Ques. Evaluating role of Election Commission of India in Indian Political System.
After Judiciary, the Election Commission is seen as an institution of credibility and integrity. Examine the role of ECI, reasons for its success and issues confronting its working in India.
- Article 324 of the Constitution of India provides for the Election Commission of India vested with the power of superintendence, direction and control of conducting the elections to the most crucial elections in the country including Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies. It further reinforces the independence of ECI by providing for security of tenure as well as service conditions.
- Rudolph and Rudolph note that the Election Commission has a key position at the heart of the new regulatory centrism of the Indian state, as an institution which acts as an enforcer of ‘rules that safeguard the democratic legitimacy of the political system’.
- According to McMillan, the constitutional provisions regarding Election Commission were an innovative response to the desire to to have a democratic process that was institutionally entrenched and yet at an arms-length from party- political or governmental interference. The ECI, was therefore imagined as the keystone of Indian electoral democracy.
- The ECI has been a progressive institution taking up measures to ingrain democracy such adoption and national stock-taking of EVMs, ensuring election in far-flung and backward regions, curbing of money power and corrupt practices, evolving and implementing the moral code of conduct etc.
- There are certain factors that have ensured the independence and credibility of ECI and these include:
- Article 324 grants the ECI clear authority over superintendence direction & control of preparation of the electoral rolls, while subsequent articles (Art 325-Art 329) provide it with Supreme authority over conduct of elections, including insulating ECI from political and judicial interference during the elections.
- While the body started off as a single-member institution, after recommendations of the Tarkunde and Goswami committees as well as the needs of Indian democracy it became a three-member body in 1989.
- The emergence of multi-member ECI has checked dictatorial tendencies as well as corruption or nepotism in the institution.
- Leadership and activism of institution:
- The CECs and ECs have played major role in ensuring the integrity of institution with officers like T.N. Seshan becoming exemplars for successors.
- ECI has tried to strengthen its grassroot level organisation to rid of evils like booth capturing, violence and use of money in elections.
- The ECI also emerged as a campaigner against criminalization of politics, with former Commissioner, G.V.G. Krishnamurthy, pithily noted that ‘no law-breaker should ever be a law-maker’.
- To counter criminalisation, ECI mandated in 2002 that candidates file an affidavit with details regarding criminal prosecution, personal assets education qualifications etc.
- Regulation and Registration of Political Parties:
- Political parties are regarded as the life and soul of Indian electoral democracy. The Election Commission has a role in the regulation and registration of political parties including allocating symbols.
- Importantly, the ECI has power to withdraw registration and right to a symbol from any party deemed guilty of electoral malpractice (violating the ‘model code of conduct’).
- It prescribes the limits of campaign expenditure by the candidates and parties and monitors the spending too so as to maintain fairness and integrity of elections in India.
- Technological and other innovations:
- The ECI has been at the forefront of developments in ensuring free and fair elections throughout India through developments like VVPAT, ECI 360 degree, SVEEP Programme, computerisation of electoral rolls etc.
- Former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi points to the success of ECI in conducting elections during Covid pandemic by ensuring norms regarding elated to sanitising and social distancing as well as providing the postal ballot option to senior citizens over the age of 80, COVID-positive patients, persons with disabilities and voters employed in essential services.
- The ECI has been drawn into issues of media regulation over issues of broadcasting regarding elections. With the emergence of social media, the ECI has also tried to ensure fair elections with guidelines being issued for social media campaigning and digital companies also laying down a voluntary code of ethics for the same.
- Despite such developments and the bold role played by ECI to maintain a free and fair democratic process in India, there have also been certain issues that have been raised regarding the functioning and politicization of ECI:
- Financial and administrative autonomy remains one of the core issues and there have been suggestions to charge the administrative expenditure of ECI on Consolidated Fund of India as well as a dedicated secretariat and staff.
- There have been calls to provide for a better method of appointment of members of ECI to ensure quality as well as independence. While the Constitution provides CEC, the status of election commissioners is not as secure and has often faced issues due to infighting as well (N. Gopalaswamy case).
- There have also been questions raised on the credibility of ECI by opposition parties with many accusing it of being a ‘puppet’ of the government or being politicised. The ECI’s decisions regarding hate speech, removal of star campaigner status has been questioned.
- There have also been accusations of EVM tampering and while the process may be fool-proof, such questioning hampers the legitimacy of the institution and elections.
- Regulation of social media, fake news, rumour mongering continues to pose a lot of trouble for ECI in ensuring free and fair elections.
- ECI is the bedrock of Indian democracy and certain reforms are in order to ensure its continued success-
- Section 125A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, should be amended to provide for more stringent punishment for concealing or providing wrong information.
- Election Commission should be empowered to take strong action on the report of returning officers, election observers, or civil society in regards to booth capture or the intimidation of voters.
- The same constitutional protection to all Election Commissioners as is available to the Chief Election Commissioner
- The budget of the Election Commission should be treated as ―Charged on the Consolidated Fund of India
- All functions concerning the Secretariat of the Election Commission, consisting of officers and staff at various levels, such as their appointments, promotions, etc., be exclusively vested in the Election Commission
- Election Commission needs to be given explicit powers to de-register political parties if they do not observe and fulfil the requirements of proposed legislation for the registration and the regulation of the functioning of political parties.
Click here to watch the video explanation of the above question.