Today, it is tilting against the Aam Aadmi Party. Tomorrow, it could be another force

Is the Election Commission biased against the Aam Aadmi Party? The EC has rapped Arvind Kejriwal for exceeding his campaign expenditure limit of ₹14 lakh in his Assembly constituency. If this is established, Kejriwal’s win over Shiela Dikshit will be nullified.

The charge seems untenable. Can the Delhi EC, which maintains ‘shadow records’, claim that all the other 69 candidates contained their expenses at ₹14 lakh or below during the December 2013 Assembly elections? Incidentally, the limit for Assembly constituencies has since been hiked to ₹28 lakh, while Kejriwal has been pulled up for spending ₹21 lakh.

Is the EC being petty and partisan? It has acted upon a complaint by a BJP member. Are BJP and Congress getting back at AAP for its awkward posers on election funding? Whatever the trigger, the real danger is of the EC not acting as a neutral umpire.

The Representation of People Act has enough loopholes for the EC and political parties to play games if they wish. The EC, in this case, seems to have relied on the 2003 amendment to the law, which clubs the spending by a party and its supporters with a candidate’s election spend.

However, the travel costs of top political leaders and expenditure to project a party’s programme can be excluded from the candidate’s account.

Does the AAP’s musical event, to which the EC has taken objection, fall under party propaganda or individual expenditure?

Here, the crucial point is that Kejriwal is the face of his party, as are Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. It is impossible in the case of such campaigners to draw the line between their expenditure as candidates and as party leaders. How will the EC estimate constituency spend in the case of Modi and Rahul?

Indeed, if the 2003 amendment opens up scope for vendetta, it should be done away with. It is just as well that the expenditure limit has been raised. The second step is to increase state funding of elections to reduce entry barriers to politics.

Senior Assistant Editor

(This article was published on March 7, 2014)
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