Mountaineers maintain that getting off a mountain is always more difficult than climbing. Politicians, however, do not find climbing down from a high horse at all troublesome. On Monday, the chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, had thrown down the gauntlet to the Election Commission. She had refused to accept its orders to transfer eight officials from their posts and had challenged the EC to do anything it wanted against her. By the evening of Tuesday, however, her shrieking had ceased and she accepted what the EC wanted. She did not withdraw her grouse and allegations against the EC. It could not have been easy for a person like Ms Banerjee to accept that she had erred, politically and constitutionally, in taking on the EC on this matter and in this manner. She should have known as an elected chief minister that the EC was well within its rights to order the transfers and that there was nothing unprecedented in what the EC had ordered. In fact, under the rule of the Left Front, it had ordered similar transfers much to the ire of the then chief minister, Jyoti Basu.
What is welcome is that at the end Ms Banerjee saw — or was made to see by her advisors — good sense and a very unpleasant predicament was narrowly avoided. It was impossible for the EC to withdraw its order as that would have had adverse and all-India ramifications. The climb down had to come from Ms Banerjee’s side and it is good that it did. What she must recognize is that it is the responsibility of the EC to ensure free and fair elections. The EC is empowered to take whatever steps it deems fit to guarantee that the people can vote without fear. Ms Banerjee will also admit that one factor in her success against the Left Front is the efficiency with which the EC carries out its responsibility. She is a beneficiary of the EC’s work. She should not decry the institution. The EC, since the time of T.N. Seshan, has emerged as one of the pillars of the Indian democratic system. Any attack on it and its intentions is liable to be seen as an attempt to erode the democratic system of the country. Ms Banerjee can ill afford to thrust such an image on herself. She has battled against her political opponents from within the democratic system. Now as chief minister she should not needlessly criticize the EC merely because some of its orders are not to her liking. She must talk and behave as befits her status.