In spite of occasional hiccups and barring certain aberrations, institutions like the CAG, the Indian Armed Forces, the Supreme Court as well as RBI and SEBI have always been considered as some of the finest institutions and key pillars of Indian democracy. Till now Election Commission also used to have a place in that coveted list. But post this election, its place in that list is doubtful.
One cannot deny that holding elections in a country as big as India with more than 80 crore electorate is indeed a massive task with huge operational logistics to plan and execute. But isn't it the very reason for which Election Commission has been bestowed with so much executive power and manpower do conduct elections?
Since the era of T N Seshan, Election Commission had earned considerable amount of accolade for doing this job with élan. However, this time things have not been so smooth for several reasons and perhaps no one else can be blamed for the same other than Election Commission.
The First Major Controversy and Bizzare Logic of Election Commission
It all started with Rajeev Chandrashekhar spearheading the campaign for giving the right to the soldiers to vote since Election Commission had put some stringent and rather bizarre conditions which put severe restrictions on the fundamental right of the protectors of Indian democracy from voting.
Election Commission had stated that to get the right to vote at the place of posting, "armed and paramilitary personnel should have three years' tenure and the family should also be registered as voters'." This was a bizarre and a rather obnoxious argument without any rational logic since it is a known factor that most of the time the military and paramilitary personnel get transferred frequently and their terms and conditions of the duty make them bound to accept the transfer whenever it is given.
This also meant that if a solider has his family staying in Chennai and the soldier is posted in some remote district of J&K along the LOC then he would not be able to vote in his place of posting because his family is in Chennai and not registered as voter in his place of posting. Can there be any logic more ridiculous than this?
And also it is a known fact that most of the armed forces personnel do not take their family to the place of posting because of several reasons including lack of accommodation, schooling of kids as well as for security reasons.
Rajeev Chandrashekhar wrote in an article in India Today, "The reasons for the Election Commission's guidelines remain shrouded in mystery. This is unacceptable because the right to vote under the Constitution equally applies to all citizens and cannot be fettered. No civilian voter has any restriction of 3 years or family accompanying them."
Eventually Rajeev Chandrashekhar dragged Election Commission to Supreme Court where Justice RM Lodha and NV Ramana while ruling that Armed Forces personnel can vote at the place of posting, told Election Commission, ‘We find you have an obligation to ensure that no voter is denied an opportunity to vote. You have to look into convenience and conditions of all voters... the armed forces personnel are on different footing from other voters as they are posted in remote areas away from their home.'
The Saga of Malfunctioning and Defective Electronic Voting Machines
This was followed by several cases of defective Electronic Voting Machines wherein irrespective of the button pressed, votes were getting transferred to a particular party. Such faulty EVMs were in abundance in Pune and elsewhere from Meerut, Bijnor, Saharanpur, Dehradun to as far as Arunachal Pradesh as well and on several occasions, when voters complained about such faulty EVMs, they had to be replaced in between the polling process.
When Dr Subramanian Swamy had filed a petition for having a paper trail of the voting through EVMs so that the voter can get a printout of who he had voted for and can put in a ballot box kept right beside the EVM for more transparent voting and to make sure that there is no tampering of the EVMs, the stand of the Election Commission in the court had been that ‘EVMs provided by the Commission are of such a high end technology that it cannot be hacked.'
However, how such high end technology can have so much fault that votes of one candidate get transferred to another as has been seen so often in this election, remains a mystery. One then is forced to question the entire credibility of the election process.
The Saga of Missing Names from Voter List
If the issue of faulty EVMs creating problems and becoming a headache is one issue, another major contentious issue surely have been that of missing names from voter list. In what is considered to be the mother of all elections in India where emotions are more charged up than has ever been even in a Cricket World Cup Final with India contending for the coveted trophy, in an election where voter enthusiasm has been unprecedented, nothing can be more frustrating and disenchanting for the voter, standing in the queue with his quest to vote and make his mark, to see his name has been deleted from the voter list.
If in Pune, more than 1 lakh names were missing from voter list, in Mumbai the number of voters whose name was missing from the list was in lakhs with some estimate pegging it anywhere between 1 to 6 lakhs which among others included even prominent names like Deepakh Parekh and Ram Jethmalani who could not vote for the same. For the major chaos in Mumbai, Election Commission apologised but the key issue is how much such apologies actually make a difference in an election where so many missing names can make a huge difference to final results?
The Saga of Booth Capturing and Rigging
One of the most important reasons for which in the past Election Commission had always been appreciated was its success in preventing rigging. However, it seems this time it has failed miserably in this as well. Apart from complaints of rigging in UP and Bihar, there have been severe allegations of rigging and booth capturing in Bengal on both the 6th and the 7th phases of voting held on 24th April and 30th April. As per the opposition parties, it was done by the party members of ruling TMC.
In a rare show of unity, Left Front parties, Congress and BJP had protested against the inaction of local administration. Shockingly, almost 98% of the booths did not have video recording provision, which otherwise is mandatory and in spite of a huge a considerable number of paramilitary personnel that were provided by the EC, they were not deployed even in booths which were known to be sensitive.
Election Commission deploys Special Observers in every state for overseeing election in areas which are sensitive. However in case of Bengal, questions have been raised by opposition parties in Bengal on the conduct of Special Observer Rakesh Sudhir and his alleged inaction on polling days. In spite of several complaints and request for repolling in Bengal, no decision has been taken by the Election Commission as of yet on this issue.
Further there has been a major face-off between BJP and the Election Commission in the last phase of election because of rejection of the proposal of BJP to have a roadshow in Benia Bagh in Varanasi citing security reasons even while Rahul Gandhi was allowed to have road show in the same minority area.
For a country left with only a select few institutions with credibility and where people out of sheer despondency have been left with no option but to look at everything with suspicion, Election Commission would do well not to lose its hard earned credibility because that would have disastrous consequence for India's democracy which is perhaps already going through its toughest time.