The Election Commission is expected not only to conduct free and fair elections but also to ensure that the ruling parties at the Center and in the states do not get unethical and undesirable opportunities to strengthen their position by misusing the government machinery. However, questions have been raised on this aspect continuously in the elections held during the Corona era.
With the announcement of the assembly election program of five states of the country, including Uttar Pradesh, the largest by the Election Commission, the question has become bigger whether it will be able to hold these elections in the midst of the ever-increasing third wave of Corona and tightening restrictions. Will it be successful in conducting it in a free and fair manner?
Considering this, the first thing that comes to mind is that the Election Commission is expected not only to conduct free and fair elections but also to ensure that the ruling parties at the Center and in the states are not allowed to exercise their power by misusing the government machinery. Unethical and undesirable opportunities should not be given to strengthen the position, nor should such a situation be created, so that they appear several steps ahead of the rival parties from the beginning of the election or say the starting line itself.
Because fair elections cannot be imagined without ensuring equality of treatment to the rival parties, which is the duty of any umpire or referee.
To ensure this behavior, in many democratic countries, parties and candidates are allowed to start campaigning only after the announcement of the election schedule. So that all the campaigning should be done under the supervision of the Election Commission after implementing the Model Code of Conduct and its complete control over the administrative machinery.
In such a situation, the chances of misuse of government machinery with the ruling parties are almost negligible. Because when the Prime Minister, Chief Minister or Minister goes for the promotion of his party, then his party also has to bear the expenses of managing their meetings. The Election Commission has to give its account every day, so separately.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in our country and the ruling parties have undeclared ‘convenience’ to bring their governments into election mode without waiting for the announcement of the election and start telling their ‘achievements’ to the voters and showing new things.
Recently, Uttar Pradesh became the biggest witness to this, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its governments in both the country and the state together, several months before the formal announcement of elections, with inaugurations, dedications and foundation stones, mobiles, tablets and appointment letters etc. Along with this, he had started his campaign through grand celebrations and rallies organized at the government expense of distribution of inducements.
Be it the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the Chief Minister or the Minister, rallies and functions organized out of government resources used to rain heavily on the opposition – regardless of the fact that the opposition is not there to defend itself and this leads to equal treatment of all parties and candidates in the election contest. Violation of its principles, morals and norms. On this the power of power was such that if it is violated then it should be done by their force.
In order to demoralize the opposition in this manner, at the time of the election, add the malicious raids of the Enforcement Directorate, CBI and Income Tax etc. on the locations of its leaders and supporters, then it can be understood that the Election Commission’s mandate to conduct free and fair elections. As the ruling party in the responsibility, the BJP does not want even the slightest moral share.
Even though the members of the Election Commission are appointed by the Central Government, and because of this, they have a natural expectation from the party holding power at the Center that it should come in the least amount of hindrance in discharging their responsibilities.
But our past is also a witness and present is also that their expectation is often not fulfilled, due to which the path of discharging their responsibility becomes a bit more thorny. On the contrary, many times the tales of collusion between the ruling party at the Center and the members of the Election Commission are also common.
But the bigger irony is that the electoral reforms required to pave the way for fair and free elections have now been left behind at the level of the Central Government and also at the level of the Election Commission.
On the other hand, the steps taken in the name of keeping the election process clean have proved to be a scab on leprosy too. Therefore, the matter is not so much that if the Supreme Court asks to make a law to exclude criminals from this process, then almost all the parties do not allow it to be made by using their dominance in the Parliament.
At one time we were looking at alternatives such as common campaigning for all candidates at government expense to ensure that voter discretion is not tainted by money power, but now we are happy to increase the election expenditure limit of candidates election by election. Yes let’s take it. What does it mean?
The only thing is that the candidates who do not have the capacity to spend that much, do not even enter the election field and if they do, they should be out of the competition after facing the brunt of inequality. No matter how much their public service is, what other way do they have, when traditional means of publicity like distributing pamphlets, pamphlets, putting up posters or wall writing have been banned for all kinds of reasons.
But TV news channels, run and sponsored by big capital, can enter the bedrooms of voters day and night for the entire duration of the campaign and keep playing strange games to change their mind with various types of corrupt and false propaganda.
There are reasons to believe that in this election many candidates will have to bear this stigma a little more because of the absence of meetings, padyatras and rallies etc. due to Corona, and all the responsibility of campaigning is on print, electronic and digital mediums and social media only. There are chances of staying.
It is necessary to ask how the Election Commission will perform its duty in these circumstances, while its model code of conduct, as applicable to political parties, candidates and governments, does not apply to the media in that form.
These mediums will be the only medium of campaigning and the candidates will have no other option to convey their views to the voters, even public relations will be difficult, so what to confuse the voters and create thorns in the path of fairness of elections? Whether the guls will be fed, it can be easily imagined.
Going to the other aspect, the opposition parties had to face unhealthy and immoral competition from the ‘Lav-Lashkar’ of the ruling parties even in the era of actual rallies, now through virtual rallies and changed mediums of publicity, only these parties have to face them. Not only this, the nobles with special mindset sitting there dominating will also have to be challenged.
His challenge will also be dual in the sense that the bureaucracy of the state governments on which the Election Commission depends, the said mentality has no less dominance in it.
The problem in the leprosy is that the Election Commission, knowing that long election programs should be called rich in resources or only parties and their candidates who are rich in power and black money, have taken a long election program during the last assembly elections of West Bengal. No lesson has been taken from the serious criticisms made and it has been decided to hold the elections in Uttar Pradesh once again in seven phases.
Along with this, the way he has increased the scope of postal ballot to include corona infected and elderly people, many doubts are being expressed about the correctness of such voting. It is being said that such voting will open new avenues for resource-rich political parties to influence voters in a wrong way at the time of voting.
As far as the use of black money in elections is concerned, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation, claiming that it would end the problem of black money forever. But nothing like that happened and the use of black money in elections continues unabated till date, so without disclosing the donors through electoral bonds, the parties are on the path of collecting money, which is in favor of the ruling parties. The reasons for this are nothing short of irony.
Not to mention all the contrary things that are said about the use of EVMs, then in these circumstances free and fair elections can be expected only when the Election Commission takes proper steps after understanding the ground realities and the people’s participation in the election process. Be extra careful about your obligation to maintain trust.
However, for now we can only say that Ibtida-e-Ishq hai rota hai kya, see what happens next.
(The author is a senior journalist.)
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