Tuesday, December 6, 2022
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Did Ashok Lavasa case change it all for EC? Why India needs a TN Seshan: Ex-IAS officer

The election commissioners should have controlled the madness in West Bengal, but their partisan attitude has only strengthened the negative impression about civil services.

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The Election Commission of India and its members are under enormous fire on account of their (mis)conduct during the ongoing assembly elections. Barring a few exceptions, almost everyone — now even a high court — has condemned the poll panel’s inaction during the Covid-19 pandemic. The election rallies have been massive spreaders of Covid. The Election Commission could and should have intervened and controlled this madness, instead of bringing disrepute to this august institution.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) is a constitutional body and the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) cannot be removed from their position except through a process of impeachment. Thus, there is sufficient protection available. That is also the reason why successive election commissioners have held their head high and strengthened the institution. There is absolutely no reason at least for the CEC to succumb. Or, so we thought.

Also read: EC officials may be booked under murder charges, says Madras HC on election rallies

To toe or not to toe the line

What happened to Ashok Lavasa — member of the ECI from January 2018 to August 2020 — perhaps changed it all. He was made the election commissioner after due diligence. On occupying the position, Lavasa apparently chose to take an “independent” view on certain issues. Suddenly, cases against his family members were opened up, and later cleared. Being the senior most, Lavasa would have been the logical choice for the post of CEC at a crucial time when assembly elections were to be held in some states. He dithered but finally chose not to put up a fight and went on to join the Asian Development Bank. The message was loud and clear.

It is difficult to determine the exact contribution Ashok Lavasa’s case made in pushing the election commissioners to ‘toe the line’. There would have been other factors contributing to such a (mis)conduct on the part of the election commissioners, so much so that the Madras High Court bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy made the following remark against the ECI Monday:

“You are the only institution that is responsible for the situation today. No action against political parties taking rallies despite every order of the court. Your election commission should be put on murder charges probably”.

Harsh words indeed.

There has been an ongoing practice for many decades to ‘reward’ those who occupied constitutional posts after their tenure is over. It would be wrong to blame only the current dispensation for this. Judges and many civil servants have been ‘benefitting’ out of this pernicious practice. In the context of the ECI, there was an isolated case of a former CEC joining a political party and then being made a Union minister. There are media reports that former CEC Sunil Arora, who completed his tenure this month, may be made the governor of Goa. One can only hope it doesn’t happen, else it will lend credence to the accusations of partisan behaviour during his tenure.

Also read: ‘Only God or TN Seshan’ — why politicians feared the ex-CEC who was an inspiration to many

ECs giving a bad name to civil services

The decisions that the ECI takes are largely difficult and sensitive ones. It can’t please everyone. In fact, the decisions should not be to please or displease someone. The ECI is supposed to carry out the process of elections objectively. This is what this august institution prided in and was known for. The objectivity of the ECI is being questioned now as never before. The manner in which the election has been planned and rolled out in West Bengal has left everyone wondering. The necessity of conducting the election in eight phases when the country is facing an unprecedented health crisis is being questioned. The ECI turning a blind eye towards violation of Covid norms and allowing election rallies to happen has left everyone aghast. The poll panel could and should have managed it well.

The ECI has a tough and unenviable job. But it was always so. And, it managed to keep its neck above the water. Did the Ashok Lavasa incident change everything? Or, are the election commissioners too looking for additional rewards? I have no doubt that the election commissioners would want to restore the sanctity and credibility of the institution. But to do so, they will first have to admit that something is amiss. And even if they admit, the key question is whether they have the spine to do what they think is correct. When T.N. Seshan did what he did, he didn’t require new legislation. He used the existing rules to strengthen the structure. However, it required guts and attitude. Do the current election commissioners have Seshan’s guts and attitude? Some people argue, perhaps unfairly, that they wouldn’t be where they are if they were perceived to have these attributes.

Despite the fact that a large number of civil servants are toiling hard to grapple with the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, the general impression about them is created by those that occupy high-profile positions like election commissioners. In the current instance as well, the (in)action and partisan attitude of the election commissioners has resulted in bringing a bad name to the civil services even though these are exceptions. There are a number of other commissioners, like the ones at Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, who hold much more vulnerable positions, but are turning it around through exemplary leadership qualities and hard work without due recognition.

There are indeed all types of civil servants. If pliability and allegiance become the prime criteria for posting officers, we will get officers who give a bad name to civil services. However, if the criteria are honesty and efficiency, we will have more Seshans and Ribeiros amid us. The choice is with the decision maker.

The author is a retired civil servant and former secretary in the government of India. Views are personal. 

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

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  1. Its not been a nice sight to watch IAS officers constantly in a manipulation mode trying to get postings abroad or some plush positions in India (e.g. Chairman Air India – despite their only experience with aviation being as a passenger). This culture ran rampant in UPA days and perhaps still does. What else can you expect under such circumstances ?

  2. Surprised at the wisdom of society at large and media in particular. A judge can say anything about anyone because tobody question their wisdom and authority. How can a high court judge give such remarks about EC because they discharged their constitutional duties to conduct election. BJP bengal rallies are criticised for spread, why not question state govt.which ignored all warnings. We’re election rally conducted in Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujrat, chatisgarh,rajasthan or even punjab where maxi. Cases of covid. Ashamlessly criticising on wrong narrative.was not kejriwal and priyanka gendi flaming kissan panchayats in north India toll middle of April. Why madness of people like mamta,Rahul, kejri, tikait,kalistanis sanjay rout and many many more such crooks not questioned.why lockdown not clamped by Sonia CMs .

  3. Mr Swarup’s report is correct and relevant. Look over the years how CBDT postings are made. Entire field wonders how year after year power of investigation wing is abused & chairman a Hand picked officer by two Gujaratis allowed extended periods of tenure.

  4. Sure, India needs another T N Seshan. The same Seshan who was furious when someone overtook his car, and who ordered his driver to overtake and stop it. He then got our and ordered his securitymen to shoot the other car’s driver. The good thing is that they were far more intelligent than that vainglorious, authoritarian bureaucratic pencil rodent. There are many things that India needs: less corruption, smarter bureaucrats and politicians, a political system that is good in its essence but needs to be updated regularly to keep with the needs of the times – the list would be a long one, but in a country with abundant talent, it is achievable. Every time someone desires the resurrection / cloning of a certain individual, though, they might do well to remember an exchange from Brecht’s “The Life of Galileo.” When Andrea tells Galileo “Unhappy is the land that has no heroes,” Galileo’s response is “No, unhappy is the land that needs a hero.” Substitute the word “pity” for “unhappy,” and it describes India to a great extent.

    • Despicable remark . Mr .Anil Swarup had served as coal secretary and done a splendid job . Today look at the status of Coal Ministry and Coal India and one will understand . Besides ,as an officer in the rank of additional cabinet secretary he used to review projects , which remained blocked for various reasons and pulled up officers of the state government which made projects progress and which aided in revival of economy during the period 204-2016 for it to be frittered away in demonetization , ill executed GST besides lackof administrative skills and knowledge on the part of politicians

  5. Anil Swarup lays his drink of whisky having relished the thought worthy of joining the intellect brigade of Lutyens Delhi, he was overjoyed losing track of both time and history. A person with intellect analyses with authority and not by common sense logic which are aired by journalists of “repute” today. Covid-19 if one follows the Argoya Setu App is still very active and the curve has not flattened it states unambiguously since the lockdown enforced was removed and handed over to the State Governments to take decisions based on local circumstances. Crowds began swelling at the markets, autorickshaws plied around with a four plus driver, public transport packed for office goers. The elections are announced and break into a spree of insane dancing “Khlela Hobay”. But by the second phase of the election there are grim faces of announced winners – the Election Commission has brought the goons who run riot and threaten opposing voters, who block candidates from filing nominations, under control. You may not want “two Gujaratis to takeover power” but sit at the feet of a Gujrati alleging harassment. And despite spurring gunfire at a polling booth – there usual smile was missing and their fiery tongue was burnt down. At no point in time the Covid-19 had flattened and the new mutants were at the doorstep while we read news that State Chief Ministers were closing down Covid facilities and the vaccine was made available after phase-3 testing in late February (see the Arogya Setu App for registration). And Justice Banerjee – did not issue any such order as stated. If he were that capable he should order hanging of President Xi for spreading the Wuhan virus. Truly he makes India a laughing stock.
    I have written this before the last phase of elections are over. The winner need not be guessed. We know the losing side.

  6. This article provides ample proof how the current govt. BJP in center is trying to coerce an independent democratic institution like ECI by using IT raids as a tool. Such a control freak PM is ultimately dangerous for India how much love he may have for the country. Also the officials of ECI are also to blame who show no spine in fighting against their unjust treatment by the govt. in center. They deserved the strong rebuke from Chennai HC. The HC should also look into the misuse of IT, ED, CBI, etc. by the central govt.

  7. Lol. the Bias of the Author is so obvious. Many years before Lavasa, the congress party made a retired EC as a rajya sabha MP and then made him a minister in the Union Cabinet. These worn out and sold out ex babus , who are now crawilng out of the woodwork right now, have selectively amnesia. They dont even dare to mention their alma mater, !0 janpath .

  8. I will totally blame Ashok Lavasa for choosing an escapist path. The removal of EC path is so complex that he should have stuck to his guns. This easy path escape left a poor legacy for his successors. He was the hope which he belied for independent minded citizens like us. Such easy path emboldens politicians. UBuddhadeb Guha IPS Retd

    • Easy to call others escapists, where were all of you including the author, when he was being targetted and harassed? Did you bother you show any support?

  9. Its not only WB and say example tamil nadu in election same day 3 V.machines are roaming out side of booth and surprise it was caught by other parties but so far not to find, who involved this case such a case we feel democracy its failled any how our india still believes the god and nature and turth always overcome with our gods contry. Today governments handle the case with prompt but its to be take high punishment

  10. the supreme court should shut its mouth and respect another constitutional body ECI. the judges in SC are no gods. they have blood on their hands too, taking 15 to 20 years to settle criminal cases (particularly against the goonda netas like lallu, rapists like rahul pappu gandhi – sukanya rape-murder case; and the wife killers like shashi “know-it-all-English” tharoor, and the sonia-matas in national herald case.

    • Even by bhakt standards this was a trash comment. Well done dev for setting the bar of absurdity and inanity this high.

  11. Judge Loya and Ashok Lavasa.

    And now mostly everyone everyone seems to understand. “Mostly”, because there still a few who have exhibited courage and respect the constitutional mandate entrusted to them.

    There is a dawn for each night.

  12. The EC and the GoI are in an impossible position. There is no constitutional provision to delay an election once a government’s tenure is over. If GoI would have imposed President’s rule, then every liberandu would have shouted ‘Power Grab by BJP!!’.

    Everyone is clever in hindsight.

    Can anyone forecast what is going to happen accurately (not what the GoI should be doing)?

    • Yes, clever in hindsight is the correct assessment. The Election Commission only is not to be blamed, if blame one should. All political parties in the States where elections were scheduled to be held, must gracefully accept the blame. Let us know what justification the Election Commission is going to give for its position on conducting elections. What about the political parties that held pompous roadshow, meetings and all that? They sought it as their right to canvass? Can you fix any numerical limit to an election meeting as you do for functions like marriages etc.? The parties ought to have chalked out their own strategy to appeal to the people without the old and worn out types like the road shows, especially during critical times like the present one. All are equally guilty, including the electorate who thronged without caring for wearing masks etc.

  13. The ECI has done the correct thing in holding phase wise polls in Bengal. The author seems to have amnesia about the mass rigging engaged in by the Left and the TMC in previous State elections.
    Anil Swarup clearly feels he needs to switch his loyalties to a corrupt TMC by writing such nonsense.

    • Wrong. During a raging pandemic the decision of a 8 phase poll was ridiculous and benefited only one party. It will also leave Bengal a wreck in terms of the aftermath. It takes a spine and independent thought to know that sadly you lack both.

      • It was a blunder of the highest magnitude to hold the Election in 8 phases. When in TN the Election could be finished on a single day for 234 seats why cant the Elections be finished in maximum 3 phases for 294 seats in Bengal and not West Bengal.

  14. Bakwas. Venting frustration only with willing Print in toes. Churning out Bull shit. Ask this man to explain the Covid cases in Chhattisgarh. All dalals are citing Bengal because BJP- MODI -SHAH have put big Danda in TMC – Didi.

  15. EC is spine less and behaved in partitioned manner. Their irresponsible attitude has increased Covid cases in bengal resulting in death of even many candidates.

  16. that the Madras high court spoke very harshly on the ECI is not acceptable. threatening with murder charges and so on are all word that cannot be accepted in a civlised society. These were emotional outbursts without any basis of law.. courts duty is not tocircumvent the law.. They ( the courts ) have been witnessing these rallies etc for so many days and all of a sudden from the blue to pull the ECI , is in correct..In fact the ECI could not defend itself since they were not even issued a notice. Again , all the courts in the State were functioning and there were miling crowds.. The high court itself was shut due to Covid on 2 occassions. one important fact that everyone has skipped.. during the last lock down could the hon ble judges say how many Judgements were written ? There were many cases where arguments were over and Judgement resereved.. What prevented them from pronouncing them ?.. so if one finger point at us, three are inward.. also .the spread of Covid was happening in other states where no elections were there– Punjab, Maharashtra, Delhi, Rajastan, HP, Jharkand, UP, Bihar .. these 5 states were being managed well and it is natural for people to come out when things show improvement.. they cannot be ” jailed ” in their homes.. Again , ECI is not a caged parrot as the writer has mentioned.. It is doing a wonderful job within the framework and mandate given..

  17. These are all RSS appointees in the EC. The RSS has infiltrated their low IQ supporters to corrupt democracy and bureaucracy. Fascists come through democracy and work to end it. Loyalty comes over professionalism. Then the result will be as we see it. Indians need to see this is the baggage that come with Hindutva.

  18. In fact the election was supposed to be carried out in 12 phases, only because of the administrative capability of Modiji we were able to conduct in 8 phases. Jai Modiji, Jai Yojiji

  19. Civil Services have let down the country badly. There is an urgent need to review the selection & promotion process including transfers.

  20. It goes much beyond the ECI or individual officers. Three successive CJIs, produced by the Collegium, assured of fixed tenure and no supersessions in the SC, did not prove to be lions beneath the throne. As our institutions decay, governance outcomes in all domains, led by the faltering economy, now this terrible pandemic, are declining as well. For that matter, see the caliber of CMs of important states. Covid is generating MRI scans of the health of New India.

  21. Absolutely TRUE observations by
    Orders to hold PANCHAYAT
    ELECTIONS by APRIL 30 / 2021 is JUST OPPOSTE to Madras H ‘ Court .
    Creating CONFUSIONS ???

  22. The author did not specify one instance of omission or commission by EC during this poll. If having 8 phases of Poll in WB is wrong, then in the previous 2 elections also there multiple phases of election in WB. Then, no one questioned EC? In fact, is the Mr. Seshan who brought the concept of having multiple phases of election and using central forces for election duties, which is continues by all the ECs subsequently. It is sheet hatred for Modi and BJP which blinds the people like the author

  23. I agree with the author. At least after April 6, when elections in all other states were over, the ECI could have deployed additional forces and cut the number of phases. the COVID cases had also started rising alarmingly in WB by then. . Plus, they could have put a cap on huge rallies which they eventually did after the PM cancelled his rallies. By then the damage had been done.

  24. Do not expect a Babu with spine. Even if one has a spine his peers will make sure that is broken quickly. The minute he gets out of training and comes to the first posting, it starts with arrogance, and then they are groomed into sucking up to their seniors or the political bosses. The Babu will be seen to be as good as his boss will want him to be seen, they have tied themselves in knots which they cannot untie.
    By the time a Babu gets to the top he has already built up his vulnerabilities and all he looks forward to is a peaceful retirement. Taking on the the government even if corrupt is not easy, the peers will not let it happen.

  25. The CEC who ordered for the conduct of assembly election in west bengal in eight phases should be sent to Tihar jail for dereliction.of duty.

  26. Before the judiciary passes strictures on other constitutional bodies it needs to heal itself. Let’s not forget the judiciary itself is no mean contributor to India’s constitutional bodies mess. No common citizen has faith in the judiciary and one has to either be truly desperate or taken leave of one’s senses to approach the judiciary for any redressal. With a huge backlog of cases that do not see light of day for decades, a large number of under trial prisoners whose cases do not come up for hearing, a cabal of influential lawyers who even dictate to judges, the judiciary has a long way to go before it can pontificate to others. Physician heal thy self first.

  27. Perhaps it is not Lavasa but the Government that is responsible for paving the way. TN Seshan did not experience the wrath of the Government in power when he acted independently as Lavasa has. And there is no protection available from the Courts. SC is now attempting to take over (transfer) all COVID related references before HCs.

  28. BJP’s game plans to get the power in South and East, they conducted the elections without bothering of the public during pandemics in having the control of the Election Commission. After knowing that they are going to lose, through High Court, they said EC is not obeying the COVID norms . High Court also dual tongue.
    Harigopal Cuttackam

  29. The ECI did the correct thing by carrying out the Bengal elections over 8 phases. Political violence in Bengal surpasses even the wildest imagination. No other state os cursed by political violence in this manner.
    If elections were completed in 2 or 3 phases in Bengal, it would have been more or less a cakewalk for the TMC. Just like the panchayat elections where more than 50% of the opposition candidates could not even file their candidature with the authorities. Hence, the TMC gundas won unopposed across the state.
    It does seem that the liberal-secular cabal would have rejoiced in such an outcome. In their hatred for Modi/BJP they are willing to put up with sham elections where hooliganism of the TMC ensures that a lopsided election results in Mamata’s win.

    • Now this is other way around. BJP was supported by election commission and central forces to prevent TMC supporters to vote. How this is an improvement to Panchyat elections. Moreover panchayat elections does not come under the ECI hence in every state ruling dispensation does excesses. BW is not exception.it happens in Gujrat, Punjab, UP etc. I can say like you that you RW blind supporters are now happy that to some extent Modi and Shah with the help of EC, Para military forces, money may be able to defeat Mamta. This is also called cheating.

      • Please do not even attempt to justify what goes on in Bengal under the garb of politics. No other state in India witnesses such violence and vindictiveness from the ruling dispensation. The states that you have mentioned – in all of them opposition candidates are able to contest without having to fear for their lives.
        Your allegations regarding the partisanship of central forces is laughable to say the least. EC utilizes them for conducting state assembly elections across the nation and no one has ever leveled such charges. Its only Ms. Banerjee and her TMC which makes such atrocious statements.
        As far as panchayat elections are concerned, you are grossly mistaken. Nowhere else in India do ruling party candidates win unopposed in over 50% of the seats. Nowhere else are opposition candidates assaulted and murdered on the way to filing their papers with the required authorities. Bengal is in a league of its own. Its pathetic and shameful.

    • This comment of yours shows that vulgar cheering of the BJP-policies is the bane of this country. This has caused our present situation, the end of which will be total destruction.

      • Vulgar cheering? What exactly are you talking about?
        The EC is an independent body and does not take its orders from any political party. No matter what you or Mr. Anil Swarup may believe in.
        This nation/society has survived several millenia despite wave upon wave of barbaric invasions. Be rest assured, no BJP, Congress or Left will be able to destroy it.

  30. When Supreme Court CJI’s have taken a favourable view towards the current central government even with no threats of cases against family members, I don’t expect Election Commission members to be any different.

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