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This election, EC has failed the litmus test of appearing to be fair: Yogendra Yadav

The Election Commission may have surrendered its moral authority as a neutral and no-nonsense referee in the political slugfest.

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The Election Commission (EC) has failed India. In this election that could determine the future of India, the EC has failed the litmus test of appearing to be fair. Far from standing up to the powerful so as to frustrate their attempt at poll capture, I believe the EC has appeared either complicit, or helpless, or both.

I have waited long before writing these lines. Over the last few weeks, as I travelled through the country to campaign for various candidates, my friends and colleagues kept asking me to write about what they perceive as the partisan conduct of the Election Commission of India. I have resisted, barring a few social media posts. I believe that when judging the Election Commission, one should err on the side of caution.

Some of this may have to do with my unstated attachment to the Election Commission. In my previous birth as a psephologist, I wrote and spoke about India’s democratic achievements. I credited the EC with instituting a system of largely free and fair elections and celebrated this institution for gaining in independence, so rare in our country.

I remember speaking to the UK’s newly appointed Election Commission (yes, they did not have an Election Commission till 2001) about how they could learn from the Indian experience!

There was much more to it. I have believed that when judging a quasi-judicial body like the EC, the benefit of doubt must be given to it. The EC has to tread political minefields and take decisions that are very complex. Besides, the Commission cannot defend itself in public against unfair criticism. Unlike most of my friends and colleagues, I have resisted the temptation to blame election outcomes on the EVMs. Even during the current election, I defended the EC against the unfounded allegation that the election schedule was insensitive to the Muslims.

Also read: Gujarat elections are the lowest point in the history of the Election Commission

My sense of pride in, and loyalty towards, the Election Commission as an institution mandates that I must speak up now. Looking at the way the EC has conducted itself during this election, I cannot but agree with a group of former civil servants who wrote to the President of India that the Commission faces a “crisis of credibility” and that “the week-kneed conduct of the ECI” has “reduced the credibility of this constitutional body to an all-time low”.

Under Article 324 of the Constitution, the EC enjoys a broad-spectrum mandate to ensure free and fair elections. But its principal asset is its moral authority as a neutral and no-nonsense referee in the political slugfest. The EC earned this authority over the last three decades. I fear that the current EC may have surrendered this most valuable asset.

Let me mention just a few instances. The first set of issues relates to the election schedule. Ever since the infamous rescheduling of the EC’s press conference, journalists joke about looking at the PM’s schedule to find out the timing of the EC’s declaration of elections. While I do not subscribe to all kind of conspiracy theories about the election schedule, I cannot think of a non-political explanation for the four-phase scheduling of Odisha, for example. The Commission may have good reasons to do what it did, but what matters is that the EC has given ample reasons to entertain a suspicion that the poll schedule is not inconvenient to the powers-that-be.

The second set of issues relates to the NAMO biopic, a web serial and the NaMo TV channel. Now, given the brazen nature of the violation and the Commission’s procrastination, what registered was not the EC’s action on biopic but that the EC was trying to dodge the NAMO TV issue, if not looking for some technicality to gloss over this matter.

Also read: Least political parties can do is treat Election Commission with same respect as judiciary

Third, there appears to be a stark inconsistency, if not double standard, in the EC’s orders to transfer top police officials in the opposition-ruled Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, but not in Tamil Nadu, despite repeated demands from the opposition. The EC did sound stern when I-T raids were launched against opposition leaders in the middle of the elections, but it took no action.

A similar duality appears to be at work in the Commission’s alacrity to announce a bypoll in Gujarat (eventually stayed by the Supreme Court) but dragging its feet over a similar announcement of bypolls in Tamil Nadu that the regime did not wish to face. Again, there could be legitimate explanations for each of these, but put together it has created an impression that the action or inaction of the Commission can be linked to the political requirements of the regime.

The fourth instance is about the opposition’s demand for VVPAT audit in 50 per cent booths. Once the opposition had climbed down from its demand for paper ballot, it was for the EC to go out of its way to address their legitimate apprehensions about the VVPAT. Instead, the EC adopted an obdurate stance and made an astounding claim before the apex court that counting 50 per cent VVPAT slips will take 5-6 days (while counting all paper ballots used to take two days!). The Commission came across, quite unnecessarily in my view, as trying hard to hide something.

The fifth set of cases pertains to objectionable remarks by political leaders, mostly from the ruling party. History seems to have come full circle from the days when the Supreme Court used to examine the limits to the EC’s assertion of its inherent powers to this week when the CJI had to remind the EC that it was not a toothless body. The EC’s seemingly mild reprimand to Yogi Adityanath on the “Modi Sena” remarks drew national derision. Its letter to the President on Rajasthan governor’s transgression appears to have gone unnoticed. Yes, it did take action against Yogi Adityanath, Mayawati, Azam Khan, but only when it was pushed by the Supreme Court. Instead of enhancing the Commission’s reputation, this action weakened its moral authority.

The Commission’s abdication of its constitutional responsibility is most evident in its apparent helplessness in the face of open defiance by Amit Shah and the Prime Minister himself. The EC shut its eyes to the PM’s extraordinary address to the nation on the launch of the A-SAT missile test on a flimsy technicality that it was not broadcast by Doordarshan and overlooked the substantial question of whether he could make this announcement in the first place.

Also read: This is not an easy time to be the Election Commission of India. Here’s why

Narendra Modi openly called for vote in the name of the soldiers killed in Pulwama, which clearly violates this EC’s own advisory on not using security forces during elections. And the Wardha speech where he painted the Congress as anti-Hindu is not just a violation of the Model Code of Conduct, but also flies in the face of the Supreme Court verdict and the regular criminal law of the land.

Amit Shah publicly said his party will expel infiltrators if they are not Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist. The EC (and even the Supreme Court) had nothing to say in this regard. Your moral authority is tested when you are up against the most powerful. Sadly, to my mind, the EC has been found wanting in this one critical virtue.

So, as an old friend and admirer of the institution of the Election Commission of India, I beseech the three gentlemen who comprise the EC today: Please don’t squander the great legacy you have inherited. And if you cannot defend the Constitution, please resign.

The author is National President of Swaraj India. The views are personal.

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  1. The article is short on facts. Even Tamilnadu police chief has been changed by EC and not only in AP and WB as mentioned. Second, EC has been reprimanding CBDT and other Govt. Agencies for targeting opposition etc. The author is glossing over the fact that Modi biopic has been stopped by EC whereas Modi baiting channels are seen blaring in high decibels. Mr. YY is losing credibility as he is not impartial in his assessment of EC by saying SC is pushing EC to take actions. Both are Constitutional authorities and one cannot push the other. If he has a grouse against EC and with hard evidence to back it, he must approach SC and not write misleading opinionated article.

  2. Threat to the autonomy of inherently independent institutions e.g. the EC and the judiciary doesn’t bode well for the future of democracy.
    But what options of leaders in India have given to the common man? Are we saying the polarisation of last 5 years is a good reason to forget 2G, Commonwealth, Nirbhaya etc. and vote them in again? What does that tell either of the parties – do whatever you wish to. If we are tormented enough by the other side you’ll be voted back in 5 years. Kaha suna maaf.
    It’s a zero-sum game which benefits both Congress and BJP is a weird symbiotic equation but it ultimately detrimental for the country. The need of the hour is a “credible” 3rd front. Because any other alternative is not tenable as demonstrated by the last 6 decades.
    Popular Media, Stand up Comics etc. keep making fun of BJP and Sanghis for the sheer number of motor mouths and morons in the party. In reality the joke is on them! As any marketing or brand manager will tell you this is a brilliant move.
    Successful “brands” stay successful and relevant for so so long because they do not try to woo each and every customer segment. They know very well you can’t please everyone all the time. It’s a waste of time and money and effort. Far better results can be achieved when you target a select few and convert ALL of your target leads to “sales”. So if you are AAP and you decide to woo Delhi also Punjab also UP also Varanasi also – you lose Delhi too.
    But BJP is almost brilliant in its strategy. It’s evident that they know that the minorities/“backward castes” etc won’t vote for them. Then there will be a few UPPER CASTE HINDUS who wouldn’t believe polarisation would benefit them in any way. BJP doesn’t even bother wooing them.
    Their target is the section of Hindu society that feels victimised by six decades of “secular appeasement” Congress did.
    Now I am no fan of BJP but Congress really did a number on this section of the society. But what is more ironical that Congress did not do anything for those “marginalised sections” either except engage in optics.
    Which is why even after 6 decades of “minority upliftment” Muslims are still ghetto-ised in the sense that almost every city, town, village there is a SEPERATE section where they live. Same for other sections. The secular assimilation of all religions, castes, varnas as designed and envisioned by Bhagat Singh etc never really happened.
    But what they DID over that time period was ignore the concerns and alarm of the UPPER CASTE HINDUS and let them feel that slowly bit by bit their chance at equality was being taken away.
    And as an upper caste Hindu I will tell that you myself that the current situation in India is such that a Brahmin student with 92% marks won’t make it to a medical college but from reserved sections a mere 35% can be enough at times.
    Now this makes ABSOLUTE sense in the scenario where the Brahmin comes from a family of doctors and the reservation is for a student who’s made it this far from below the poverty line.
    But this is ALSO TRUE when the reservation is for a corrupt and filthy rich MLA’s child and the Brahmin kid who’s just been rejected is son of a temple priest WHO is actually living below poverty line.
    And this obviously is an unfair application of affirmative action.
    So while affirmative action is a fundamentally sound concept and our founding fathers had the right intention behind it, the execution and the fact that it does not take economical status into consideration is flawed and needs to be addressed.
    But touching the reservation system in its existing form is a vote losing proposition. So no one wants to address it. It’s a lose-lose deal. Those who are UPPER CASTES will say whatever is addressed is not enough. And the people who are no longer eligible will accuse you of “discrimination”. So no party – not Congress not BJP – will ever address it. Their only way out is to add more and more people to the “reservation quota”.
    And none of this addresses the anger that the now marginalised UPPER CASTE HINDUS feel. Already they were stewing at the outrage of having to “assimilate” with the lower castes now they are actually impoverished as well. So there is a sense of rage and a strong desire for retribution.
    So what BJP does – and again, brilliantly so – is it keeps flaming these fires. It keeps reminding that unless you vote us in “these people” will keep taking away what is rightfully yours.
    These loose canon remarks seem incidental. They are anything but. So what if Yogi is banned for 3 days. Someone else will “act the script” out in that time. So all those who laugh at “these idiots” and “these motor mouths” are idiots themselves to not realise that in a marketing class these are all A+ grade students.
    The strategy is fairly simple – Don’t let the angry people rest. Don’t give them a chance to cool down and objectively analyse facts. Push conspiracy theories, fake news on minorities eating beef, love jihad, Pakistan up to mischief. Keep them angry till the last day of voting. Make sure they get the message loud and clear that unless you turn up and vote for BJP you will continue to be subdued by the “undeserving”.
    When a majority of your target segment turns to vote and the other side is totally apathetic – Congratulations you are the default winner.
    Unfortunately the other side tries to motivate people by supplying biryanis and alcohol not realising that cognitively hate is a far more powerful motivator than bribes.
    Fun fact though – once in power BJP – just like Congress – does nothing for these angry Hindus either.
    It’s been 5 years since Modi government came to power. Until late last year the upper caste reservations did not even hit the radar. A government so arrogant that it basically ignored ALL tenets of institutional independence including Supreme Court, Election Commission etc did not try and force the Ram Mandir construction as matter was “sub judice”. As if that mattered for ANYTHING else.
    Because as Kunal Kamra pointed out in one of his sketches – Pakistan ki ladai khatam ho gayi ya Ram Mandir bann gaya tab issue kya bacha tempers flare karne ke liye.
    The only way out to sanity – do NOT alienate or insult the “angry Hindus”. Do NOT push them away from mainstream. Do NOT make them feel their concerns don’t matter.
    The more you deny a group – any group – a seat at the table, the more you alienate them, the more YOU encourage the fringe elements of that section to take control.
    Mahabharata was a result of Duryodhana being sidelined all his childhood by the Kuru elders in favour of Pandavas and because of Bhima continuously tormenting him pushing him to seek guidance from Shakuni.
    Holocaust was a result of hurt German pride at the unfair treatment at losing the WW1.
    Gulf wars happened because of the oil wars.
    So stop marginalising ANYONE. A cornered cat ALWAYS attacks.
    Either that OR make voting compulsory for every citizen.
    The fundamental laws of nature dictates all things follow standard deviations.
    10% HATE a thing.
    10% obsessively LOVE a thing.
    80% are fundamentally amenable to switch.
    But when all the 100% contribute to the sample size the deviation is always towards the “mean” or Center.
    Until either of that happens it will be hard to contain the swing to either extremes. This is why we need a credible 3rd alternative.
    I hope the psephologist in you would support me when I say – if God could talk, the language he’d choose is MATHEMATICS. The fundamental laws of nature dictate everything follow standard deviation.
    10% HATE a thing.
    10% obsessively LOVE a thing.
    80% are fundamentally amenable to switch.
    But when all the 100% contribute to the sample size the deviation is always towards the “mean” or Center. Case in point – 2014. 2/3rd turned up to vote. Of this only a third voted for the current government. So even with a strong anti-incumbency factor and a Modi wave only about a fifth of the population ACTIVELY let them in.
    A democratic government is OF the people, FOR the people, BY the people. If today we point out that this is not a government FOR all people, then we also need to acknowledge that only the BY to go vote decide the OF.
    The tragedy of democracies where voting isn’t compulsory is that the 10%s at either end will always vote and the middle 80% are apathetic to the electoral process until a strong motivator comes along. They do not trust either extremes to commit fully to them. So a credible third front is what they are after. Who from the current crop of leaders form this front?
    Before we figure that out we need to understand the WHO they would motivate because we have seen an uprising before that DID galvanise this base. A non-political movement of sorts turned out hordes of people across the country who spent days canvassing for the movement. This was the MIDDLE section of the bell curve – the center 40%. Usually apathetic, this base is also LOGICAL absolutely nonpartisan and will follow those who make more sense. Hence, any meaningful “sticking change” can come only from them.

    You might have heard of this popular movement – India Against Corruption.

    But the problem here is Arvind Kejriwal was supposed to be the face of this movement. But he was not the MOVEMENT.

    The movement was a combination of

    – Legal Finesse of Shanti Bhushan Prashant Bhushan and keen grasp of the electoral pulse from your end.
    – The ability to repackage the progressive message and tie it back to the Hindu sacred texts of Kumar Vishwas.
    – the activist who can keep the anger alive e.g AK

    I make this distinct with delibration sir because the country needs to fight a two-pronged war.

    ONE – Defeat Congress which is dynastical and inherently corrupt.

    The brains that understand the current legal landscape know where the key systemic rots are. And the man with his hand on the electoral pulse knows which of those issues will resonate the most with the people.

    So they can package a message that provides a credible alternative to the BJP supporters on the fence who are not sold on Hindutva but trust that it’s a side effect that must be born for progress that BJP might have a better chance at pulling off compared to the rotten Congress.

    That’s the RIGHT 20% next to the mean locked in!

    TWO – Defeat BJP which is inherently polarising.

    Now remember we are talking about people close to the mean. People in this section always resemble the MAJORITY.

    Personifying this segment is a middle class, decently educate, tax paying family man who is fundamentally a decent chap. Most likely believes in fair chances, charity, national unity, democracy etc. MOST LIKELY a Hindu. He has beaten the unfair reservation system through sheer perseverance and really despises having to work THREE TIMES AS HARD for 33% of a result. At every stage. From college admissions. To job placements. To promotions. And he is – rightfully – blaming Congress for this debacle of situation.

    So he is most likely going to go with BJP though he is not on board with the polarisation because he has a self-serving interest in not having to work SO BLOODY HARD all the time. Plus in an extreme situation if you have TWO people to turn too, genetically you are programmed to stick with your herd.

    Hence the Hindu BJP.

    Now imagine telling THIS guy we will make the system fair for you. And we will help the weakest sections of the society progress irrespective of which caste, religion, sect they come from. This is our progressive agenda. And hey BTW – that BJP version of HINDUTVA? It’s against the purest form of Hinduism. See these lines of Upanishad or remember this story from Ramayana or Mahabharata?

    That locks this 20% too.

    So you have your TWO WHEELS to balance your two-pronged fight now. So far so good. BUT at this point this falls apart.

    The key issue here is the 40% of our market share is also the “smartest”. It’s a double-edged sword. While its good for the outcomes of an egalitarian society but it’s also very incisive and can spot your hypocrisy AND call you out on it. You do not HAVE the luxury of a rabid 10%

    So you will succeed in your pursuit of power IF AND ONLY IF your end goal is the OUTCOMES not the pursuit of the power. That means that the two wheels ALWAYS understand their role in this ecosystem is to keep spinning about the axis and keep taking the vehicle forward. At no point – try to move to the center into the driving seat as that upsets the balance we are aiming for.

    Now the Congress wheel of AAP never did it. You all managed to keep AAP on message as far as possible and the moment PERSONALITIES started overshadowing the cause made an exit. Your decision to not even contest in 2019 without the necessary people power to sway the outcomes, convinces me that you are still clear on the principles of IAC. If I am one of the 40% I implicitly still trust you are still segment trustworthy.

    The BJP wheel – As much as I respect him, did not speak up or exit when the Congress wheel was discarded. And it wore off the chariot only when denied the Rajya Sabha nomination. And his criticism of the party he was until recently a part of also is tiring for the 40% in me. So as one of the 40% I need convincing to re-trust the intent of this wheel.

    Also as an astute 40% I notice that even though now that BOTH have exited AAP they don’t “follow each other“ on social media channels. So I am worried my two wheels don’t run in sync anymore.
    Setting aside this fundamental problem, to split hairs on the key issue of the cyanide pill. The “activist”. No two thoughts that this is the “face” of this front.

    But it is as much a part of the system as the others. It’s only job is to keep the chariot ON THE ROAD to the outcomes. The wheels keep you going forward. You stay on message. Remember the seat you are on is not a throne. It is the DRIVERS SEAT. It’s not power. It’s just responsibility to take the vehicle to the outcomes. You control only DIRECTION not the DESTINATION.

    This is a must because as the quote goes – Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    The structure of this front needs to be such that the center piece KNOWS it’s the weakest link. The only way is to have FIVE to SIX credible alternatives ready to take on the job of steering if the first one falters. And everyone has the authority to make this happen when needed INCLUDING the wheels.

    While we can reuse the old wheels with a fresh coat of paint I doubt we will trust a driver who led us crashing down the valley killing Daadu in the process.

    So the core group or the “driver pool” for the AAP 2.0 is the missing bit. Who?

    We know they are not corrupt, not fascists, believe in democracy, trust the VISION and DONT WANT power. Who fits this profile?

    I honestly think the erstwhile AAP must have thought of most of these points. It just needs an updated edition to allow fixes for the driver seat issue. And hence the hope that a long-term fix doesn’t have to take another 60+ years. And I hope somewhere in your endorsement a motley but trustworthy crew is the hunt for the driver to replace the one who turned up drunk first time.
    This is just to remind you sir – the 40% is still waiting for you to get your act together and take this chariot forward. Godspeed!

  3. 1. This article is very much on the expected lines. Since BJP seems pretty ahead, YY has started finding faults with the electoral process itself. So, when the final results arrive, he (and his friends) can claim that: look, we told you already that this election was not played fairly.

    2. EVM is another excuse.

    3. In 2014, 69% voted against BJP. In 2019, XYZ% voted against BJP. So, BJP should have been declared a loser.

    All ideologically motivated excuses/reasons in the garb of critical analysis or “expert opinion”.

    • Why Mr Yadav didn’t raise the issue of appointment to ECI when he was advising the UPA govt?
      Plus, the author forgot to mention a previous CEC : (source: Wikipedia) ==>
      “In 2009, just before the 2009 Lok Sabha Elections, Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami sent a recommendation to President Prathibha Patil to remove Election Commissioner Navin Chawla, who was soon to take office as the chief election commissioner and to subsequently supervise the Lok Sabha Election, a potential conflict of interest considering his partisan political party behavior.[8] The President rejected advisory recommendation.[9] Subsequently, after Gopalswami’s retirement the next month, Chawla became the chief election commissioner and supervised the 2009 Lok Sabha Elections.[10]”

  4. A tiny suggestion for the future. The three Election Commissioners should be appointed by a Collegium in which the opposition has a large presence. Whenever there is a Collegium, its decisions should be unanimous. Total executive discretion in making these appointments is not desirable. I remember a former CEC asking for a better appointment procedure, saying that the existing system has worked well, thrown up worthy appointees, but we cannot be sure what the future holds in store.

  5. I miss T N Seshan and even Dr. Gill.
    Now if the current ECI doesn’t get the point that he’s a servant of Indian constitution and not Modi govt
    This whole idea of electioneering at tax payer’s cost is a staged drama.

  6. I only read this article for vocabulary. They are some good and new words which i never read. But Article seem to very biased towards opposition. Writer should have mentioned EC not taking any action on opposition on various instance why point fingers on “Regime” point on everyone. In my opinion , It was a very biased article.

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