Q) Free and Fair elections is the fundamental pillar on which any democracy is based. In this context, critically analyse the role of the Election Commission of India and the emerging threats to free and fair elections. 

Free and fair elections are one of the fundamental bases of a smooth functioning and efficient democracy. The Constitution of India upholds this principle and establishes the Election Commission of India under article 324 which is entrusted with the powers and responsibility of conducting elections to the Parliament, State Legislatures and the office of the President and Vice President of India. 

Role and Functions of the Election Commission 

  1. Determine the territorial areas of the electoral constituencies throughout the country on the basis of the Delimitation Commission Act of Parliament.
  2. Prepare and periodically revise electoral rolls and to register all eligible voters. 
  3. Notify the dates and schedules of elections and to scrutinize nomination papers. 
  4. Grant recognition to political parties and allot election symbols to them. 
  5. Act as a court for settling disputes related to granting of recognition to political parties and allotment of election symbols to them. 
  6. Appoint officers for inquiring into disputes relating to electoral arrangements.
  7. Register political parties for the purpose of elections and grant them the status of national or state parties on the basis of their poll performance.
  8. Supervise the machinery of elections throughout the country to ensure free and fair elections.
  9. Determine the code of conduct to be observed by the parties and the candidates at the time of elections. 
  10. Advise the president on matters relating to the disqualifications of the members of Parliament.
  11. Advise the governor on matters relating to the disqualifications of the members of the state legislature. 
  12. Cancel polls in the event of rigging, booth capturing, violence and other irregularities.

The Commission has the responsibility of conducting free and fair elections across all parts of India. However we have been witnessing certain malpractices/threats to the free and fair elections. These include:

  1. Voter bribery and manipulation through the media to unethically influence voters.
  2. Voter intimidation and booth capturing. 
  3. Diversion of public resources for election propaganda by the politicians.
  4. As per the Vohra Committee Report, criminalization of politics and corruption in high levels is destroying the very system and edifice of our parliamentary democracy, political authorities, the civil servants and even the judiciary.
  5. Electoral bonds, meant for  enabling a legitimate and transparent means of political funding, have proved to be the reverse. The EC, in its own affidavit before the Supreme Court, has admitted this.

Way Forward 

  1. The election Commission has to find out efficient ways of funding the elections. It should consult all the stakeholders that include the political parties at the Centre and the state and take advice from the best political and legal analysts in the country.
  2. There should be strict compliance of the model code of conduct and those violating it should be disqualified from conducting elections.
  3. Media, that is often referred to as the 4th pillar of democracy, has to act as a watchdog on the electoral practices during elections. 
  4. Parliament must consider the legal infirmities existing in the provisions of election law, relating to entry of criminals in politics.

The election Commission of India has enormous powers with regard to the conduct of free and fair elections in India. The only thing that it lacks is will and integrity on the part of responsible officials. Hence, it should become more prudent and pro-active to ensure fairness and transparency of the general elections that this nation deserves, and wipe away any doubt regarding its integrity as an esteemed institution.