The general election is held every five years and the winners are chosen according to the people's mood. It's erosion of values in institutions overseeing the polls that marks a worrying trend, as accusations of bias and opaqueness in decision-making are floating. A streak of authoritarianism seen in the conveying of decisions creates more room for doubt. And the Election Commission, understandably proud of its autonomous status, is not the only institution that seems to have suffered from the pulls and pressures of a hard-fought election. The stakes may be impossibly high, but that doesn't mean the institution supervising the polls must feel stressed into letting the leaders at the top go scot-free in their pronouncements, and thus the same latitude is being to almost everyone else.
As an institution, the EC may not be endowed with stringent powers to curb candidates on the campaign trail. Its rap on the knuckles for those overstepping the boundaries has had little meaning. The Supreme Court too has been chary of going into the merits of the EC's decisions. This means the EC is virtually the sole authority vested with the power to judge matters related to the polls, which means it has to follow the highest standards to offer a level playing field to all contestants. Not that the Supreme Court has been seen to distinguish itself, in at least one key issue lately. It did not live up to the fairness and compassion levels expected of it as the authoritative arbiter in most issues when it came to handling the charge of sexual harassment and victimisation against the Chief Justice of India. The erosion of values became evident in its failure to dispense natural justice with an accusation, however flimsy it may have seemed, against the CJI.
The complainant may have shied away from the proceedings before the in-house panel, but it did not mean she was not eligible even to receive a copy of the order dismissing her charges. Her complaint may have been publicised in online media first, but even then a woman had to be heard out in a fair way with legal assistance. When it came to serving the interests of the highest in the land, the court was prepared not to stick to the highest standards of fair play by which justice must be seen to be done. The need to stand by the powerful is a common thread running through the CJI case, as well as actions by the EC with regard to the speeches of the Prime Minister and the heads of the two main national parties, Amit Shah and Rahul Gandhi. It ill serves the system if all are not seen to be equal in the eyes of the law, especially when it comes to the hustings. Institutions should not crumble in the face of tackling the interests of the powerful.