Should former IAS officers not head the Election Commission to ensure its independence?
Excellent proposition! Provided you find angels to replace them.
Who can they be? The politicians? Academics? Lawyers? Social workers? Journalists? Swayamsevaks? Or even the judges, as they have in some countries (including neighbouring Pakistan)?
I recall the famous proverb and a film song that says- the first stone at the sinner should be thrown by someone who has never sinned himself.
It’s true that the Election Commission’s image for fairness, efficiency, and credibility must be preserved at all costs. It’s a matter of record that the Election Commission is rated as one of the most trusted institutions, if not the most trusted.
From the first day of our democracy, the IAS (initially ICS) have served the commission with great dignity. The most important reason has been that these officers have conducted elections in all stages of their career. They are the ones who brought glory to the institution. The EC of India has been the role model for the entire democratic world. Hillary Clinton’s famous statement that the Indian election is the gold standard, made every Indian feel proud.
Here are other sharp perspectives on the question:
There were occasional hiccups no doubt. But these were momentary. The multi-member composition took care of individual misdemeanour, if there was any.
Current controversy about the commission is unfortunate. Upholding the dignity of the great institution is the responsibility of not only the incumbents, but of the government, and politicians as well.
If the EC needs to be taken out of anybody’s ‘clutches’ it is the politicians’. Particularly, the ruling dispensation. Unfortunately, every government of the day thinks that it is there for good. It refuses to let go of its power. When it comes to political power, to hell with national interest!
The solution is the appointment of Election Commissioners through a collegium and the elevation to the CEC by seniority. It’s strange that lesser institutions like the CIC or CVC, which are not even constitutional bodies, have the collegium system. So does, ironically, the Director of CBI, who is not an institution but an individual officer of a government department. But the most critical and powerful constitutional body is left to the sweet will of the government of the day.
The suggestion has been sent to the governments repeatedly for three decades. They paid no heed, out of arrogance and a sense of permanence or sheer casualness. Most of them have been consigned to the dustbin of history.
Recently, the SC has raised this issue in a PIL. Hope good sense finally prevails.
S. Y. Quraishi is former Chief Election Commissioner of India