Ever since the May 19 zila parishad and block samiti polls were announced and the model code of conduct came into force, the Punjab state election commission has been under fire from opposition parties for not clamping down on unruly elements unleashing violence allegedly with the connivance of the government machinery, especially the Punjab Police. Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa even dubbed state election commissioner (SEC) SS Brar as spineless and a puppet in the hands of the ruling Akali-BJP alliance.
Brar, a former Punjab-cadre IAS officer, took premature retirement in November 2011 to take up the post. On Friday, HT asked Brar about the allegations levelled against him and the commission in the run-up to the polls of panchayati raj institutions.
HT: Poll-related violence has claimed four lives in 10 days. Why has the state election commission given a free hand to goonda elements to run amuck?
Brar: I am deeply saddened by the violent incidents in which precious lives were lost. However, barring these incidents, the election process in the entire state has been largely peaceful and no untoward incident happened in any nook and corner of Punjab.
Punjab state election commissioner SS Brar at Sector 17 in Chandigarh on Friday. Photo: Keshav Singh/HT
Why did the commission fail to act when Congress MLA Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi was assaulted? A Youth Akali Dal president fired at Sodhi on May 7.
There is no mention of this incident in our record. Moreover, the aggrieved party has not lodged any formal complaint with the commission for action.
But the incident was widely reported in the entire media. How come you were not aware of it? Even after 10 days of the attack, no FIR has been registered against the accused, which shows a clear bias of the commission and the police.
Somehow the incident escaped my attention and I did not spot it in the papers. My colleague has just informed me that an FIR is being registered in the case.
Ever since the model code of conduct came into force, the Punjab Police have been accused of acting in a partisan manner and brazenly helping ruling alliance candidates. Why has the commission not issued strict instructions to the police to be fair?
We told all agencies, including the police, to act in complete fairness. All kinds of allegations are being levelled by political parties. I can only respond if there are specific instances where partiality has been shown by the police.
PPCC president Partap Singh Bajwa met you twice to submit a memorandum in which he sought the deployment of paramilitary forces as the Punjab Police have become a tool in the hands of the SAD-BJP government.
The atmosphere in Punjab is not alarming enough to seek paramilitary forces for the conduct of zila parishad and block samiti polls. Besides, paramilitary forces could not have been summoned to Punjab in just four days. If the Opposition wanted the commission to seek the deployment of central forces, it should have conveyed it to us at least three months in advance.
Bajwa also alleged that there has been large-scale withdrawal of nominations of Congress candidates under police pressure. Why has the commission remained a mute spectator to this?
I can't respond to mere allegations as the facts are completely different. Of the 1,321 candidates who filed nominations for the zila parishad polls, the papers of only 127 were rejected. For the block samiti polls, of the 10,085 nominations, the papers of only 351 were rejected after scrutiny. The rejection rate is just 4%. There were no rejections under duress.
The Congress says the commission under you has completely failed to discharge its constitutional responsibility
I don't want to engage in a political debate as I only go by the facts, which say that the commission has shown no favour or partiality to anyone in the run-up to the polls.