[op-ed snap] In defence of the Election Commission

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Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Issue is related to the transparency of the Election Commission.


News

Context

  1. The article talks about the recent controversies related to the Gujarat’s elections date and some historical controversies related to various elections.

Recent controversy of dates of Gujarat Election

  1. In the time between the announcement of the election dates for Himachal Pradesh and the Gujarat, the state’s BJP government has come up with a raft of sops and schemes
  2. Former chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy has rightly called it an avoidable controversy

People’s trust in the ECI

  1. The comprehensive three-year State of Democracy in South Asia project begun in 2004 found that the ECI stood second only to the army among state institutions when it came to public trust
  2. There is substantive reason for such trust
  3. As with so many foundational aspects of the state, the liberal democratic instincts of the Constitution’s framers, who established the ECI as a constitutional body and gave it a robust mandate
  4. And of the country’s first prime minister who scrupulously guarded that mandate and the ECI’s authority—have stood the country in good stead

1991 controversy with the Haryana government

  1. In 1991 and the Haryana government was not pleased with T.N. Seshan
  2. The new CEC was taking on all comers
  3. In a clash over pre-poll transfer orders, Seshan announced that “when an irresistible force meets an immovable object, one has to yield”
  4. The irreverence and chutzpah neatly summed up Seshan’s tenure at the helm of the EC

Positive consequences of these controversies

  1. This gets to the heart of the ECI’s role in the Indian political system
  2. Its normative authority lends legitimacy to a political establishment that has often struggled for public trust
  3. The prickly independence that irks political parties also sustains them
  4. For this, the executive, legislature and judiciary must all share the credit
  5. Even with numerous confrontations, they have conspired to protect the ECI’s authority—a welcome display of institutional wisdom

Current situation

  1. The ECI is still a work in progress
  2. It has stumbled badly at times
  3. The ugly spat in 2009 between then CEC N. Gopalaswami and EC Navin Chawla, with the former recommending the latter’s removal on grounds of partisanship, damaged the institution’s credibility
  4. And its seeking contempt powers earlier this year was an egregious overstepping of bounds worthy of Seshan

The way forward

  1. By and large, the ECI functions effectively as a deterrent in India’s political system
  2. Political parties play along even when it inconveniences them because they understand that they will some day require the protection it affords weaker actors from the stronger—those in power
  3. They should remember this when they are tempted to undermine its authority
Electoral Reforms In India
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