Between one government and the next, a democracy needs a magic interlude. Else there would be no free and fair vote. The interlude is created by a shift of control of the administration from the reigning governments to the Election Commission once the election schedule is announced and the model code of conduct is introduced. Without this, a political party in power would be able to block other parties from campaigning, for being fair, unfortunately, is not instinctive. But party workers are often rather reluctant to accept this change. Hence India’s huge election arena becomes dotted with conflicts between aggressive party workers and dutiful EC workers, in which the EC workers trying to stop violations of the model code are often left vulnerable by the administration.
That, of course, is the crux of the problem. The administration, or particular members of it, may tend to indulge in partiality towards the government in power. For example, in Odisha, the EC is looking into opposition parties’ complaints against three district collectors and two police officials for misusing their powers to help the ruling party in the state. This could be put down to a lack of professionalism. These officers seem to have forgotten that once engaged in working for the elections, their political selves would have to be obliterated, or, put another way, no political party could have preference. Even leaving aside such obvious missteps, the EC has a rough time of it. Activists from the rival Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena went at it hammer and tongs — and, reportedly, stones — in front of the election office in the Mumbai collectorate when their respective candidates went to file their papers. The police did a good job of controlling them, although the EC was blamed by one leader for allowing the rival candidates to file papers on the same day. Again, the fact that EC workers had tried to take down festoons, flags and posters from government property according to the directives of the commission in West Bengal was enough to incense the supporters of the party concerned. It is up to the administration to ensure the security of government workers for the polls as long as they are not acting at the behest of a political party. This is a sensitive and troublesome time; it would be of great help if everyone did the jobs they are entrusted with.