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Include Oppn In The EC

PM Modi says the youth is his biggest constituency. While politicians think of the next election, statesmen think of the next generation

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There are varying  estimates of the parallel economy in the country today. All such accounts, however, agree that political corruption is the root of all forms of corruption and black economy. A huge sum of unaccounted wealth is pumped into elections — and elections in India are an everyday affair. Some states such as Tamil Nadu are notorious for the scourge of money power used during the elections. Ever since the Election Commission became an institution feared for its independence and ruthlessness, such instances of electoral malpractices have been checked, to a large extent. Yet, we have seen blatant instances such as Rs 5,000 offered for a vote in Tamil Nadu; or freebies such as television sets given away during election time.

It’s fashionable to question Supreme Court’s judicial activism, and its propensity to question the government on matters of governance. But the fact remains that the electoral process has been cleansed to a large extent, courtesy the apex court. If today, those fighting elections have to produce election affidavits on their riches and criminal records, it’s due to the judicial intervention. If legitimate questions have been raised over the freebies offered during elections, it’s due to an observation of the Supreme Court. Again, it’s only after the courts intervened, that there has been some prompt movement towards the universalisation of VVPAT.

In the latest such instance of ‘activism’, the apex court recently wondered why the procedure for appointing the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners should not be more broad-based, by including the Opposition in the process, and ending the government’s monopoly on the issue.

In a country that doesn’t boast of institutions with high credibility, the higher judiciary and the Election Commission of India stand out. While there have been instances of corruption in lower judiciary, the higher judiciary, notably the Supreme Court of India, is perhaps the most credible institution in the country, notwithstanding its controversies with the government. The Election Commission (EC) is only a notch lower on the credibility index. The Supreme Court noticed as much recently when it observed — “Till now all appointments (to the Election Commission of India) are outstanding and neutral to political parties”.

For all practical purposes, the EC appointments are government appointments. It’s to the credit of the luminaries appointed to this institution that most of them remain detached and committed to the larger cause of free and fair elections, even when not in office.

In recent memory, except for Navin Chawla, who never hid his Congress affiliations, and another Election Commissioner who joined the Congress after retirement, all former Election Commissioners have remained wedded to the larger vision of the Election Commission.

Should we then pay heed to the SC concern? If the Narendra Modi government is interested in strengthening the institutions of the country, it should.

In 2012, L. K. Advani, the then BJP Parliamentary Party chairman, had exhorted the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to introduce a broad-based collegium system to appoint Election Commissioners. “There’s a rapidly growing opinion in the country which holds that appointments to constitutional bodies like the Election Commission should be on a bipartisan basis in order to remove any impression of bias or lack of transparency and fairness,” he had observed. He had suggested that the collegium to choose ECs should comprise the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, the law minister, and leaders of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

PM Modi says the youth is his biggest constituency. While politicians think of the next election, statesmen think of the next generation.

Having initiated steps to introduce transparency in political funding, PM Modi would have secured his name in history, were he to broad-base the mechanism to appoint ECs, and further strengthen this crucial pillar of Indian democracy.

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