[Answered] Institutional independence is a larger and more complex issue than appointments alone. Discuss in light of the recent controversy over the appointment of Election Commissioners.

Introduction: Contextual introduction.
Body: Explain issues with Institutional independence with respect to the recent controversy over the appointment of Election Commissioners.Conclusion: Write a way forward.

Article 324 envisaged that the Commission be led by a single CEC (Chief Election Commissioner). The President can appoint more Election Commissioners (ECs). But this is subject to any law made in that behalf by Parliament. Recently, the Supreme Court mooted the idea of including the Chief Justice of India in the appointment committee of CEC to ensure “neutrality”.

Institutional independence is more complex than appointments

The present system of the government appointing CEC and ECs does not ensure the independence of the election commission.

  • The successive governments have “completely destroyed” the independence of ECI by ensuring no CEC gets the full six-year term since 1996.
  • These institutions do not have an independent source of political power and rely instead on the backing from political intermediaries for their mandate.
  • Other institutions such as the judiciary and election commission may be required to adjudicate between competing claims in line with the existing normative consensus.
  • Institutions like the RBI may be empowered for fixed functions like the monetary policy and so on.
  • The institution and its role is an outcome of political consensus wherein political intermediaries have agreed to delineate some function of governance and give it to this institution.
  • The institution draws legitimacy from the specific mandate but operates in the dynamic space in the changing balance of power between competing political factions.
  • Even when institutional design insulates the appointment process from the executive — such as in the judiciary — political power can manifest in multiple ways. At the individual level, dissent can be neutralised through inducement, marginalisation, intimidation, blackmail, harassment, propaganda, transfers, etc, through allied (state) institutions.
  • Bypassing Standing Committees for legislative scrutiny is another example of undermining an institution itself.

Re-establishing consensus and institutional independence is a political battle which requires mobilising public opinion and organisation. To defend the functional independence of Election commissioners, the guardian of elections itself urgently needs structural safeguards.

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