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Election Commissioner speaks out: ‘Winning at all cost, without ethics, is new normal in politics’

Election Commissioner O P Rawat’s remarks are significant against the backdrop of the political storm that raged at the time of Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat.

Written by Ritika Chopra | New Delhi | Updated: August 18, 2017 8:46 am
Election Commission, O P Rawat, election news, election commissioner, ec on elections Election Commission of India.

Barely ten days after the Election Commission used its special powers to reject votes cast by two rebel Congress MLAs in the high-stakes Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat, Election Commissioner O P Rawat spoke out against the “creeping new normal of political morality” here on Thursday.

“Democracy thrives when elections are free, fair and transparent. However, it appears to a cynical common man that we have been scripting a narrative that places maximum premium on winning at all costs — to the exclusion of ethical considerations,” he said in his keynote address delivered at the ‘Consultation on Electoral and Political Reforms’ organised by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR).

“In this narrative, poaching of legislators is extolled as smart political management; strategic introduction of money for allurement, tough-minded use of state machinery for intimidation etc. are all commended as resourcefulness.

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“The winner can commit no sin; a defector crossing over to the ruling camp stands cleansed of all the guilt as also possible criminality. It is this creeping ‘new normal’ of political morality that should be the target for exemplary action by all political parties, politicians, media, civil society organisations, constitutional authorities and all those having faith in democratic polity for better election, a better tomorrow,” he added.

Rawat’s remarks are significant against the backdrop of the political storm that raged at the time of Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat. Congress lost six MLAs in the state to BJP ahead of the August 8 elections, leaving its candidate Ahmed Patel with very little leeway in the final count. The Congress then herded its remaining 44 legislators to a luxury resort in Karnataka to prevent any further defections.

Within days, the Income Tax department searched 60 premises linked to Karnataka Energy Minister D K Shivakumar who was overseeing the stay of these MLAs. Questioning the timing of the raid, the Congress accused BJP of misusing its resources and sought the Election Commission’s protection.

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However, the most dramatic twist came on the day of the election, when the EC, in a rare move, invoked Article 324 of the Constitution to revoke the decision of its Returning Officer (RO) in the state and declare invalid the votes cast by two rebel Congress MLAs in favour of the BJP candidate.

Congress party leader Shaktisinh Gohil had alleged that Bholabhai Gohil and Raghavjibhai Patel had voted for the BJP and showed their ballots to BJP party president Amit Shah, who was one of the candidates.

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Although the BJP sent a high-profile delegation, led by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, to convince the EC otherwise, the poll panel concluded that the two Congress MLAs had violated secrecy norms by disclosing their choice to unauthorised persons, other than the party’s election agent.

At the ADR meet today, Rawat also spoke against the practice of paid news and said that it should be made an electoral offence punishable by two years of imprisonment. Apart from calling for a limit on the election expenditure of political parties, he reiterated the Commission’s reservations on proposed electoral bonds and the amendment to the Representation of the People Act which permits political parties to not disclose details of donors contributing funds through electoral bonds.

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  1. M
    M.Fameen
    Aug 25, 2017 at 11:00 am
    Election commissioners address should be taken note of and irregularities should be ironed out during elections. Further people usually vote for the party instead of individuals so the mla or mp has no right to defect. If they dont like their party it is better they resign.
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      Pawan Singla
      Aug 19, 2017 at 12:25 pm
      How is it different if one shows his/her vote to someone other than the party agent than declaring openly/ publicly that heir she has cast his vote in favour of so and so. Is it justified to snatch the right to speak the truth and cancel the vote if the vote is shown or declared? If the vote could be shown to the so called election agent of the party, it is no secret voting and so if the vote is shown / declared how the vote becomes invalid?
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        rishi
        Aug 19, 2017 at 2:36 am
        mr. rawat, the new normal is NDA's Good Governance After Politics.....earlier it was only politics after politics after politics......governance did not exist ! Please check your facts.
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          Ram
          Aug 19, 2017 at 12:11 am
          If SC sets aside EC order of disqualifying Gujarat congress MLAs then Modi government should ask EC officials responsible for that shoild resign for acting as congress/SOnia/Ahmed Patel agents. Also it is not SC job to keep on making unwarranted statements, after all they all are just former bureaucrats and it is for the people or SC to decide when some injustice happen. Their job is when elections are announced to conduct it properly and shutup until next round of elections. They should stop doing this tamasha of moral preaching. Voters in a democracy will act and they are not fools as they proved in 2014 LS or recent UP elections. EC should better address fair election in places like WB/Kerala where goonda elements control and manage win for ruling parties.
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            Saurabh
            Aug 19, 2017 at 1:36 pm
            SC set aside governors' decisions in UTTARAKHAND N ARUNACHAL PRADESH. Did they resign? Did u demand them to resign? Why so? EC's job ends with elections? Then why are they allowed to have a permanent secretariat? Just call them when needed? That's because they have a general resp. too to make recommendations, study best practives, drive public opinion. Also, they operate in a space where u n i don't, they are privy to many hidden things. Why should they not be conscious enough to highlight what they find? How will voters demand anything from parties? Is there only 1 issue they vote on? You might be influenced by bringing some religious or caste angle in the elections n boom u'll forget everything about probity. isn't it? BTW just because people voted for MODI, they are wise? What a self-congratulatory comment, then what abt 65 who didn't? Should their right to vote be taken away? What wrong has EC done? Why r u afraid? If voters don't find any merit, they'd not be influenced. right?
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            S. Gowrishankar,
            Aug 18, 2017 at 10:33 pm
            This election commissioner should shut up and do his job. We do not want his judgement. He is just a servant of the people and someone who gives sermons to them.
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              kamlapati
              Aug 18, 2017 at 11:57 pm
              HE HAS NOT GIVEN ANY JUDGEMENT. HE IS ONLY DOING HIS DUTY { ACCORDING TO ARTICLE 324 OF THE CONS UTION OF INDIA IT IS HIS MORAL DUTY TO CONDUCT FREE AND FAIR ELECTION IN INDIA} ". ELECTION COMMISSION IS NOT AN EMPLOYEE OF THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA .THE OBSERVATION OF ELECTION COMMISSION IS A BIG SLAP ON THE FACE OF THE PERSON WHO CLAIMS TO BE "PRATHAM SEWAK" OF THE PEOPLE OF INDIA. BUT THIS PRATAM SEWAK IS A SHAMELESS FELLOW
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                Ram
                Aug 19, 2017 at 12:24 am
                It could be against corrupt actions of congress like Sasikala did in hijacking and putting MLAs under house arrest in resorts and forcing them to vote in a particular way. EC should put an end to this resort politics, by disqualifying all MLAs who are isolated like that by political parties. MLA/MPs should be allowed what they really want and face their cons uents for their action as they are elected by voters not by Sonia/Sasikala/ or any ISI/China related en y! It is time to get rid of party-whip and make elected officials top act according their cons uents wish. In today scenario it makes no sense that opposition is in majority when everywhere except in WB people are voting against them. Does RS reflect people's wish? Why fellow like Ahmed Patel have next 5 year term when in reality most MLAs who voted him will not get reelected in elections happening soon?
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