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As the 17th Lok Sabha election commission has come to an end, it is time to take stock of the problems and lessons that came to the ways during elections. It is right to give credit or blame EC for anything ongoing during the Elections because Article 324 of the Constitution vests the “superintendence, direction and control of elections” in an Election Commission consisting “of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix”. Some Important facts
  • The major achievement of the 2019 election was the highest ever voter turnout in a general election so far (67.11%). It was even after the oppressive weather of May. It proved the effectiveness of the EC’s voter education programme (Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation).
  • In terms of caste, the composition of the 17th Lok Sabha is practically identical to the 16th. 155 of the 542 elected Parliamentarians, or 28.6%, are upper caste Hindus, the same number as in 2014. The number of parliamentarians from intermediary castes has reduced from 83 to 77 i.e 14.2% of the parliament.
  • The resources used in this election were staggering. It used 10 lakh polling stations, 23.3 lakh ballot units, 16.3 lakh control units, 17.4 lakh VVPATs and 1.1 crore polling staff.
What were the issues? There were many issues that kept EC busy this election, there have been allegations against EC for biases too. Multiphase vs single phase elections
  • One of the major reasons for conducting 7-phase elections by the Commission was a concern of the voter’s security. Deployment of Central armed police forces is necessary for ensuring the security of the voters and electoral process, but due to their limited availability, they could not be deployed all at once everywhere in the country, which necessitates multi-phase elections.   
  • Later phase elections in Multiphase elections are prone to be affected by incidences during the earlier phases. This challenge has been further aggravated by the presence of social media.
Money and Mafia power
  • Money power used in the elections to influence voters has been a major problem since the beginning. It has yet to be solved, despite EC’s efforts like electoral bonds.
  • In this election, EC seized money, drugs/narcotics, liquor, precious metals and freebies worth an estimated ₹3,475.76 crore. This amount has been increased almost 3 times in comparison to the 2014 election when the figure was ₹1,200 crore.
  • A cause for worry is that drugs/narcotics formed a large part of the seizures, with Gujarat topping the list (almost ₹524.35 crore).
  • Thus, it proves the ineffectiveness of steps taken by EC to curb black money and mafia power.
Actions on violations
  • Elections Commission this time came under heavy criticisms for its actions on violations of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) both nationally and internationally.
  • EC’s decisions were criticised for being arbitrary and in favour of the ruling party. The problem was so grave that election commissioner Ashok Lavasa recused himself from meetings on poll code violations.
What happens if any of the Election Commissioners dissent?
  • If some difference of opinion persists even after oral deliberations and discussions, such dissent is recorded in the file. All opinions carry equal weight, which means the CEC can be overruled by the two ECs.
  • In normal practice, while communicating the decision of the Commission in executive matters, or in a case of judicative nature under Article 103 and Article 192, the majority view is conveyed to the parties concerned. The dissent remains recorded in the file.
  • Separate opinions were recorded by the two ECs (S Y Quraishi and Navin Chawla) and the CEC (N Gopalaswami) in 2009 in the matter of alleged disqualification of Sonia Gandhi.
  • However, despite the existence of the provision to take decisions by the majority since 1993, very rarely has dissent been recorded.
  Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) 
  • On the issue of VVPAT, EC seemed defensive, rather it should have discussed this issue with political parties, with an open mind.   
  • EC held on its stand that tallying VVPAT paper slips with the EVM count one per Assembly constituency was based on scientific methodology and endorsed by the Indian Statistical Institute.
  • This issue was taken to the Supreme Court by the opposition, where Supreme Court advised the EC to raise the mandatory random counting to five VVPATs per Assembly segment laying emphasis on “better voter confidence and credibility of the electoral process”.
  • EC should have taken a call and create a harmonious term with the opposition on the matter.
Supreme Court’s intervention
  • Due to the inaction of EC, Supreme Court intervened in its functioning many times, whereas the constitution under article 329, bars courts from interfering in electoral matters after the election process has been set in motion.
  • Other than the issue of VVPAT, SC intervened, when on April 15, EC submitted with Supreme Court that it was “toothless” and “powerless” to act on hate speeches. SC on this issued a deadline to EC to act on this matter. Following that EC barred many politicians from campaigning for a few days under Article 324.
Nature of the Powers: Defined by Judiciary
  • In Mohinder Singh Gill & Anr vs The Chief Election Commissioner and Others (1977), the Supreme Court ruled that “Article 324, vests vast functions in the Commission, which may be powers or duties, essentially administrative, and marginally, even judicative or legislative”.
  • It was observed in M.S Gill’s case that the framers of the Constitution took care to leave the scope of residuary power to Commission, foreseeing the infinite variety of situations that may emerge from time to time in such a large democracy as ours.
  • SC had observed that “where the existing laws are absent, and yet a situation has to be tackled, the CEC must lawfully exercise his power independently, in all matters relating to the conduct of elections, and see that the election process is completed properly, in a free and fair manner.”
Curtailing campaigning hours in Bengal
  • For the first time ever, the election commission on May 15 decided to cut short the campaign period by 19 hours for the eastern state of West Bengal. The unprecedented move followed the eruption of violence during BJP president Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata, the state capital.
Had EC any other option?
  • As per Section 28A in the RP Act of 1951, all officers deployed for the conduct of an election “shall be deemed to be on deputation to the Election Commission” from the notification of the election to the declaration of the results.
  • All these officers during this period are subject to control, superintendence, and discipline of the Election Commission.
  • Thus, holding these powers, EC should have taken action against the officers for failing to stop the violence in West Bengal.
  • Rather it exercised the residuary powers vested in it under article 324, for the surprise situations.
As soon as the dust settles, India must introspect over these issues and find answers. A democracy is only as credible as the strength of the institutions fundamental to its legitimacy. Also read: The War On Terror Is In Peril Critical Analysis of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ)