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The Issue of Public trust on ECI |Election Commission

Synopsis: The public trust gained by the ECI (Election Commission of India) over the years is reducing. It is due to an increasing doubt over the fairness of the polls.

Background

  • Recently, the Citizens’ Commission on Elections (CCE), released the second part of its report “An Inquiry into India’s Election System.
  • The retired Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur chairs CCE.
  • The report examines the critical aspects of conducting elections. Such as:
      • The integrity and inclusiveness of the electoral rolls.
      • Criminalisation in politics.
      • The use of financial power.
      • Compliance with the model code of conduct.
      • The role of media in conducting elections etc.,

Some important revelations made in the report:

  • Since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, “grave doubts” have been raised around the fairness of the polls.
  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) has failed to perform its duties. The report has stated reasons, such as
      • Exclusion of marginalized groups from voters’ lists.
      • The opacity of electoral bonds.
      • The power of big money in winning elections.
  • It has warned that India is becoming an “electoral autocracy

How India’s Election commission has built trust over the years?

Eminent bureaucrats such as Sukumar Sen, TN Seshan, and James Michael Lyngdoh worked for fair and accountable election machinery. Their work yielded citizen’s trust over the election process.

  • First, Sukumar Sen, India’s first Chief Election Commissioner. He was remembered for successfully conducting the first general elections despite many barriers such as scope, scale, logistics, and social issues. For example, elections need to be conducted for 176 million citizens, nearly 85 per cent of whom were illiterate.
  • Second, TN Seshan the 10th Election Commissioner. He was instrumental in implementing the model code of conduct to curb muscle and monetary power in elections. He enforced strict mechanisms to ensure fairness in the election process. For example,
    • Contestants were required to submit full accounts of their expenses for scrutiny. Those, who didn’t abide by polling rules, were arrested.
    • Also, officials who were biased towards candidates were promptly suspended.
    • He also prohibited election propaganda based on religion and caste-based hatred. For example, he canceled the Punjab elections in 1991.
  • Third, Lyngdoh presided over the Election commission during 2001 to 2004, the period marked by the 2002 Gujarat riots. After the dissolution of Gujarat assembly after the Gujarat riots, there was immense pressure from the political parties to hold elections earlier than intended. However, Lyngdoh insisted that polls could not be held as the state had not yet recovered from the violence of the riots.

Why the public trust on Election commission is eroding now?

  • First, ECI remains toothless against electoral offenses. For example,
      • During the 2019 elections, the Election commission gave “clean chits” to politicians, despite provocative political statements during campaigning.
      • The EC in a return reply to the supreme court stated that its powers to punish candidates for hate and religious speeches during the election campaign is limited.
  • Second, lack of transparency and accountability. For example, the earlier CECs used to proactively engage with the Citizens’ Commission on Elections (CCE) to discuss its reports. But currently, there has been no response from the EC.

Source: Indian Express

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