Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath who presided over the Lok Sabha elections last summer and denied permission to Narendra Modi, now Prime Minister, for holding a rally in communally sensitive Varanasi, demits office on Thursday. Excerpts of an interview with Chetan Chauhan.
What could you have done better as the Chief Election Commissioner?
I think we did a lot for improving voter participation but two areas of concern still remain. They are increasing influence of money power and paid news in polls. I hope that the government accepts our recommendation that paying money to voters should be made a cognizable offence and paid news an electoral offence, which will mean the commission will have powers to disqualify them from elections.
Isn’t political party reform needed to curb these electoral ills?
Yes, I agree. There should be a limit on expenses of a political party. Some parties, like those in power, have huge resources, which cannot be matched by others. There should also be more transparency on how parties generate funds. We have issued transparency guidelines and have invoked our powers under the Constitution to ensure parties comply.
A big change during your tenure?
I tried to project the commission as a multi-member body and we fairly succeeded in that. Another shift was focusing on voters by introducing photo-identity slips and taking enrolment to doorsteps. We also introduced the concept of model polling stations.
There is a perception that the government has not done enough on electoral reforms. Your views?
The government has referred the matter to the Law Commission which has held several meetings. I hope that the government will take action on the commission’s report.
After e-voting for NRIs, do you think online voting for all is feasible?
I don’t think it can happen in the near future. The EC will have to ensure that the vote cast online is safe and secure. Scope of mischief is high and therefore we decided that the NRI voters will have to mail the ballot paper to the commission.