Issue :   
November 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         November 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:November' 2018

ELECTION COMMISSION

Doubts over fairness

N D Sharma

O P Rawat OP Rawat had earned a lot of goodwill by his ‘plain-speak’ just before he was elevated to the post of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). Part of it he lost by his flip-flop while announcing (as the CEC) the election schedules for the five State Assemblies.
The press conference to make the announcement was scheduled for 12-30 PM on October 6. It was suddenly re-scheduled for 3 PM, giving a cause to the opposition to make the allegation that it had been done to allow Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address the rally at Ajmer in the poll-bound Rajasthan which was slated for 1 PM.
Announcement of the election schedule meant immediate enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct. The rally was important as it had marked the conclusion of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s State-wide Gaurav Yatra. Both Modi and Raje not only lashed out at the opposition at the rally but also announced a slew of promises to the electorate.
Reticent by nature and never known to speak publicly about what he was thinking, Rawat (then Election Commissioner) had surprised his friends and foes alike in August last year by his outburst at the blatant use of money and misuse of government machinery in the elections.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally at Ajmer, Rajasthan

Randeep Singh Surjewala In his keynote address at the consultation on electoral and political reforms organised by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), he observed that “although money was necessary for political parties and candidates, experience has shown that there is a real and present risk that some parties and candidates, once in office, will be more responsive to the interests of a particular group of donors rather than to wider public interest. Policy capture occurs when the interests of a narrow group dominate those of other stakeholders to the benefit of that narrow group”.
He had criticised the introduction of Electoral Bonds by the Modi government and amendments made to the Companies Act and said that these would only pump more black money into electoral politics and lead to money laundering.
Rawat’s bold observations had earned him a respect even when the opposition was losing faith in the neutrality of the Election Commission because of a series of controversial decisions taken by then CEC A K Joti.

Yashwant Sinha However, Rawat’s own neutrality was seen with suspicion as he came to announce the election schedules on October 6.Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala insinuated that the CEC had changed the timing of the press conference to allow Narendra Modi to complete his speech at the rally. In a Tweet, Surjewala said: “3 facts draw your conclusions: ECI (Election Commission of India) announces PC (press conference) at 12-30 today to announce election dates to the five states, PM Modi is addressing a rally in Ajmer in Rajasthan at 1 p.m. today, ECI suddenly changes the time of announcement and PC to 3 p.m. Independence of ECI?” The dissident BJP leader Yashwant Sinha tweeted: “Unfortunate that Election Commission postponed announcement of election dates in 5 states only to enable Modi to address his public meeting in Ajmer, Rajasthan. Very sad.”
CEC Rawat’s explanation at the press conference about the Congress allegation was only facetious. He talked about the publication of electoral rolls in Telangana (one of the States going to the polls) and said that “politicians and political parties have to see politics (in everything) due to their inherent nature.” Elections to the State Assemblies are being held in November- December in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana. Inclusion of Telangana was also seen as a favour to the ruling party. Rawat is on record as having stated that the polling for Telangana Assembly would not be possible along with other States. On October 6 itself, NDTV had reported at 14-02 (merely an hour before the poll schedule was announced): “Announcement of election dates for Assembly elections in Telangana is unlikely, sources tell NDTV”.
Announcement of by-elections for three Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka has also intrigued the opposition. Along with Assembly election schedules for five States, Rawat had also announced byelections to Shimoga, Bellary and Mandya Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka.

The Congress party delegation comprising PCC chief Kamal Nath, campaign committee chairman Jyotiraditya Scindia (both Lok Sabha members) and former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh (Rajya Sabha member) approached the Election Commission. Some Lok Sabha seats are lying vacant in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir also but the Election Commission is not holding by-elections there.
Some see the move to announce by-elections for Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka only as aimed at helping the BJP. Shimoga and Bellary seats were vacated by two senior BJP leaders, B S Yeddyurappa and B Sriramulu, respectively, to contest the Assembly elections in March this year and these are said to be the sure seats of the BJP. In Mandya also the BJP is confident of improving upon its past performance following alleged tension between Congress and JD(S), the alliance partners in the State government. Strangely, the counting of votes in the three Lok Sabha constituencies will not be held along with the counting of votes in five States on December 11.

J P Dhanopia Counting of Lok Sabha byelections will be held on December 6 and polling in Rajasthan and Telangana will be held on December 7. Won’t the outcome of three Lok Sabha by-elections influence voters in the two States? Rawat has also been less than candid in the matter of “fake” voters which has for over eight months been agitating the Congress party in Madhya Pradesh. At his press conference he denied existence of “fake” voters. Later, on October 13 he told the All India Radio that the Election Commission had taken proactive steps to counter bogus voting and “purify” the electoral rolls. The Congress in the State was first alarmed during the by-elections for two Assembly elections in February when photocopies showing the same voter registered in more than one locality had started appearing in social media.
The complaints lodged with the office of Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) were treated with disdain. It was only after a high level party delegation led by Lok Sabha member from Guna Jyotiraditya Scindia approached the EC that a summary re-check of the voters’ lists was ordered. A week before the day of polling, the Ashoknagar District Collector’s office communicated to the CEO’s office in Bhopal the detection of 1800 “fake” voters in Mungaoli Assembly constituency (which falls in Ashoknagar district). Similar was the case for Kolaras Assembly constituency in Shivpuri district.
In June, the Congress claimed that it had conducted a survey and detected around 60 lakh fake voter ID cards in the State. A high profile party delegation comprising PCC chief Kamal Nath, Campaign Committee chairman Jyotiraditya Scindia (both Lok Sabha members) and former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh (Rajya Sabha member) approached the Election Commission and submitted what they described as the evidence of existence of fake voters.
On the insistence of the Congress, the Election Commission agreed to look into their complaint and constituted two teams to investigate the matter. In early August, the Election Commission announced that it had deleted over 24 lakh fake names from the voters’ lists in the 230 Assembly constituencies in the State, though the Commission called it as part of “the continued process of voter list revisions”.
The Congress, though, is not fully satisfied. It announced in mid- October that it would continue its efforts to detect fake voters in the State in spite of the Supreme Court having dismissed its petition. PCC spokesperson J P Dhanopia said, “We will continue to work on voters’ lists to find out fake voters, as the BJP will rely on them to manipulate the Assembly elections.” Dhanopia said as per their assessment, there were at least 56 lakh fake voters in the State. After they raised the issue repeatedly, the Election Commission claimed to have deleted over 24 lakh voters from the lists. “My fear is that names of many voters who were dropped might have resurfaced in the voters’ lists during the revision of the lists”, he added.