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Tuesday 7 July 2020

Worst-held elections

With images of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi freely roaming around inside polling stations of Amethi circulating in the social media, the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 has turned out to be the most shoddily conducted polls in recent history. As if Gandhi’s impudence were not enough, a television news channel broadcast footage of a nervous election inspector in West Bengal complaining that he has received a threat that booths would soon be hijacked by Trinamool Congress workers, while policemen are seen forcing the cameraman and the reporter to stop shooting the proceedings in the polling centre even though the journalists were outside the booth. In the previous round of polling in the State, security personnel were reported to have been deployed in normal areas whereas sensitive zones were left unguarded — an open invitation to vote manipulators. Today the returning officer in Varanasi denied Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, permission to hold any of the five public meetings the party had intimated him about, on flimsy grounds. A few rounds ago, activists in Maharashtra alleged that up to 6 lakh voters of the State could not exercise their franchise as even veterans of several elections suddenly found their names missing in the electoral rolls. In the National Capital Region round, reports of booth capturing by the Samajwadi Party’s henchmen came from Ghaziabad and that by the Congress came from Gurgaon. The SP’s hooliganism continued in the subsequent rounds of election in Uttar Pradesh.

The portents of the present Election Commission’s incompetence have been surfacing for the past one year. Right after its launch, the Aam Aadmi Party resorted to slander in its campaign against its rivals, with the EC playing the role of a mute spectator, while its rivals were denied permission to return the favour to Arvind Kejriwal’s outfit this year. That raised the question as to what standard the EC was adhering to — letting accusations without substantiation by court verdicts fly thick and fast, or approving judgments by the judiciary alone?

The overall scenario is such that terming the commission a stooge of the ruling coalition led by the Congress might look a stretch of imagination. After all, not all parties that benefited from its callousness belong to the United Progressive Alliance. It is, however, irrefutable that the agency has been an abject failure in discharging its responsibility. This, when it has been the election of longest duration, leaving ample time to move security personnel around from one part of the country to another! This has also been an election where re-polling has been ordered the least despite a plethora of complaints of rigging. To an extent, this will affect the expected outcome of the humongous exercise. And that will be a case of gross injustice. The fact or even an impression that an election was not fair can have serious implications for a democracy, with examples ranging from some States not able to trust the Centre — and, hence, never voting a national party to power — to perpetual low voter turnouts in the country’s metropolises, to sporadic incidents of violence by frustrated people, to Kashmir Valley’s disillusionment with the Union of India. In view of the short, middle and long term repercussions of electoral mismanagement, immediate and stern action must be taken against the erring officials so that future occupiers of the EC office take their job with the seriousness it deserves.

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