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Another Political Move:Election Commission under Attack, by Bobby Srinivas,21 September 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 21 September 2006

Another Political Move

Election Commission under Attack

By Bobby Srinivas

The Communist Party of India – Marxists (CPI-M) is the latest to point its gun at the Election Commission, particularly the Chief Election Commissioner.  The Party has demanded reform of the Election Commission with Constitutional amendment to make it more “accountable.”  Almost all the political parties, at one time or another, have attacked the Commission and its panel.  They have accused the EC of highhandedness, arrogance and even partisanship.  Perhaps that is indirectly an indication that the Commission has been independent and non-partisan.  One of the accusations of the CPI-M is that the poll panel observers were “blatantly high handed and partisan in the recently held elections in West Bengal. (Italics mine)

Though some of the suggestions of the Communist Party would appear to be salutary, such as poll members being prevented from joining any political parties or accepting any political posts after retirement, the real reason for this attack seems to be that the political parties want the EC to be subservient to them or to Parliament. 

The founding fathers of our Constitution had established many great democratic institutions to function for the benefit of the people.  The Legislature, the Executive and Judiciary with other special organs such as the Election Commission, each having a specific role, were intended to ensure that people’s will prevailed and a secular democracy was well established.   “We the people” were considered supreme.  But like a python, politicians and political parties have tried to swallow one after another of these institutions.  They have tried to make these institutions suppliant to their own selfish ends. 

Parliament and State legislatures are of course full of them.  They have to be there in the ‘service’ of the people who elected them!  As political masters they have infiltrated into the domain of the executive.  In any case, when in power, the political parties use the bureaucracy or the executive more for political purposes than administration for the welfare of the people. Even the Judiciary has not gone untouched.  During the Emergency period of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the ruling political group wanted what was called a ‘committed’ Judiciary!

There is an interesting historical analogy for separation of powers.  In medieval Europe spiritual and temporal powers were evenly divided between the King and the Church.  This was the time when European Christendom was entirely Roman Catholic under direct control of the Pope who was considered Vicar of Christ.  Reformation or the advent of Protestantism had yet to make its debut.  Though European monarchs and kings were totally loyal to the Pope, the Holy Father also had his hierarchy in various countries to enforce the Papal interpretations of his religious thought. 

An interesting conflict arose during the reign of Henry II in England in the middle of the twelfth century.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, to be appointed by the Pope on the recommendation of the King, was the highest ecclesiastical office at that time of the Roman Catholic Church in England.  Once appointed, the Archbishop reported only to the Pope.  King Henry II to have his ‘own man’ in this office recommended the name of his close and dear friend Thomas Becket.   Becket became the Archbishop of Canterbury.  He took his religious duties seriously and was answerable only to the Pope.  He ignored the King and His Majesty could do precious little.  Becket was murdered by the King’s chamchas, thinking they were pleasing the monarch.  That was not the intention of the King, who was beside himself with grief.  However, Becket became a martyr for the Church and later proclaimed a saint by the Church of Rome. 

There is a curious and eerie parallel in India, when T.N.Seshan was appointed as the Chief Election Commissioner.  T.N.Seshan was a proven loyal bureaucrat and held high office as cabinet secretary during the Congress government at the center.  Seshan was appointed CEC, perhaps with expectation of his pliability to ensure the party’s (Congress) favourable election results.  Soon after his appointment, Seshan became like Thomas Becket!  He asserted his rights under the Constitution to act independently and perform his duties strictly under the provisions of the Constitution.  To politicians and many political parties he was a ‘Bull in a China Shop.’  Someone even remarked he resembles a saand (bull)!

Seshan asserted Election Commission’s right to ensure free and fair elections.  He was particularly hard on Bihar politicians who had assumed rigging, booth capturing, making winners lose and losers win as their divine right!  He said that certain political parties were winning elections by Rig Veda – winning by rigging votes!  He wanted, what state and central government said, was an impossible task of issuing identity cards for voters.  No identity card, no elections in Bihar he asserted. 

Politicians of all hues were not amused with Seshan and his independent actions.  They thought he was belligerent and abrasive!  They wanted the government to dismiss Seshan!  But Seshan could not be removed.  He had Constitutional immunity.  There was a move to impeach Seshan, the only course to remove him.  But the political parties got cold feet.  The people, i.e., the electorate would not have tolerated such a draconian move. 

The Government in Delhi appointed two additional election commissioners to clip the wings of the CEC Seshan, hoping the other two would be helpful.  At first Seshan even refused to recognize the other two.  Unfortunately for the political parties the additional election commissioners were not of much help.  One by one they had to be promoted as the chief when the incumbent retired.  And when in office, they acted like Thomas Becket and Seshan!   

Remember Chief Election Commissioner J.M.Lygndoh?  He was a no-nonsense election chief, called the politicians the cancer of Indian political system!   Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was particularly harsh with Lygndoh and used abusive language against him as Lygndoh refused to oblige the Chief Minister for convenient election dates for the State Assembly.   Modi used the full name of Lygndoh James Michael, suggesting his Christian origin not knowing that James was a given name but Lygndoh was more of an agnostic!  He was certainly a proven upright and loyal bureaucrat.  He conducted free and fair elections in Kashmir in spite of every impediment put his way and the world community applauded him.  After retirement Lygndoh did not seek nor accept any government employment.  He quietly settled down in Hyderabad, the paradigm that the CPI-M recommends for the Election Commission panel for the future.

Political parties have now learnt their lessons.  Experience is a great teacher.  Now the Party in power will carefully choose, nurse, pamper, reward and orient a proper candidate.  Such a candidate when appointed should be grateful to his ‘employers’ even when the employer ceases to be an employer!  A wag remarked that when Navin Chawla was appointed EC, he had benefited immensely from Congress MPs and their funds.  He could very well be such a suitable candidate! 

As for the CPI-M demand for Reforms: Yes.  Accountability to the Constitution and not to political parties!  The independence of the Election Commission should be preserved at all costs to strengthen and sustain our democratic heritage.  If a Constitutional amendment is attempted, will political parties rise above their narrow interests and consider amendments in the larger interest of the nation?---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)







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