It looks as though the Election Commission has been sleeping on its watch. Reports of systematic complaints from thousands of voters across the country that their names were missing from the electoral rolls need to be investigated and suitable correctives taken. In recent times, the poll body has earned a name for itself for being able to conduct clean elections even in challenging circumstances. But if the commission is unable to ensure that every eligible voter finds his name on the rolls, the rationale for its very existence as an independent constitutional authority can be called into question.
It can be no one’s case that the EC’s failure to effectively discharge its basic function is attributable to any motive. If voters in large numbers were unable to exercise their franchise, it wasn’t the result of a pre-meditated plan. But the EC’s failure to keep its staff on its toes so that they deliver a carefully updated roll at election time is a serious lapse. Fixing of accountability in the matter brooks no delay. It is pertinent to recall that the commission had specifically sought time to update rolls for the Lok Sabha election.
It is hard to miss the irony that a very large number of eligible voters were unable to cast their ballot due to the EC’s malfunctioning when the president had specially exhorted electors to assert this ‘noble’ right. It appears bona fide voters have no legal remedy if their names go missing; they cannot, for instance, demand a poll postponement. But if a significant number of names are absent from the voters’ list, the electoral outcome can conceivably be affected. As such, political parties can have a valid ground for complaint. The matter is far more serious than what key EC officials of Maharashtra reportedly seem to think — that people themselves are to blame for missing names since they don’t take the trouble to check with the poll body if their names are there! Blaming the victim, as we know, is an old pastime with bureaucrats.