February 20, 2021 6:09:24 am
The Gujarat High Court Friday rejected a plea moved by Anand district panchayat members affiliated to Congress, seeking a uniform date for declaration of results for the elections to municipal corporations, taluka panchayats and municipalities. The court observed it was not possible for the State Election Commission (SEC) to control the minds of voters from being influenced by several factors and that the SEC should avoid taking a certificate from any court that ‘Rome burned while Nero fiddled’.
“‘Free’ and ‘fair’ are two small and simple words of the English language but the two words are so powerful that the entire democracy of this country is dependent on the same. Therefore, all the actions of the Election Commission must be of such a nature that they should instill confidence in the mind of the people including the poorest of the voters hailing from the most underprivileged and lower strata of society. The State Election Commission, as far as possible, should avoid taking a certificate from any court that ‘Rome burned while Nero fiddled’,” the court observed.
The petitioners had challenged the two-phase counting of votes with results of elections to municipal corporations being Gujarat HC declared on February 23, before the municipalities, district and gram panchayats go to polls on February 28, primarily on the ground that it may result in influencing the “heart and mind” of rural voters.
The division bench of Justices JB Pardiwala and Ilesh Vora while rejecting the plea opined that the “citizens should not be considered so weak in his thought process that his mind would get influenced in some way or the other with the declaration of the result of one part of the election first in point of time.”
The court also concluded that the SEC is a “constitutional functionary and as an independent body,” there was nothing on record to indicate that the declared election programme “is tainted with malafide or the same has been fixed at the instance of the ruling party in power.”
“If there would have been any credible material on record to indicate that the State Election Commission has not acted independently … we would have definitely interfered unhesitatingly,” the judgment noted.
The court observed that it is not possible for the State Election Commission (SEC) to control the minds of voters from being influenced by several factors of bias such as charisma, caste, religion, etc. as “many ambiguities” influences a voter’s voting behaviour, “although no theoretical supposition can sufficiently account for the final choice of all voters in the election process.”
“There are so many factors which may influence the mind of the voter. It all depends on the strata of the society the voter hails. A poor voter may get influenced by any corrupt practice like money or a pair of new clothes, etc.… From the tenor of the arguments we could make it out that what is hinted by the writ-applicants is that the two different dates of counting is nothing but a political strategy. No election is fought without a political strategy,” the judgment noted.
“The paramount duty and function of the Chief Election Commissioner is to ensure that none of the political parties or any of the candidates in the fray indulge in any corrupt practices and thereby influence the mind of the voters. But, it is very difficult to take the view that the result of the election to Corporations may influence the mind of the voters in the second part of the election… It is possible, and to a certain extent quite obvious, that the result of one part of the election may have its own influence on the second part of the election, but that by itself would not be sufficient to say that the election is not free and fair,” the court noted. It observed that “the power of judicial review should not be exercised unless the administrative decision is illogical or suffers from procedural impropriety or it shocks the conscience of the court…”
The SEC had argued that the petitioners’ contentions were based on “the personal perception…that if the results of the election to the six municipal corporations are declared prior to the election of the panchayats and municipalities, such result may influence the minds of the voters in the rural areas,” while also adding that “such a fear or perception is absolutely vague and without any basis.”
It was submitted by SEC, that for the elections that took place in 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2013 respectively, the date of declaration of the results were different.
Notably a similar petition was moved before the Gujarat HC in 2015 before the local body polls which went up to the Supreme Court. Before the SC, the SEC had agreed to undertake counting of municipal corporations, municipalities and panchayat polls, only after voting was concluded across all elected bodies, so as to “allay the fears” of influencing voters.
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