New Delhi: From being prodded by the Supreme Court to being accused of bias by various Opposition political parties, the Election Commission (EC) has been in the line of fire by all those who trust it to uphold basic democratic traditions and ensure free and fair elections.
However, some recent decisions by the EC on alleged poll code violations have raised eyebrows, raising grave concerns about the institution’s sense of fairplay.
On Friday, May 3, EC cleared Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah in four complaints of alleged violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), of which at least one decision was not unanimous.
It is reported that the disagreement in the poll panel was on Shah’s speech in Nagpur on April 9, when he linked Wayanad in Kerala, the second seat from where Congress president Rahul Gandhi is contesting, to Pakistan. The Commission’s decision favouring Shah, was taken by a 2-1 majority, reports Indian Express.
“The other case in which Shah was cleared Friday was his speech in West Bengal on April 22. The BJP president, while addressing a rally, had said that Modi had sent his Air Force to destroy terror camps in Pakistan after the Pulwama attack in February this year,” said the report, adding that with this both Congress complaints against Shah have been disposed of.
In addition, the EC gave a clean chit to Modi, who in his speech in Varanasi on April 25 and in Nanded, Maharashtra, on April 6, had referred to the Wayanad seat as one where the “country’s majority is in minority”. In Varanasi, he had said that 40 terrorists had been killed in Pulwama in response to 42 soldiers who were martyred in the terror attack.
On May 2, the EC had again cleared Modi for his speech in Barmer, Rajasthan, where he once again invoked the armed forces and said that India’s nuclear button was not kept for use in Diwali, saying he had not violated the MCC.
The "full Commission" which takes such decisions comprises Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and fellow election commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra. The Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991 states that if the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners differ in opinion on any matter, such matter shall be decided according to the opinion of the majority.
Meanwhile, news about dissent within the EC on these decisions has raised some hope with the Opposition parties, which have been accusing the poll panel of bias, seeing it as a silver lining.
Former Union Minister P Chidambaram on Saturday said that dissent in the decision to give a clean chit to Modi and Shah in four cases of an alleged violation of MCC suggested that “the fear of the Prime Minister- BJP chief duo is finally weakening.”
The senior Congress leader took to micro-blogging site Twitter and tweeted
With one member of the EC finding fault with Modi-Shah speeches and dissenting from the other two, the Election Commission is finally showing some signs of life!
— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) May 4, 2019
Many other political figures took to Twitter to express their resentment over the EC’s decision to give clean chit to the Modi-Shah duo and had even accused the EC of working under fear. Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav on Friday tweeted
The EC should put this up on its website:
"The commission is of the considered opinion that the MCC does not apply to Shri Narendra Modi and Amit Shah"
Will save so much of public time and money. https://t.co/N0PwXrMch0
— Yogendra Yadav (@_YogendraYadav) May 3, 2019
In his press conference on Saturday, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, too, slammed the EC for bias.
Asked about questions being raised over the EC's impartiality, he said, "When it comes to issues of the BJP, the EC is absolutely on the straight line, when it comes to the Opposition's issues, it is completely biased."
The working style of Modi, the ruling BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is to put pressure on institutions, he alleged. "This is evident everywhere - SC, EC, Planning Commission, RBI. That is their approach. We do not expect that the EC will not be affected by that pressure," Gandhi said.
Earlier, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary, Sitaram Yechury, had written to the EC, criticising its way of dealing with such complaints.”
"In dealing with violations of MCC, the ECI appears to be not only halting but carrying on at a pace which is emboldening the perpetrators and exemplifies the notion of 'delayed justice' amounting to its actual 'denial'!", the letter read.
He also asked the EC: "Does Narendra Modi, a BJP candidate from Varanasi constituency in Uttar Pradesh and a star campaigner for the BJP, is needed to be treated differently from the enforcement of MCC for the simple reason that he happens to be the incumbent Prime Minister?"