In his recent address to the media in Guwahati, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Dr sim Zaidi not only reiterated his commitment to conduct a free and fair election, but also expressed his satisfaction at the poll preparedness in Assam. On the concluding day of his two-day tour of Assam on Tuesday, he told jourlists, “We have taken note of all concerns and suggestions. We have put in place an effective mechanism for free and fair conduct of the polls.” Everyone realizes that the coming elections in Assam will be free in the sense that everyone whose me appears on the electoral roll will be free to vote. And one implication of this is that even the lakhs of Bangladeshis whose mes figure in the electoral roll of Assam will continue to vote illegally as they have done in the past. As for fair elections, the very fact that lakhs of illegal voters will continue to vote in our elections makes the exercise a mockery of elections. There are other aspects of the polls that also tend to make the forthcoming elections unfair, but these aspects may be of less significance than the huge number of illegal voters who will vote in the elections. For instance, the State government has been making announcements of benefits to voters that are too close to the elections to be fair. One of them is free health services for everyone—an announcement made on Tuesday. Another one is enhanced allowances for government employees. Such announcements constitute a breach of the model code of conduct for elections, and any political party making such announcements just a few months before the elections should be pelized for such conduct. However, in the case of Assam, the announcement regarding the use of the updated NRC for determining bone fide voters has come as a total disappointment for the people. Replying to a question as to whether the elections will be held without an updated NRC, the CEC said, “The EC is not mandated to find out about the NRC. We had a briefing from the AASU and the NRC nodal officer; nothing more.” What is important is that the Election Commission has to explore every means of ensuring that an election is both free and fair. In order to ensure that the election is fair, the Election Commission must make use of every available input for ensuring that the electoral roll does not contain mes of foreign tiols who are not entitled to vote in Indian elections. This is the most important requirement to ensure that an election is fair. No election that is illegal according to the provisions of the Indian Constitution can be fair, and it will simply not do to talk about what the Election Commission is mandated to find out or not mandated to find out. If it is doing a thorough job it has to explore every possible means of ensuring that there are no illegal voters in the electoral roll. In the case of Assam, the Election Commission cannot pretend that it is uware of the very large number of Bangladeshi tiols who have had their mes included in the electoral roll for the benefit of political parties like the Indian tiol Congress. If the Election Commission takes the stand that it is not mandated to find out about the NRC, the people of Assam will justly conclude that the Election Commission is here merely to perform a ritual that has to be conducted every five years. In such a situation, the Election Commission can merely claim satisfaction for having conducted some kind of an election which is bound to fall far short of being fair. One can very well ask whether the Election Commission is mandated to completely ignore the updating of something as vital as the NRC for the information it needs to ensure that there are no non-Indian voters in the electoral roll. Does the Election Commission have to be legally mandated to explore every possible means of ensuring that the electoral roll is free of the mes of foreign tiols? We do not think so. In fact, we believe that the Election Commission ought to have jumped at such a wonderful means of ensuring that the electoral roll of Assam is clean and free of the mes of illegal foreign voters. By failing to use the updated NRC, the Election Commission has clearly announced its preference for rituals over fair elections.
How Fair can our Polls be?