'Drug use in Punjab polls extremely serious matter'
Chief election commissioner SY Quraishi, a former IAS officer of Haryana cadre, has successfully conducted elections in some of India's most politically volatile and influential states during his tenure. In the recent elections in five states including UP and Punjab, the soft-spoken CEC set new benchmarks in holding free and peaceful polls. In an interview to HT's assistant editor Navneet Sharma, Quraishi, whose term ends in four months, spoke about the key takeaways from these polls, cooling-off period for bureaucrats and the five-week wait for the result in Punjab. Excerpts:
What are the lessons from the recent assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and three other states?
The bar has been raised and new benchmarks set in these elections. Our effort has been to increase participation of the voters. And it worked wonders. Things have been going well from the time of assembly elections in Bihar. There was 30% increase in voter participation in UP and 8% to 14% in Punjab, Goa, etc. My experience shows that voters are willing to participate provided they are facilitated. Our focus has also been on curbing use of black money. Though we have had success, it is not enough. A lot more needs to be done. The candidates used ingenious ways. They even tried hawala-like transactions this time.
What about Punjab?
For the first time, the issue of use of drugs in the (Punjab) elections came up. There was a crackdown and huge qualities of heroin, opium, smack and poppy husk were seized. It is an extremely serious matter. And we need to now watch out for these things in other states too.
There was a standoff between the commission and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal over the working of EC officials. What do you have to say?
In the EC, we do not get unduly perturbed (by such issues). We go strictly by the rules. In the heat of the moment some things happened. Badal is among the senior most leaders of the country. His response was dignified. The Punjab government did not drag its feet on anything and complied with all the instructions. There were very few violations.
The EC's proposal on cooling-off period for bureaucrats before they can contest the election was reportedly a fall-out of actions of some officers in Punjab. Where does the issue stand?
Almost every party was complaining against two senior IPS and IAS officers in Punjab. There were allegations that they were behaving in a partisan manner with an eye on the election. And then they contested the election also. We have faced similar problems in some other states also, but this (the Punjab case) was all very blatant. Our proposal is with the union ministry of personnel. I am hopeful things would move quickly.
The five-week long wait for the poll result during which everything came to a standstill in Punjab hasn't gone well with anyone. Your comments?
These things cannot be avoided when elections are held simultaneously. Our priority is to check poll violence, booth capturing and misuse of money, liquor, etc. Also, we can't allow undue influence of the result in one state on the election process in another state. Therefore, it is a small price to pay for fair and peaceful elections.
What is next on your agenda?
The election reforms to debar criminals from contesting and transparency of political funding are of monumental significance, but these have been pending for a long time. The laws need to be enacted for these reforms. You could even call it my unfulfilled wish.