By Sushil Kutty
“How can we expect polls to be impartial?” asked Mallikarjuna Kharge, Congress Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Rightly, his question is for the Election Commission, but the EC no longer has the courage—not under this dispensation which has been chipping away at the democratic edifice of the Republic with a vengeance.
There is more than one virus at play these days and, lest it invite the wrath of the dictator, let’s just say that the times have changed! For nearly 75 years, the Election Commission did its duty towards the Constitution and the country and if there were hiccups, friendly burps cleared the passage, so to speak.
No longer. The monk King is ruling—has been ruling. Now, after nearly 3000 days of uninterrupted rule, the Election Commission is weaker by 3000 times. It has lost its standing in the eyes of the PMO, which is but a collection of ‘Babus’ in two-piece suits. Whoever said ‘Suit-Boot Ki Sarkar’ spoke with a rare intuition!
By the way, Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’ is not the only Mishra in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s orbit. There is one in the PMO also. The Mishra in the PMO is powerful, capable of sending summons to the Election Commission, asking the three election commissioners— including the CEC—to present themselves at the PMO.
What should be said? Disregard of constitutional propriety—that chipping away at the edges? The point is, the Election Commission is toothless, rendered gutless by the one who shall not be named. To quote a leading national daily, “the Election Commission is a Constitutional Authority whose functioning is insulated from the Executive and the three Commissioners ensure a distance from the government—and are seen to be doing so—for this reason.”
There is reason to believe, however, that this “arrangement” has been dropped unilaterally by one party and the other is powerless to reassert. CEC Sushil Chandra and ECs Rajiv Kumar and Anup Chandra Pandey, like the Mahatma’s three rhesus, cannot hear, talk or open their eyes to the ongoing changes in the fundamentals of India’s electoral democracy.
A ‘Babu’ sends a note to the Election Commission saying that the PMO “expects the CEC to be present at a meeting the PMO will chair?” If it was TN Seshan, there would have been a revolt. There are “precedents and well-established red lines between institutions” that spell CEC-PMO relations, but reports doing the rounds say the CEC and the two ECs folded and “interacted” with the PMO.
Coming on the eve of the five states’ elections—the “presence” of the poll panel chief at a meeting called by the PMO was unusual! “Where have all the soldiers gone?” comes to mind. These days of the “man who shall not be named” such initiatives are fraught with danger. There never was a time when ‘Babudom’ summoned the EC.
Yes, the Election Commission has in the past written to the “Prime Minister” seeking clarifications on certain issues. CEC MS Gill in 1999 wrote to Prime Minister AB Vajpayee regarding electoral reforms. In 2016, CEC Naseem Zaidi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought urgent release of funds to buy VVPAT machines.
Tradition and rules say the CEC and the two ECs do not take orders from bureaucrats and no PMO before this one had dared to breach protocol. But, the times have changed, and the current PM and his PMO are of a different mien, and make. It reminds us of the Lion King, but that is about an autocrat!
Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks the language of the benign king but behind his “Man Ki Baat” lurks the man who shall not be named. The fourth pillar is shaking like a stray leaf in a tsunami—the tornado ripping across India’s constitutional landscape spells helplessness in pathetic letters.
Political parties across the spectrum have condemned the “summons” to the ECs and the CEC, who joined an “online interaction” with the PMO on November 16. A picture of helplessness, LOP, Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge painted a dark scenario. It seems like his heart is broken and nobody can repair it—the meeting, called by Modi’s principal secretary PK Mishra, was to discuss “common electoral roll”.
The trio boycotted the “video meeting”, but were “present at the informal interaction” with Mishra later on. The Opposition is perturbed. As it should be. Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders should get out of the “I want to be PM” straitjacket and together concentrate on driving out Voldemort from Kashi-Vishwanath. There is no magic wand and Harry Potter is a grown man now.
Also, Manish Tewari saying “this raises serious questions of propriety and autonomy of the Election Commission”, and leave it at that, doesn’t answer the question: “After nearly 75 years of India’s independence, is there no longer an independent Election Commission?” The answer will be “give an autocrat power, and he will never give it up.” Watch it, as time races past fast! (IPA Service)