Party booths are spaces to legitimately mobilise support,why is the EC afraid if voters arent?
This Punjab election was visibly different from the ones that have gone before and for that the Election Commission of India can deservedly take a bow. There were few showy rallies or flashy carcades,and most candidates were compelled to hold modest meetings or plunge into arduous door-to-door electioneering. Decibel levels were kept unprecedentedly low and embellishments were minimal as politician wooed voter. Admittedly,in
the process,the poll process was stripped of much of its colour and atmosphere. It could also be argued that the flamboyant flows of money,drugs and alcohol,a Punjab election-time staple,were not banished,only driven underground. Yet,overall,the ECs stricter vigil brought palpable relief for the Punjabi voter. Even so,reports of the EC considering a ban on party booths,taking forward an experiment conducted during these polls in Punjab,are problematic.
Having established itself as the institution that,according to most surveys,enjoys the highest amount of credibility and trust among people,the onus is on the EC to use its enormous powers with extreme care. The dividing line is thin,indeed,between institutional vigour and overzealousness. In an intensely competitive democracy such as ours,as urgent as it is to curb the excesses of political parties,it is also necessary to guard and extend the spaces available to them to legitimately mobilise support and flaunt it too. The tradition of political parties setting up party booths or counters near polling stations offers one such space. If it also becomes the site of voter intimidation,the EC needs to be more watchful. The home delivery of voter slips,the experiment tried out this time in Punjab,cannot be used to curb the rights of parties in the name of electoral reform.
The contest this time in Punjab had been touted as closer than usual. As monitor,the ECs challenge was to curb excesses and keep the calm and through an elaborate machinery of checks,it was successful in doing so. But be it in Punjab,or in other poll-bound states,the EC must draw back from sending out the impression that the onus is now on political parties to prove their innocence.