Not easy for EC, but panel gets thumbs up from experts

Despite the introduction of modern technology, vote rigging and other alleged frauds continue to throttle electoral participation

deevakar

Deevakar Anand | May 12, 2014



On May 8, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi accused the Election Commission (EC) of being biased against him for not allowing him to hold a rally at Varanasi. BJP demanded removal of the returning officer, Varanasi DM Pranjal Yadav.

The EC retorted by holding a press conference and denied the allegation. “It was doing its job,” EC said, and that denial of permission to Modi’s rally at Varanasi’s Beniabagh locality was due to security threats as pointed out by the local administration.

A day later, however, the EC appointed Tamil Nadu chief electoral officer Praveen Kumar as special observer for Varanasi.  This happened after some embarrassment, though. The decision to appoint Kumar came after one of its election commissioners, HS Brahma, had to openly criticize the poll panel for mishandling the Varanasi issue in a separate press conference.

The EC is facing complaints of bias from another high-profile constituency, Amethi. Here, on the polling day, congress prime ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi was seen inside the EVM enclosure while another person was casting vote. Both BJP and AAP raised questions over this crass violation of the election code of conduct, but the EC is yet to take any action.

In the run up to the polls in Amethi, an FIR was filed against AAP leaders Somnath Bharti, Pankaj Shukla and nearly three dozen party workers for violation of model code of conduct. The party accused the local police of being partisan and complained to the EC. On May 4 EC ordered the arrest of six congressmen for attacking AAP workers.

On May 6, AAP candidate Kumar Vishwas’s family was asked to vacate Amethi by the district returning officer. In contrast, when Rahul was captured in camera speaking to a voter inside the EVM booth at a polling station, EC said that at the time of Congress leader’s visit, the EVM had stopped working and voting was not taking place. Media, on the other hand, reported that polling was on when Gandhi visited the booth, and that he was found inside EVM enclosure at two other polling booths that day.

The EC, however, asked Priyanka Gandhi’s secretary Preeti Sahay to leave Amethi on May 7 after BJP candidate Smriti Irani complained that she was trying to influence voters. Earlier Irani and Sahay had entered into a verbal spat outside a polling booth after the former objected to latter’s presence in the constituency despite not being a voter.

Jagdeep Chhokar, co-founder of the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), rules out any partisan role by the EC and says that such issues come up in every election. Instead, Chhokar says, “this election is being faught fiercely. The political class is pitched against each other in an intense fight. So everything that is complained against in the name of poll rigging is actually being magnified.”

Chhokar blames both the political class and the “corporatised” media for putting larger focus on candidates’ complaints: “Such allegations and counter-allegations by the political class is common in any election.”

“Neither the political class nor the media is focusing on peoples’ issues in this election. They have failed to go the people and hear what they want out of these elections – better quality of life, employment, roads,” Chhokar says.

A former CEC, who did not wish to be named, agrees that the Commission, in some cases, has faltered in handling poll mismanagement and political complaints. However, he says “a lot of actions that the EC takes is after proper inquiry. So to out rightly say that EC is being biased is wrong. In some cases, the actions are taken fast because of apparent violations. Others, however, need thorough investigation only after which the EC takes decision.”

Former CEC SY Quraishi who, in his book An Undocumented Wonder – The Making of the Great Indian Election, celebrates the mammoth exercise EC carries out in Indian elections concedes that “EC should have been more communicative during the entire exercise so as not to give an impression of being partisan” but maintains that “the poll panel is not partisan”.

“There have been several allegations of poll rigging and violation of model conduct this election, but according to my experience, 90 percent of the election-related complaints by the political parties are not substantiated after probe. On the remaining 10 percent cases, EC takes stringent action. EC is a multi-member panel which brings a check and balance element to all its decisions,” Quraishi says.

This time, apart from the allegations by the political class of being biased, complaints of other kinds of fraud have come up. In Nuh, headquarter of Mewat district in Haryana, women voters were reportedly asked to stay inside homes, and the votes were cast by the male members of the family. This is being probed by the EC.

Yogendra Yadav, the AAP candidate from Gurgaon Lok Sabha constituency, under which Mewat falls, has alleged that on April 10 when the constituency went for polls, as many as 110 booths were rigged by BJP.

In Ferozabad, Uttar Pradesh, a bastion of Samajwadi Party (SP), locals alleged that if not for rigging, Akshay Yadav, the SP candidate, who might win now, would have lost.

In Andhra Pradesh, Telugu Desham Party (TDP) leader Chandrababu Naidu alleged that at several polling booths across Anantapuram, Chittoor, Kadapa and Nellore districts, YSR Congress leaders forcibly removed TDP polling agents and resorted to rigging.

Since 1990 when TN Seshan took over as the chief election commissioner, the EC is seen as exercising new-found constitutional authority to check election malpractices. With the advent of electronic voting machines (EVMs), booth capturing has become a thing of past.

This election, however, aspersions has been cast, not just on EC’s ability to play a fair role, but also on whether the symptoms of booth capturing has come back to haunt, in a mutated manner.

Quraishi, however, is of the view that “these days poll rigging is very difficult to do. Unless the booth managers of the opposition parties have been bought or scared away, it cannot happen. Moreover, there are election observers to keep a watch, besides the presence of para-military forces.”

“Wherever rigging has been reported, the EC has ordered re-polls. It has conducted probes on accusations of violation of model code by candidates and parties. Wherever necessary, they have ordered to register FIRs,” Quraishi says. “In some cases, the model code violation has been more than acceptable but Indian elections are always and enormous exercise and this election was the biggest in history. Considering that, by and large, it has been a peaceful and fair election.” 

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