Hiccups in fairplay
Conducting elections in a country this big is certainly a task. The Election Commission of India (EC) has been in news for a while now. With shufflings in the civil administration, notices issued over misconduct, VVPAT confrontation with opposition parties, banning biopics over MCC, failing EVMs in the first phase and scrutiny over its powers, its been busy at the office for election officials. The Supreme Court has been involved in several of these confrontations, coming out as guiding light ensuring a free and fair mood of elections more than EC on occasions. Pleas filed in the top court have at the very least promised to strengthen loose ends so that there is nothing to even remotely blemish the electoral process's sanctity. With the Supreme Court's scrutiny, ECI discovered itself empowered to bar Mayawati, CM Yogi, Maneka Gandhi, SP leader Azam Khan from campaigning over objectionable statements uttered in their campaign speeches. Flouting the Model Code of Conduct has been a recurring feature but effective measures have been deployed to ensure a neutral atmosphere. The free and fair argument has seen some severe tussling in the south though. Tamil Nadu's Chief Electoral Officer had revealed cash worth Rs 135.41 crore seized in the state since the Model Code of Conduct came into force. Now that is a grave threat to election flaring ECI's apprehensions. Monetary influence in the Lok Sabha elections is a serious mishap on the Constitutional body's part and matters in Tamil Nadu do not augur too well. Last week's Income Tax revelation of Rs 11.53 crore concealed in a cement godown belonging to an associate of a DMK leader in Vellore district had pushed EC to consider the cancellation of polls in Vellore. While DMK maintains that these raids were politically motivated, that was not enough to convince EC which then reportedly wrote to the President regarding the cancellation of polls there. Finally cancelled just a day before Vellore was to vote in the second phase of the Lok Sabha polls, Supreme Court had urged EC to peruse the plea which cited a rise in cash-for-votes instances in Tamil Nadu. Citing the recent raids on the premises of DMK leaders in Vellore district, the petition, filed by a social worker claimed that the act of buying votes denied "an equal voice for some voters and an equal chance for some candidates". The petition demanded heightened awareness through media over the mala fide act of buying votes and also called for more flying squads to increase vigilance. Before calling off the poll in Vellore, the apex court had served EC a copy of the petition to examine and act accordingly. The petition only highlights and adds to the problem of money and ensuing influence which EC is well aware of and working on.
Cancelling election in Vellore is not the first instance of its kind since back in May 2016, the Election Commission recommended cancelling assembly by-polls in Avarakurichi and Thanjavur, saying it was the first time Indian elections were being cancelled because voters were bribed. The two elections were held in November 2016. While awareness definitely aids in curbing cash-for-vote instances, but, at the same time, can also be ignored. Money is a lucrative commodity and it definitely moves masses. It may not be done very rampantly but in pockets, cash can be slid in and votes can be amassed without the EC knowing of such malpractice. It is necessary to ensure that parties do not act hastily with their evil plots and cherish a sense of impunity. Apart from elections being cancelled (and likely postponed), candidates can be failed or parties can be fined. Cash-for-vote must be eroded from the roots. EC ought to carefully implement measures and at the same time, take bold decisions, as in Vellore and the past, to uphold its credibility and ensure the neutral ground for the mandate. Any discrepancy will severely damage the election process which, not to forget, is also an expensive affair – in terms of both time and money. The petition certainly highlighted a detrimental affair which, given Tamil Nadu's representation in Lok Sabha with regard to seats, could have been instrumental in shifting the outcome.