Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What our Election Commission can learn from the Election Commission of India

Those of you familiar with Indian politics and have been to Chennai during the April 13 election would have noticed the conspicuous absence of posters, banners, hoardings in the city, even though campaigning was at its peak for in Tamil Nadu.

This is in a stark contrast to its past elections. Tamil Nadu used to be known for its dominating, life-sized cut outs of political personalities dotting the landscape at poll time. The 2011 election campaign has done away with all that, thanks to the tough stand adopted by the Election Commission of India.

The distinguished Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi, the chief election commissioner, without mincing his words, called Tamil Nadu the most challenging of all elections. Even before the polls began to the five state assemblies, he felt that not only “violence” would pose a big challenge in West Bengal and in Tamil Nadu, it would also be money politics.

But I was informed by many distinguished members of civil society that the April 13 election was in all aspects an Election Commission’s election, not one of Dravidian parties.

The EC was fiercely independent, accountable, professional and had a dedicated yearning to promote free and fair elections in the world’s largest democracy. They were not pussies pretending to be Tigers or proxies and cronies of incumbents and on the take.

Election rulings pertaining even to posters were strictly enforced, what more other fundamental issues to ensure fair and free elections.

The EC seized millions in cash after putting in place ‘flying squads’ to address corruption and abuse whenever a tip-off from the members of the public came in.

Well-connected politicians became so rattled by the EC’s tough standthat the chief minister publicly attacking the EC for declaring what he termed as a “mini emergency” in the state.

When Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was in Chennai to release the Congress party’s manifesto, he skirted around the controversy by saying that he did not want to comment on the functioning of the Election Commission, mandated by the Constitution to conduct free and fair elections.

That statement in itself was a powerful message of things that were to come and the change taking place for free and fair elections in the various states of India. An ordinary Inspector of Police stopped the convoy of GK Vasan, senior Congress leader in Dindigul, because there were more than the permitted four cars in the convoy.

The said Inspector who stopped the Congress convoy said he would have to be answerable to the EC if he allowed them more than the allotted number of cars in a convoy. It showed how seriously the State Electoral Officer, Praveen Kumar and his team, were taking to their jobs without fear or favour.

The EC’s fearlessness and heroic stories of ordinary officials doing their duty at considerable risk is admirable. Another story was in Tiruchy, where a woman official, a revenue division officer, equivalent to a sub divisional magistrate in the north on her first posting, had received a call in the dead of night, informing her of money being transported in a bus.

She immediately set out with her driver and office boy, picking up a couple of police inspectors on the way, and confiscated Rs 5 crores found in five bags on top of the bus. Voters were encouraged by the fact that the EC had got its act together even before the notification of elections.

In Madurai, a stronghold of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi’s son, MK Azhagiri, the EC transferred four collectors and six police officials, among whom was superintendent of police. The new collector did not think twice about entering the house of Azhagiri’s lieutenants and checking on complaints filed against them.

The result – massive landslide victories all over and in Tamil Nadu.

New Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J Jayalalitha, ascribed her party’s decisive victory in the polls to the people’s anger against the DMK regime and the EC for its fantastic job in ensuring a free and fair polls.

In West Bengal, former Union Rail Minister, the fiery no-nonsense Mamata Banerjee won a landslide as well, and in Kerala another great result.

Kerala’s ousted chief minister was reported to have left on a bicycle refusing to use the official car for the drive home and agreeing to pay for whatever phone bill he had incurred during his tenure, from his pension.

Talk about politics of accountability!

Just imagine what the world of politics would be IF only ECs in different jurisdictions had the religious and mental courage to do the same rather than continuing to betray voters in return for various forms of gratuitous rewards and payments.

[Source: Jacob George is president of the Consumer Association of Subang and Shah Alam, Selangor (Cassa)]

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