The Election Commission must respond to the people's concerns
Independent institutions tasked with guarding the democracy thrive on public confidence. The Election Commission, for example, has the enormous task of ensuring free and fair elections throughout the country. At the time the democratic republic was taking shape, however, even the most visionary of statesmen could not have foreseen the complications and conflicts, the multiplying ideologies, higher stakes and canny strategies that the burgeoning democracy would bring forth with changing times and mindsets. The strength of not just the EC but all independent institutions would go through many tests, assailed by forces against which structural defences had not been thought of. The EC’s strength, for instance, found full expression during the tenure of T.N. Seshan as chief election commissioner from 1990 to 1996, and the institution has been looked up to for its neutrality, transparency, firmness and efficiency ever since. The model code of conduct for elections has always been a token of its firmness and fairness, something everyone can fall back on.
So it is deeply unfortunate that the 2019 elections and a few assembly elections in the last five years have gradually been denting public confidence. Early in April, 66 retired bureaucrats took the unprecedented step of writing to the president of India a letter expressing their pained doubts about the EC’s neutrality. Things have worsened since. It is not that the EC has fallen completely silent regarding MCC violations. It pulled up Yogi Adityanath, Mayavati, Maneka Gandhi and Azam Khan for crossing the line. But, in spite of admonishing Mr Adityanath for talking about “Modiji ki sena”, the EC finds no violation in Narendra Modi’s exhortation to first-time voters to cast the first vote in the name of Balakot and Pulwama. This comes after Mr Modi has been cleared of electoral impropriety by bringing Hindus and Muslims into his speech deriding Rahul Gandhi for contesting from Wayanad, where the ‘majority is the minority’. Besides, the EC has moved only after the Supreme Court’s nudge: it was sitting for days on the Congress’s complaints of MCC violations against the prime minister and the BJP president. For the people of India, this is neither firm nor transparent. Loss of confidence in the EC would destroy trust in the democratic order, which is truly dangerous for everyone. The EC cannot afford it. It is best if the EC thinks of ways to respond to people’s concerns.