power to suo moto take up matters where politicians are found violating the Code of Conduct, it doesn’t ‘need’ formal complaint to act against anyone violating rules, but the EC chose not to act against it.
In April, West Bengal Chief Minsiter Mamata Banerjee got into a spat with the EC when it had asked the West Bengal state government to transfer eight of its officials. Banerjee even termed the commission’s decision as a conspiracy hatched by the central government, the poll panel, the Congress, the BJP and the CPI-M and a media group.
The Tamil Nadu State Election Commission recently reported that it has received over 3,000 complaints of Model Code violation. It also stated that efforts are being taken to ensure that a maximum number of charge-sheets are filed before May 16.
From this, charge-sheets for around 1,200 complaints were being readied and would be filed in the court before the election result day Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar said to a section of media. The Tamil Nadu Election commission aims to file a maximum number of cases in court before the Poll result declaration day.
Flouting Election Commission’s orders and failing to pay heed to the Code of Conducts Rules is not a new phenomenon.
Every election, whether state or national, political parties and politicians are known to flout norms and try to find loopholes in the Code of Conduct Rules to try and campaign/influence maximum voters till the day of voting.
But, this time around, considering the 2014 Lok Sabha poll is being touted as the biggest-ever democratic election so far, there’re correspondingly myriad complaints being filed against parties and political leaders across the nation.
RTI activist Anil Galgali, filed an RTI query with Chief Electoral Officer in April, seeking information about the status of cases filed during the three earlier parliamentary polls. The reply that followed hardly provided any information.
The GAD (General Administration Department) under the Chief Election Officer (CEO) replied all the records of action taken on violations in the past elections were destroyed in the fire incident at Mantralaya in June 2012 thereby quashing any hope of figuring out the action taken against past Code of Conduct Rules offenders.
Every political party flouts some norms, files complaints against the competing parties, feels cheated and claims that the Election Commission is being soft on opponent parties.
This time around, it has been no different. Every party had their share of rule breaking and calling upon Election Commission for other parties’ faults.
The poll panel in early April had ordered the transfer of five police superintendents, one district magistrate and two additional district magistrates from their posts. But, Banerjee up till now had relented saying that she will resign but will not transfer her officials.
But just a couple of days ago, Banerjee agreed to transfer the officers as per the EC’s orders ‘till the time of election duty.’ She, however, maintained that the Election Commission ordering the transfer of state official was ‘unconstitutional’ and it needed to be looked in to.
Even Union Ministers were found flouting Code of Conduct Rules. References to ministers/politicians on the ministries portal are prohibited during elections. But, many Union Ministers were found to be violating this rule.
Right from Corporate Affairs minister Sachin Pilot to other Union Cabinet ministers like telecommunications minister Kapil Sibal, civil aviation minister Veerapa Moily, health and family welfare minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and human resources development ministries Pallam Raju - were found to be promoting their ‘achievements’ and political careers on the national portals.
According to the EC circular, all references of the ministers, politicians and political parties on the official websites have to be deleted during the election period of general/assembly and bye-polls. The circular explains the section 7 (4) of the model code of the conduct which ensures the ‘party in power’ doesn’t use its official position for the election campaign.
The ministries didn’t even comply with the other notices the EC sent to the cabinet secretary, chief secretaries and chief electoral officers of all the state and union territories towards March end.
In its notice the commission has expressed displeasure over non-compliance of the rules. “It was observed that many ministries and departments and government organisations are ‘eulogising’ their achievements as the personal achievements of the ministers and politicians.” The authorities were asked to ensure ‘strict compliance’.
Almost in vindication of allegations of bias after being charged with the same, following the election commissioner HS Brahma’s ‘public criticism’ of Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath with regard to the handling of the BJP’s Varanasi rally dispute, a special poll observer has been appointed for overseeing the polling in Varanasi. The seemingly-selective discretionary attitude of the Election Commission has risked thwarting its Constitutional basis.
(With Inputs from Prerna Pandey)
Charged With ‘Baised’
Rahul enters polling booth
Modi poses for a selfie
BANERJEE TAKES ON EC
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