D. N. Bezboruah
The Election Commission of India, that has been notorious for its total failure to keep crimils out of our Legislature, can be counted on to come out with pithy sayings before every general election. And now that we are just a few days away from the Assembly elections of 2016, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) sim Zaidi is in Guwahati to give us pep talks about the F factor in elections. So far, we have been used to hearing about free and fair elections. CEC Zaidi insists that elections must also be occasions for fun in addition to being free and fair. Given this bee in his bonnet, he has gone to the extent of proposing not only separate polling booths for women, but has also proposed to have some polling booths where the oldest voter will be felicitated and be asked to plant a tree. He also has in mind polling booths that have additiol facilities like medical teams, comfortable sitting arrangements and eateries to make the task of voting at general elections a trifle more interesting than it has been hitherto.
Apart from having participated in several elections as a voter and apart from having been a presiding officer at one of the polling centres once, I have also had the opportunity of seeing how elections are conducted in a couple of advanced democracies of the world. Nowhere have I come across the authorities for conducting elections wasting their time or public money on the creature comforts of voters or worrying about their medical needs at the time of voting. In countries like Britain, polling day is not a holiday. All citizens are allowed an hour off to go and cast their votes. Allowing people to take a whole day off just for voting is the kind of waste of time that is quite unthinkable in advanced democracies. In Britain, polling booths remain open until 9 p.m., and people working in towns away from where they live, rush from the railway station on their return home from work straight to the polling booth to cast their votes. When I saw a British election way back in 1966, there were no electronic voting machines. And yet, because the British constituencies are smaller, the first results started coming in at 9:50 p.m. By the small hours of the next morning, all the results of elections throughout Britain were known. There was simply no question of letting people’s votes mature in the electronic voting machines for a whole month before announcing election results. One significant feature of elections both in Britain and the United States is that the fun factor of CEC Zaidi was missing in both the countries. They were obviously content to ensure just free and fair elections.
Now that CEC Zaidi has brought up the F factor in our general elections, it becomes necessary to look a little more closely at how the first two familiar F factors are taken care of by the Election Commission. And because we are talking mainly about elections in Assam, I shall confine myself to how free and fair general elections are in Assam, even though I do have experience of elections in Kartaka as well. Elections in Assam are bound to be very different from elections in several Indian States that have not created for themselves the problem of having to accommodate lakhs of illegal foreign voters who have been encouraged to infiltrate into the State for the desired electoral outcomes mainly because we have had a succession of governments without any noteworthy performance. As such, political parties in power who do not deserve votes on the strength of their performance, must perforce resort to unlawful electoral practices that are forbidden by our Constitution. As such, general elections in Assam have been much too free since they have ebled even lakhs of foreign migrants to vote in Indian elections. When we talk of free elections, we obviously do not have in mind elections that are free even for non-Indians. This is one F factor in which the Election Commission of India has failed the country miserably despite the early warning of CEC S. L. Shakdhar in the late 1970s about illegal migrants maging to get their mes entered in the electoral roll of Assam. The Election Commission of India has totally failed to exert the kind of pressure on the Assam government to clean up its electoral roll during the last four decades, even though it was one of its most important responsibilities in the matter of conducting fair elections in Assam. By extending the freedom to vote in Indian elections even to foreign tiols, the Election Commission itself must accept responsibility for violating the Constitution in respect of elections. What is indeed saddening is that recently the Election Commission even went to the extent of stating that it had nothing to do with the updating of the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951. If the Election Commission is really concerned about a correct voters list that does not have the mes of any non-Indians, it should have been vitally concerned about the correct updating of the NRC and about using that information to check whether there were mes of foreigners in the electoral roll of Assam. In stating that the Election Commission had nothing to do with a document as vital as an updated NRC, the Election Commission has underscored the fact that it has been merely conducting a ritual every five years rather than conducting elections that efficiently ruled out the possibility of any foreigners voting in Indian elections. The Election Commission has also tacitly confirmed that it has been rather casual about the compilation of electoral rolls, leaving the task almost entirely to State governments without even the benefit of supervision by the Election Commission. It is the business of any efficient and purposeful Election Commission to use every demographic enumeration conducted by the government to check the correctness of voters lists. Introducing an element of fun in elections as an additiol element of the F factor is not the responsibility of the Election Commission or the government. This lapse of failing to monitor the compilation of electoral rolls constitutes the first major failure of the Election Commission in ensuring fair elections.
The other outstanding failure of the Election Commission has been its ibility to keep crimils out of the Legislature with an iron hand. In election after election, the EC has accepted nomition papers from candidates who have been involved in crimil activities and against whom there are crimil charges. In fact, it has been accepting nomition papers even from those who have admitted to having crimil charges against them. The EC has to be really strict about keeping out those with crimil charges against them and even those against whom there are newspaper reports of involvement in crimes. In failing to keep crimil elements out of the Legislature, the Election Commission has actually created a fort for them within our Legislature. Our polity itself is also much to blame for this development. For one reason or the other the government keeps our lawmakers above the law. The government run by any political party is lenient even towards lawbreaking lawmakers of another party perhaps because it wishes to be shown similar consideration when it is out of power. Whatever the real motive, crimils have learned the equation very well. They know that they just have to win one election in order to secure entry to that fort called the Legislature. Once they are inside that fort, they are immune to the pel provisions of all laws. Over the years, the Election Commission has facilitated this misuse of the Legislature by crimil elements, their cronies and their families instead of preventing people with crimil antecedents from being able to file their nomition papers for elections. The Election Commission would not have been blamed even if it had debarred people with trumped up charges of crimil activity. If anything, it would have been praised for exercising abundant caution in the interest of the people by keeping the doors of the Legislature closed to all lawbreakers, not to speak of people with records of being involved in heinous crimes. This is perhaps the most glaring failure of the Election Commission of India that has done irreparable harm to our Legislature.
Filly, there is the ubashed use of both muscle and money in our elections that seems to have gone unnoticed by the Election Commission. The Election Commission must be aware (like anyone else) that there is virtually no legislator today who is worth less than a crore of rupees in terms of persol assets. The Election Commission has made no efforts to raise questions on the sources of such sudden increases in persol assets despite the fact that there is almost no way of explaining such phenomel and rapid increases in assets by normal and acceptable means. By failing to raise such legitimate questions, the Election Commission has played a major role in the phenomel growth of black money in the country. It cannot go on declining to accept responsibility for developments that have a direct bearing on our elections and to commit mere rituals every five years.