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Election Commission of India and High Court: A pretentious saga

Well, the independent institutions that supposedly run the democracy of a country have significantly tarnished their image over the past few years, some more than others, through their bias and influenced actions. While the Supreme Court has left no stone unturned in adding itself to the list of caged parrots of the ruling government, a title which it once itself gave to another institution, we aim to target this article particularly to the recent objectionable activities of the country’s free autonomous institution- the election commission, followed by the saga of High Courts’ late yet insufficient responses.
This constitutional body that took charge as a commission independent of executive control and interference has not really been very good at maintaining the interdependence in the recent period. Many of its decisions have been questionable, even troubling during the 2019 elections. The perception has grown that it is biased and, even if this may be not totally true, it is a worrying sign that voters and citizens have come to believe that the organisation has favoured the incumbent party. Right from the announcement of the schedule of holding a seven-phase election back in 2019 during the peak of summer to turning a blind eye to the numerous infractions of senior BJP leaders — including the prime minister — the EC’s many actions have been baffling and problematic. The number of ‘clean chits’ issued to Narendra Modi, despite him making provocative statements and skirting very, very close to the regulations, have raised multiple eyebrows. More recent of these doubt-provoking decisions was the election commission’s order relaxing the rules for the appointment of polling agents has been referred to as biased, controlled and influenced by the Ruling government’s influences. And how can it not? According to a March 2009 rule by the EC, polling agents who are appointed by the contesting candidates shall have to be electors in the same polling stations or from neighbouring polling stations falling in the same constituency. However, the provision was amended recently to allow an elector from any part of an Assembly constituency to be appointed as a polling agent.
How ironic it is that while we’re mentioning 2019’s election commission’s tell-tales, it was the same year that the man who brought a revolution in the commission- T.N. Seshan left us for beyond. A hero in the eyes of people, he not only changed the ECI for good but also helped regain public trust in the institution, which, however, the current ministry has had a hard time maintaining.  Former CEC T.S. Krishna Murthy, who wrote Miracle of Democracy: India’s Amazing Journey, termed Mr Seshan’s tenure a “turning point” in the history of the Election Commission of India (ECI). “If the history of Election Commission is written, it has to be divided into two parts — pre-Seshan era where the Commission functioned as a department of the government and the post-Seshan era when the Commission became more independent.” Well, if only the post-Seshan ministry of recent times chose to follow his footsteps. Perhaps looking at the current scenario, Mr T.N. Seshan, wherever he is today, might be disturbed. He might feel that all his efforts to bring powers, independence and authority to Election Commissioners are going in vain.
And even though the Election Commission maintained a long, long silence on rallies in the wake of COVID-19 at a time when the country was registering more than 2 lakh cases, its actions, despite heavy public vitriol, have been very limited. I mean, what in the name of mockery is the campaigning restriction from 7 pm to 5 am? The criticism that rooted from pictures of the ministers and supreme leader campaigning and holding rallies without following COVID-19 protocols and without masks led to concerns from the Calcutta high court, but that too only last week, when damage was mostly done. The court said that the circulars of the ECI show the route map and the protocol for the political parties, their workers, the people at large and responsible management by the officers including the police and other forces under its command. “Issuance of circulars and holding of meetings by themselves do not discharge the onerous responsibility of the ECI,” the court observed. Following this, The Election commission banned roadshows, vehicle rallies, and public meetings. Permissions already given for such events were withdrawn. Note that this decision came much later than what the institution ideally should’ve engaged in, but better late than never, no?
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In a recent event, the Madras High court came down heavily on the Election Commission and its ignorance in the handling of the situation that has aggravated the damage we’re standing at right now. Madras High Court Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee reprimanded the Election Commission up for failing to ensure COVID-19 norms were followed during rallies, remarking that Election Commission is “singularly responsible” for the second wave of COVID-19.  “Election Commission officers should be booked on murder charges probably,” Justice Sanjib Banerjee remarked, as per reports from the session. When the election commission’s counsel said that measures have been taken to curb the spread of COVID-19, the Madras High Court Chief Justice remarked “Were you on another planet when political rallies were being held?” 
While we appreciate the court’s criticism of the Election Commission, we can’t help but complain about the delays in these actions. The court’s action as a pillar of maintaining the work decorum of the country’s institutions and their late actions aren’t a very good sign. And even though we compromised with the delays, how do we compromise with the extent of action? Why are these only words and nothing much more significant? So, is it just because of the public attention or rather a criticism, that they chose to speak about it or do anything about it or did they actually care? Because even now, all public has been some harsh words and opinions about the matter, from authority as powerful as the High Court. If they really want to teach them a lesson, why hasn’t the court already filed a case or started proceedings against them? Well, it cannot get later than this. It is time that words turn into action and we derive something more meaningful out of it.

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