Updated: April 12, 2017 12:06:34 am
The Election Commission of India is deservedly celebrated as one of India’s most robust and trusted institutions. But some of its recent actions fail to meet the high standards it has set for itself over the years. Its move, for instance, to rescind the byelection in RK Nagar assembly constituency in Tamil Nadu, and the management of the Lok Sabha bypolls in J&K, raise disturbing questions.
Last Sunday, the EC countermanded the RK Nagar bypoll and postponed it till “the vitiating effect created by the distribution of money and gift items to allure the electors… gets removed with the passage of time and the atmosphere in the constituency becomes conducive to the holding of free and fair election”. The EC has contended that IT raids at the premises of state health minister, C. Vijaya Baskar, have unearthed “incriminating documents in the form of overall money distribution chart to several leading political executives and functionaries totaling to Rs 89 crore” and unravelled “a huge and systematic design to distribute money to voters in order to induce/bribe them to influence their voting behaviour”. The EC’s case is not compelling enough. For one, that the said amount has been or would have been distributed among voters is yet to be established. Secondly, the actual cash seized while being distributed amounts to Rs 31 lakh — the EC has made much larger seizures in the run-up to elections in the past. Barring on two occasions — Aruvakurichi and Thanjavur assembly constituencies, also in Tamil Nadu in 2016 — it has not rescinded those elections. Countermanding polls is an extreme step. It must be resorted to only when the reasons are clear and unambiguous. By all accounts, the EC appears to have acted in haste in RK Nagar.
There are questions, too, about the urgency — and lack of homework — displayed by the commission in holding the byelection in Srinagar as scheduled, despite the Ministry of Home Affairs reportedly writing to it to ask it to wait till the holding of panchayat polls in the state. As it turned out, the bypoll saw the turnout plunge and the violence spike, drastically. The EC has since postponed the election in Anantnag. The commission needs to reflect on whether it could have handled both bypolls — in Tamil Nadu and Kashmir — with greater wisdom and surefootedness.
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