From the Viewsroom

The EC’s fall from grace

Paran Balakrishnan | Updated on May 21, 2019

Procedure of appointing election commissioners needs a review

Former President Pranab Mukherjee has always been famous for extreme caution. But even before the 2019 general election results Mukherjee chose an event in Delhi to suggest that it might be best if a body was formed to pick election commissioners. On Tuesday he followed that with a statement on the “safety and security” of EVM machines. That Mukherjee felt it necessary to intervene on such delicate subjects is an indication of the worries surrounding the Election Commission’s functioning. Almost simultaneously, former chief election commissioner TS Krishnamurthy praised the handling of the elections but added that complaints should have been dealt with faster. Also, on Tuesday, Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa made it to the front pages insisting that he had “no axe to grind” but that Model Code of Conduct cases should be dealt with “in a time-bound, transparent and non-discriminatory manner.” On Sunday, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora also issued a poorly drafted statement defending the EC’s functioning, saying: “The three members of ECI are not expected to be template (sic) or clones of each other.” The differences within the EC are now totally in the open. Crucially, the EC has issued clean chits to both Prime Minister Modi and BJP President Amit Shah on election speeches. Lavasa insisted that his dissent be recorded but was told this was not possible as the EC’s orders were official notings and not judicial orders. Lavasa then stayed away from several EC meetings in protest. Krishnamurthy backed Lavasa, saying: “If somebody wants dissent to be recorded, it’s fairness to record.” It was never thought necessary in earlier years that a prescribed process was necessary for the selection of ECs. But now there is a strong argument for it.

CEC Arora, for instance, was a secretary in two ministries and also had a long stint as Vasundhara Raje’s principal secretary in Rajasthan. The third EC Sushil Chandra stands out as a rare government servant who has received two extensions as CBDT chairman. India has had a record of notable and upright election commissioners. The present ECs should remember they are upholders of sound traditions and conduct their official work without fear or favour.

Published on May 21, 2019

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