The Supreme Court of India in a landmark judgment no so long ago described certain institutions of India as ‘integrity institutions.’ Most important of these was the Election Commission of India, followed by the judiciary.
The CEC is connected to our democratic well-being. Therein lies its exceptional importance. Like many other integrity institutions like the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, Comptroller and Accountant General and the Chief Information Commissioner, the CEC too has stood diminished in recent times.
The Constitution, under Article 324, gives Election Commissioners extraordinary powers in conducting free and fair elections of the President, the Vice-President, MPs and MLAs, among others. The CEC cannot be removed from office except in like manner and on the like grounds as a judge of the Supreme Court, which is well nigh impossible.
The Election Commission had evolved the Model Code of Conduct in consultation with all political parties for the smooth conduct of elections. It has been flouted with impunity in recent weeks. A television channel started broadcasting without a licence to uplinkdownlink via satellite, a legal requirement.
During election time when the MCC is in force, any slot of advertisement on any channel by a political party to propagate its message should obtain a certificate from the EC. EC is reticent to take any action against the channel for violating rules. Kalyan Singh, Governor of Rajasthan, has exhorted people to vote for the BJP.
“All of us are BJP workers…It is necessary that Modiji becomes the Prime Minister again,” he said, in gross violation of the MCC. EC referred the matter to the President who forwarded it to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The buck stopped there.
Instances like this are numerous. In Tamil Nadu, the EC has been proactive on the side of the ruling party. The BJP has forged an alliance with the ruling faction of the AIADMK for the Lok Sabha election. The Tamil Nadu government, with the acquiescence of the EC, albeit with a caveat, renamed Chennai railway station after MGR on 5 April even as the election campaign was in full swing.
The TTV Dinakaran-led rival AIADMK faction called the AMMK was allotted the “cooker” symbol when he contested a by-election to the Assembly shortly after the AIADMK split. Ever since, the cooker symbol came to be identified with the AMMK.
For the current election, the EC denied the AMMK the cooker symbol and it has been allotted to Independent candidates contesting against the AMMK. Unless the power to select Election Commissioners is taken away from the government of the day and entrusted to a collegium, the reputation of the EC as the best institution of integrity cannot be maintained.