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We're not weakening EC: Govt’s straight-faced lie

Author: Rajesh Kalra
Publication: The Times of India
Date: February 22, 2012
URL: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/randomaccess/entry/were-not-weakening-ec-govt-s-straight-faced-lie

The government’s audacity in dealing with anything constitutional has stopped surprising observers. The propensity to brazen it out seems to be getting worse, but even by its own dismal standards, the attempts it is making to make the Election Commission its doormat is abominable.

All are aware of how the nation’s law minister, no less, openly challenged the EC while campaigning for his wife in UP. He clearly forgot that he, besides being the husband of a candidate, was also a ‘responsible’ minister. A lot has already been written about the episode and how EC should have acted. While several, including I, thought the commission''s reaction was meek, several luminaries I met pointed out that the EC did right by not postponing the elections, for it would have harmed others more than the perpetrator. While that is another debate altogether, this piece is only about the government’s attempt to show mock sympathy for the EC and helping it by making the ‘model code of conduct’ statutory.

Only to an idiot would it seem like strengthening the poll panel. The beauty of the code has been that it is more ‘moral’ than ‘model’ and even the courts, including the Supreme Court, have ruled that it needs to be followed and that the EC’s word is to be the final word on issues concerning the code. And while there have been attempts from time to time to interpret it differently, it has by and large been followed, with all parties generally respecting this ‘lakshman rekha’, as the former Central Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal put it.

The solution is for the parties themselves to introspect and see what is good for our democracy and stop violating or misinterpreting it for their vested interests. Making it statutory is surely not the solution. Imagine every time the code is violated and it lands up in courts where it languishes for a long time. This would mean the violator would happily enjoy everything, including a win perhaps, even as all wait for the court to deliver its verdict. The point, therefore, is how can making it statutory help anyone except those who want to weaken the body.

There have also been arguments that the code is anti-development. This too is a specious argument. Elections are conducted towards the end of the elected term of any government. The code comes into effect only during the 2-3 month period at that time. Are we trying to say that no development work takes place for 95 per cent of the term and all of it would have happened during the last three months that the EC is trying to stop? This is absurd. For, the truth is that the code has NO impact on ongoing schemes and also on schemes that have a uniform impact on all parties. To top it all, since the EC gets inundated with requests if this or that  is clear of the code or not, there apparently is even a direction from the EC to the cabinet secretary that there are set norms and as long as they are followed, it doesn’t even need to be brought to its notice. The only thing that the code bars are promises that have the potential to induce voters. Since there has to be a level playing field, how can anyone have a disagreement with that?

But no, the government, in the garb of making the EC stronger, wants to defang the body that is credited with conducting among the best elections in the world. Although one top honcho after the other of the government denied yesterday that there was any move to weaken the body and that making the code statutory was ‘not being discussed’, it stood exposed when media got hold of the agenda for today’s (February 22, 2012) Group of Ministers meeting where one of the points for discussion says: The chairman was also of the view that ‘Code of Conduct’ was one of the biggest excuses to stall development projects, and thus agreed with the request of the law minister to flag this issue and its inclusion in the agenda papers. It was also suggested that the Legislative Department may also look into the aspects where executive instructions of the Election Commission of India were required to be given statutory shape. Accordingly, Secretary, Legislative Department has been requested to make a presentation before the GoM on the progress made in the matter

As discussed earlier, this argument is completely bogus, and even seems motivated since it comes from the nation’s law minister, who, all know by now, has an axe to grind against the EC. But there are learned, and wise, members in the GoM. I am sure they can see through this. Also, as I said in a previous post, even the common man is now seeing through this. The common man also notices those who pretend to be the nation’s well-wishers but are actually working to undermine the very bodies that strengthen our democracy. In their own interest these ‘top honchos’ should realise their folly and back off!
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