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Judges may be better Election Commissioners
Thursday June 5, 2014 10:14 PM, Syed Ali Mujtaba,

With the 2014 parliamentary elections in India coming to a close, the image of the Indian election commissioner's stand reduced and battered in the eyes of the common man. The reason is it is toothless when it comes to taking action.

The Election Commission is an autonomous, constitutionally established central body responsible for administering all the electoral processes in India.

The Election Commission has the power of superintendence, direction and control of all elections to the Parliament, state legislatures and elections to the office of the President and Vice-President of India.

Election Commission has a Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners and they lead a large team of officials to conduct free and fair election in India. The concept of multi-member Commission is to have decision making power by majority vote.

The Election Commission has taken several measures for the success of elections in the country. It introduced Electronic Voting Machines to reduce malpractices and improve efficiency. It launched a web site to provide accurate information, management, administration and results of the elections. The election commission has made the 'computerisation' of the electoral rolls compulsory. To prevent electoral fraud, it issued electoral photo ID cards. It registers political parties to take part in elections. It has made a Model code of Conduct for political parties and candidates to conduct elections in a free and fair manner.

The credit must be given to the bureaucrat election commissioners for conducting the mammoth task of general elections in the country. However they have drawn flak on the administrative side reigning in politicians and taking action against several malpractices reported during the elections.

There are instances of violation of model code of conduct by the political parties and complaints were received for misuse of official machinery by the candidates, but no action was taken by the election commissioners.

As a result, People are asking for reform in the election commission's office and may like see retired Supreme Court judges to be replaced by the retired bureaucrat who are acting as election commissioners.

In the just concluded elections, there have been widespread reports of political parties distributing money to bribe the voters to which election commission remains a mute spectator.

It seems political parties do not adhere to the financial 'Lakshman Rekha' set by the election commission and go on to spend huge amount during electioneering. There is hardly any check over it.

Similarly, several other poll related malpractices have been reported to the Election Commission but in spite of that, the EC has largely remained silent on these complaints.

One actor / political leader in Tamil Nadu took his wife to guide him while casting his vote and another actor was not administered the indelible ink mark before casting his vote. Several vernacular newspapers have reported this, and even photographs have been published but the election commission remained unmoved.

When this was brought to the notice of the chief electoral officer of Tamil Nadu, he was reported to have told the press not to make this a big issue. The chief electoral officer should have at least asked officials in the polling booth to explain why such instances have taken place.

Complaints have been made against several political leaders all over India for using vituperative language against one another and violating the moral code of conduct. All that the election commissioners have done was to issue show cause notice to a few, send cautionary warning to some others and asked a few to stop campaigning for some time.

In a case of one political leader, election commissioners directed that an FIR should be filed immediately, even before asking for an explanation from the concerned person. This made people wonder about the lack of consistency in the behavior of the election commissioners.

In such situation, no political party seems to take the election commissioners seriously and some people have started thinking that EC is just a paper tiger.

While the citizens of India should be complimented for largely conducting themselves with dignity and decorum in participating in the polls, the credit should go only to them to make the 2014 polls a successful democratic exercise. There are many grouse against Election Commission.

Election Commission has merely functioned as a weak administrative body and has given an impression that it is unaware of its powers and responsibilities. It does not seem to be conscious of the fact that it is a constitutional body and should act in a fair and strict manner, without giving an impression of being a weak institution.

Many people are now convinced that it is high time to review the procedures for appointment of the election commissioners.

The present election commissioners are retired IAS officers who have spent several decades carrying out the dictates of the politicians and largely remaining as career oriented bureaucrats during their service.

In the case of chief electoral officers serving in the states, they are IAS officers remaining in service, who have to report to the politicians in power when they would be transferred to some other department after serving as chief electoral officer for some period.

The entire mind set of election commissioners appear to be that of bureaucrats who have always kept subordinate attitude, which amount to routinely obeying the rule book and the instructions of the ministers, without registering their protests in case of unjustified and adverse instructions.

Many people now think that the retired Supreme Court judges can fit in as election commissioners much better, who can exercise judgments in the decisions and ensure discipline during the electoral process.

The IAS officers, the bureaucrats that they are, should function under the election commissioners who would be chosen from the panel of retired Supreme Court judges.

In the present times, citizens have been reposing greater faith and confidence in the judiciary as compared to the politicians and bureaucrats, therefore replacing bureaucrats with judges would be an exercise in right direction to revamp our electoral process.

While it is true that there are some black sheep in the judiciary as well, people think that by and large the Indian judiciary has delivered judgments in a fair and impartial manner, at least at Supreme Court level. So in such case, the retired Supreme Court judges would make better election commissioners.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

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