B S Raghavan

President's Rule ahead of elections

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on April 28, 2011

The Election Commission of India (ECI) is, perhaps, the only Constitutional authority which, in the course of more than six decades since Independence, has been able to enhance its reputation for effective and impartial performance of its functions with every election.

Mr T. N. Seshan, as the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), was the first to demonstrate how, within the ambit of the existing Constitutional and legal provisions themselves, it was possible to preserve the sanctity of the electoral process. Successive CECs and Election Commissioners have carried forward, and largely improved upon, his legacy whereby the ECI today enjoys the maximum trust of the people.

Since he assumed charge as the CEC, Mr S.Y.Qureshi, has further tightened monitoring and supervision. The several measures taken by the ECI during the recent election to the Tamil Nadu State Assembly to bring under control the brazen bribing of voters by political parties and candidates had been so severe as to make the CM himself publicly accuse the Commission of being ‘dictatorial' and behaving like a surrogate State Government.

The problem in dealing with the political class is that whatever be the steps taken to keep it within bounds of the law and norms of propriety, the effect invariably wears off after a time, and it is back to its old ways.

None knew this better than Rajaji, the intellectual colossus and freedom hero, who also could read the politicians' character like the palm of his own hand. The first thing he did on becoming the Chief Minister of the then Madras Province was to pass an order barring MLAs, MPs and political favour-seekers from entering the Secretariat. He was only too acutely aware that it would not be long before the baser nature of politics and the craving for power and perks would assert itself and politicians would stoop to any sort of subterfuge, including misuse of official machinery and large-scale bribing of voters, to manipulate the results of elections.

That was why, he came up with the idea of dissolving the legislature and the Government a few months before the date of the election and entrusting the administration to a person of absolute integrity so that the preparations for, and the conduct of, elections were kept free from political pressures and there was an effective check on corrupt practices. Though Rajaji did not make his suggestion specifically applicable to the Central Government, there was no doubt that he would have had no objection to extend it to Lok Sabha elections as well.

Bangladesh model

Mr M.S. Gill revived the proposal for President's Rule ahead of elections when he was the CEC. The National Commission to review the working of the Constitution set up by the National Democratic Alliance with Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister expressed itself against it for the reason that President's Rule essentially meant rule by the Government at the Centre through the Governor appointed by it and “Nominated Governors acting at the behest of the Government in Delhi are not likely to be more impartial or above board.”.

Also, “the primacy of the powers of the Chief Election Commissioner, though technically confined to election process, might tend towards its own ascendancy in the governing process.”

Both these caveats can be got round by incorporating suitable safeguards. For instance, the ECI could be given a say in the posting of the Governor who would be independent and above partisan politics. The ECI, even as per its Constitutional mandate, has certain overriding powers over the State Government and the promulgation of President's Rule will make no difference to them.

The Bangladesh Constitution already provides for a Non-Party Care-Taker Government prior to elections, comprising a Chief Adviser chosen from among the retired Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, and not more than 10 Advisers, chosen from among eminent, non-political, persons from public life, and appointed by the President. If the idea can work for Bangladesh, why should it not work for India?

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Published on April 22, 2011
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