The Election Commission cannot be so selective
The Election Commission must strictly enforce the rules of the game and ensure a level playing field
The 2019 Lok Sabha election has perhaps been among the most controversial elections in recent history. Not only has political discourse been reduced often to crudities and abuses, but there have been multiple instances of politicians stepping out of line, violating the Model Code of Conduct, even inciting animosity and hatred between communities.
It is the duty of the Election Commission (EC) to ensure that all political actors play by the rules of the game. Delayed as it may have been, EC has indeed taken a string of laudable steps. By imposing curbs on campaigning on Yogi Adityanath, Mayawati, Azam Khan and Pragya Singh Thakur, EC showed that along with its moral authority, it has the power and the inclination to act if electoral politics turns communal. But when it comes to some of the most powerful political leaders in the country, EC has not lived up to expectations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be the PM, but in the electoral battlefield, he is just another leader campaigning hard for his party. Despite EC’s guidelines, Mr Modi has repeatedly used the Balakot strikes and the valour of the armed forces in his campaign for political advantage. Mr Modi also sought to portray Rahul Gandhi’s choice of Wayanad as a second seat as dictated by its ‘minority-dominated’ demography, a clear statement that seeks to reinforce divisions in society. BJP president Amit Shah too likened Wayanad to Pakistan, reinforcing the worst (and false) stereotypes about the community.
Yet, EC has given clean chits to both. Reports indicate that one commissioner, Ashok Lavasa, has strongly dissented in these instances. It is important that the other two commissioners — Sunil Arora and Sushil Chandra — consider the objections of their colleague seriously. EC is coming across as selective, partisan, and cowed down by political pressures. If that’s merely an erroneous perception, it is easily corrected. All EC has to do is to share the logic of its actions, and inaction.
The institution has been a central feature of Indian democracy, and both citizens and the international community have hailed its integrity and independence. It is time for EC to act in the spirit for which it has been known, strictly enforce the rules of the game, and ensure a level-playing field without fear or favour.