If the Election Commission (EC) of India, under the stewardship of Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had taken its constitutional duty to conduct fair and transparent polls in the country with the seriousness and responsibility it deserves, it might have saved itself the humiliation heaped on it by the Supreme Court on Monday. The top court pointedly asked the EC why it had permitted top politicians in Uttar Pradesh to carry on with hate speech and speeches invoking religion. It tore into the EC’s counsel who lamely argued that the poll body was “toothless”. Having expressed satisfaction over the action taken, the apex court has kept the petition pending on EC’s powers and its actions.
After the pillorying by the Supreme Court, the EC acted post haste. It has suspended campaigning by chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Union minister Maneka Gandhi, BSP supremo Mayawati and senior Samajwadi Party politician Azam Khan for periods ranging from 48 hours to 72 hours. This is relatively mild. The time-frame could have been longer.
If Mr Arora needs a lesson in constitutional propriety, he should look at the history of T.N. Seshan, another retired IAS officer, who raised the profile of the EC and put the fear of the lord into the toughest politicians. Not a bulldog, but still tough as nails was James Michael Lyngdoh who knew how to straighten out mean-minded politicians, including fearsome chief ministers. If he conducts himself like a wimp, his counsel will embarrass him by pleading “toothlessness”.
While Mr Arora does deserve some credit for at last having acted in the case of some UP politicians, he needs to offer the public some explanations too. Why did he not use his powers to ask Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh, who openly canvassed support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to display a sense of moral obligation?
This would have been sufficient hint for the governor to resign, as had been done in the mid-1990s by the then governor of Himachal Pradesh. Instead, the EC took the stance of a subordinate official. He passed on the Kalyan Singh matter to the President, who referred the case to the Union home ministry. This is a way to bury the issue.
After receiving an earful from the top court, the EC should ask BJP president Amit Shah about his comment comparing Wayanad in Kerala, from where Rahul Gandhi is a candidate, to Pakistan just because this constituency has a strong minority communities’ presence. This is also related to an observation of PM Modi who said Mr Gandhi had chosen to fight from a minorities-dominated constituency since he was fearful of his fate in Amethi, where the majority community is dominant. Such comments are surely avoidable. Come to think of it — the top court too let this go....