Not a level polling field

Kashmir Times. Dated: 5/23/2019 2:00:21 PM

The partisan role of the ECI and fears of rigging EVMs underpin the need for course correction and electoral reforms

As counting of votes in the largest democratic exercise of the world begins on Thursday, one of the most keenly watched electoral contest in recent times amidst apprehensions of rigging of EVMs by the ruling dispensation serves important lessons if the country hopes to keep on the track of upholding democratic values and re-strengthening democracy. The electioneering period exposed the many vulnerabilities to and fragility of healthy and principled politics as well as erosion of democratic institutions. The most glaring examples were the liberal misuse of official machinery by none other than the prime minister, the abusive language of discord and the extremely partisan role of the Election Commission. The latter displayed prejudice by failing to act against the prime minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah despite the use of abusive language, communal discourse and hate speeches by the duo as well as brazen attempts by them to politicise the armed forces. The row over EVMs with videos of unprotected voting machines having surfaced near the strong rooms in various parts of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab after the completion of polling raise further doubts about the credibility of the institution and its commitment to fairness in the elections. The Election Commission has sought to set aside apprehensions of an electoral fraud by stating a half-truth about the EVMs in the videos being the unused ones. Rules, however, stipulate the accounting of and protection for each and every used and unused EVM. The apex court too has failed to assuage the fears by rejecting the petition for 100 percent verification and matching of EVMs with VVPAT machines. Transparency is the right of the citizen. Throughout the prolonged period of campaigning, the Election Commission has failed to instill confidence in the public about fairness and this is a major cause for concern. In recent decades, several former Election Commissioners have contributed to the strengthening of the institution by asserting themselves against the mightiest of political giants and made the institution a credible one. In 2019, worryingly, those gains made in recent years appears to have been lost. Election Commission's job is to instill confidence regarding elections by ensuring fairness, lack of bias and by providing level playing field for all political groups.
As it is, this level playing field has been evasive throughout the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The money and muscle power at the disposal of the ruling dispensation through the system of secret electoral bonds has struck a damaging blow to the cause of fairness in elections and thus to democracy. The inability of the Election Commission to take action against all allegations of 'cash for votes', blatant violation of norms in propagandist organs like Namo TV and the hate speeches have further jeopardized the interests of equality. Added to this, a committedly coopted media machinery has turned the election campaigning into a one-sided circus in favour of the ruling party. The manner in which the election calendar has been fixed also appeared to suit the ruling dispensation. The evident lessons to be learnt are not just for ensuring non-partisan role of the Election Commission but also highlight the need for electoral reforms. The prolonged election campaigning does not suit the interests of the country and the gap between the last polling phase and the counting day, arousing doubts about mal-practices and enhancing public apprehensions, need to be avoided. A technology like EVMs should ensure swiftness of election process and transparency, not delays and erosion of faith in the electoral process. It is indeed a sad reflection of things if opposition party workers have to plonk themselves outside the strong rooms of the counting stations to guard them and ensure that no tampering with the voting machines is done only because the institutions have failed in their job. Such lack of faith in the Election Commission is worrying not just for now but for times to come as well.



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