There is something almost ominous in the suggestion of the Chief Election Commissioner to “revisit” a rule that provides for prosecution of a voter if a complaint of EVM or VVPAT malfunction turns out to be false.
Not even Mr Sunil Arora’s most ardent fan will call him one of the better CECs this country has had. Several of the decisions of the Commission in recent weeks were called into question, and while the architecture of Indian electoral contests is such that not everyone can possibly be pleased by the EC’s orders, the body under Mr Arora’s charge recorded many that raised concerned eyebrows.
While the Commission must find for itself ways to deal with vexatious complaints, even the suggestion of a threat to use penal provisions against a voter who is agitated about a malfunction militates against the notion of a free and fair poll for it will have a chilling effect on one who sees a foul and wants to call it out.
The voting process is confidential for a good reason. The citizen ~ who finds his place under the sun once in five years ~ has a right to be satisfied about the sanctity of the process, without being threatened with a jail term if he sees something wrong, even if it is determined that his suspicion was misplaced. Indeed, a Commission committed to preserving the integrity of its work ~ its only work if we may say so ~ ought to encourage citizens in joining hands to make the system pristine.
Mr Arora’s approach, if he is serious about carrying out even a softened version of this threat, is fatally flawed. The onus cannot be on the voter to prove a mismatch; the onus is and can only be on the Commission to allay every concern a voter has, even one that may be without basis.
It is difficult not to wonder whether the training that Mr Arora and others of his ilk from the Indian Administrative Service bring to the Election Commission is inapt.
For while trained to perform a limited judicial role as Executive Magistrates, IAS officers act even in that role as agents of the executive. Consequently, some of them may on occasion lack the judiciousness and sagacity required in a job which requires dexterous balancing of democracy’s most important scales. Historically, the Election Commission has drawn its top officers from two streams ~ the Indian Civil Service (later the Indian Administrative Service) and the legal service.
But for at least the past two decades, the Commission has become the preserve of the IAS with the occasional nod towards allied administrative services, and with scarcely anyone from a legal or judicial background being considered for the job of an Election Commissioner.
This situation needs to be reviewed, and urgently, if only to avoid such whimsies as unrecorded dissents and thoughts of punishment for voters who raise questions about electoral probity. Mr Arora and his colleagues wouldn’t quite be covering themselves with glory if they enforced penal provisions against voters even “very, very rarely”.