The sad picture the Election Commission of India has painted of itself in recent weeks has only been enhanced by the temporary restriction it imposed on public campaigning by four leading political figures in UP. For it requires no “proof” for the common citizen to conclude that the EC would have wallowed in indifference had the Supreme Court not goaded it into action, and jagged its memory into recalling some of the power it wielded.

Irked by the “powerless” stance that Nirvachan Sadan took against communalised electioneering, the apex court not only cautioned that the Chief Election Commissioner would be immediately summoned to explain his helplessness, it would examine afresh the authority of the Commission ~ the outcome of that review would be anxiously awaited by all those who accord a degree of sanctity to the poll process.

There can be little doubt that the credibility of the EC has been compromised. Like so many other “institutions” of the Republic it appears to have capitulated. Since the poll process is presently underway, it would be impractical to call upon the current Election Commissioners to step aside (the method of their appointment requires review), but surely the trio could look within and ask if the aspirations of the citizen have not been sacrificed. Faith and trust in the “system” are vital to a democracy: time was when the Election Commission commanded both.

Have they been sustained is the moot question the Chief Justice of India and two brother judges were constrained to raise on Monday. It is also essential to ask if the EC’s action is a case of too little too late, or is akin to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. A host of politicians ~ from all parties, it must be emphasised ~ have been pushing poll propriety to extreme limits.

Hardly has a single loudmouth been reprimanded by their party’s leadership. Discarded, seemingly forever, is the old theory that the benchmark is set by the ruling entity ~ no wonder that LK Advani and his contemporaries feel so obsolete in the prevailing political climate. Even before the socalled “model” code of conduct came into force it was evident that negativity would be a key element of the 2019 campaigning.

Abandoned by the wayside were poll promises, slogans and so on, to be replaced by ever-odious comparisons with what previous governments had failed to do. And the cancer of polarisation had taken such deep root that the four leaders now temporarily gagged would be wondering if they had committed a crime when swimming along with the political current.

If the Election Commission is to use the yardstick it applied on Monday, no “speech” would pass muster. And slogans like chowkidar chor hai would become as meaningless as sabka sath sabka vikas. Can the apex court provide the remedy the nation so sorely needs?