In opting to merely censure BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj for his communal comments on 6 January, the Election Commission may have missed out on an opportunity to crack down on specious appeals to the electorate. More so since, as the Commission has itself observed, the Supreme Court has recently reiterated the illegality of “any statement to the effect of promoting enmity between different classes of society in connection with election on the grounds of religion made during electioneering or otherwise”. Since the MP falls into the category of “habitual offenders” it is unlikely that he will be chastened by the warning not to repeat his utterances (too despicable to print once more).
To expect his party’s leadership to enforce the desired standards of public life would be wishful thinking, the track record does not point to that. If the Model Code of Conduct does not provide for deterrent action, the least the EC could have done was to direct the police to pursue the action it has already initiated. It is inevitable that there will be much negative “reading between the lines” of the EC order. Particularly because that order firmly rejects the arguments the MP had advanced in his reply to the EC’s notice.
The issue at stake involves much more than the utterances of an individual. It was a test case for the EC, the apex court had strengthened the hands of Nirvachan Sadan, but a lowly benchmark has been set. The brand of politicians who garner votes on caste or communal considerations will not be deterred by censures and warnings, yet the EC now cannot do much more after its initial soft-pedalling.
Consequently, there will be rapid dissipation of the hopes of less-dirty election practices that had been generated by the Supreme Court. Having ducked the opportunity to assert itself, the Commission as presently constituted, could invite even more trouble, on multiple fronts. The polls in UP were always expected to make a “determination” ~ but not one of this nature. Those who had yearned for a “revolution” in poll practices stand disappointed.