The Election Commission has barred chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and his Cabinet colleagues from holding discussions with officials of various departments through video conferencing till the elections are over: Press Trust of India, March 26
Is the Election Commission aware that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is going to make a momentous announcement that might affect the way millions of people vote in the forthcoming general elections? As we all know, new measures that could influence voters are impermissible under the Model Code of Conduct. But dear sirs, right under your honourable noses, a new policy statement is being planned, one that flouts all conventions of acceptable pre-election behaviour. I refer, of course, to the First Bi-Monthly Monetary Policy statement to be announced by the RBI on April 1. It is very likely that the RBI may go so far as to raise or lower interest rates on that date, affecting millions of voting bank borrowers. The question, dear commissioners, is: Should the RBI be allowed to get away with it?
Things could get even worse — they might even decide to raise or lower the cash reserve ratio (CRR). You will agree that there may well be zillions of voters out there who want the CRR, whatever that may be, to be slashed. Others may want it to be lifted, for their own nefarious purposes. Should the RBI be allowed to pander to them before the elections?
Incidentally, the EC's gas price decision was brilliant. The biggest beneficiaries of the hike would have been ONGC and Oil India, both government companies, while Reliance Industries too would benefit. Naturally, the EC was worried that Mukesh Ambani would vote for the UPA. The whole thing reeked of devilish government cunning.
But I'm disappointed they allowed the recent sale of Axis Bank shares. The Election Commission also needs to ponder whether the stock market should be allowed to go up, since it helps many right-wing voters.
Should new bank licences be issued? Many voters feel strongly about which companies should be given banking licences. If IDFC gets a banking licence, then the JD(S) would get my vote. It's best therefore to keep the issue in cold storage.
Have you heard of the attempt to rig the Arunachal vote by expediting the Lower Subansiri power project? They say the hurry is to beat Chinese plans for constructing a dam on the Brahmaputra. But the Chinese election commission can take care of that. The Indian EC's job is to stall all projects till the elections.
Won't the proposed lowering of petrol prices be tantamount to populism? Won't the raising of diesel prices be anti-populist? We need to freeze all prices till the elections. What about candidates giving away gifts in fake marriage and birthday parties — wouldn't it be better to temporarily ban all parties by politicians? Funerals too, of course. It's good that the disgusting practice of ministers talking with their bureaucrats, especially through video conferencing, has been outlawed.
The best thing would be for the governments, at both the Centre and the states, to shut down totally before the elections and let the EC run the country. That way, instead of being just another demented democracy, India will have the distinction of being the world's first EC-cracy.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal