Commissioning electoral fairness
As the Elections 2014, the biggest exercise of democratic right of universal franchise across the world, reaches its last leg, with just one phase left to go on 12 May, what has been debated heatedly in the national media and among the politicians themselves was the role of the Election Commission itself. The poll panel has, in this election season, taken a number of bold and difficult decisions that have been hotly contested by various political parties and their supporters in the media and civil society. Strengthening the model code of conduct, bringing in new features and rule that have tried to curb malpractices during the election campaigns, the poll panel has managed to orchestrate, not without some hiccups, the biggest ever parliamentary polls in history. Since 1951, when the first general elections were held, EC has been bestowed with powers and functions – including demarcation of constituencies, seat distribution, identification of voters and making of the electoral rolls, recognition of political parties and allotment of specific symbols, evaluation of nomination papers and verifying declarations of assets, expenditures and other transactions, conducting the poll in a free and fair manner, ensuring security of polling officials and voters by making suitable arrangements with the state and central governments, maintaining an accurate and up-to-date estimate of election expenses, taking action against erring contestants and invigilating the election campaigns to avoid violation of model code of conduct, and finally, counting the votes and submitting the reports to the president, who subsequently calls the top performing political party to form the next union government.
The EC is, therefore, the backbone of this mammoth exercise that is democratic franchise, and, along with the media, is a ‘watchdog of democracy.’ The primary purpose of the EC is to ensure transparency and judiciousness in the conduct of the polls, empowering not just the citizen but the institutions too, resolving complex issues swiftly and taking action wherever a breach of rule has occurred. Election 2014, which is the enduring dance of world’s biggest democracy, has been filled with too many instances of violation of rules and breach of sacrosanct norms, incurring the wrath of EC. But as the Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath has aptly commented, the poll panel has only walked the tightrope, and has managed to engineer free and fair polling in the toughest and most dangerous of constituencies like Bastar in Chhattisgarh. Despite punctured by incidences of violence, such as those in Assam, the EC must be congratulated for overseeing such a gigantic phenomenon.