Election Commission’s role in ensuring Free and Fair polls – All India Radio (AIR) IAS UPSC

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  • July 8, 2021
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Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies 

There are four bulwarks of Indian democracy; one of them is Election Commission. Election commission is a constitutional body empowered to conduct free and fair elections under Article 324 of the Indian constitution.

Elections are fundamental to democracy. In the long journey of seven decades, Election Commission of India never failed to serve its purpose of facilitating the democracy in the best possible way. In first elections of independent India, Election Commission successfully handled the mostly illiterate but enthusiastic citizens of India. It also survived the free and fair elections immediately after the end of Emergency in 1970s.

Challenges faced by the Election Commission

  • Suspension of norms of civility – and responsibility owing to the anonymous nature of the engagement on internet and social media. Free and fair election is important not only for expression of the will of people but also to maintain social cohesion and democratic values of equality, fraternity etc. Enforcing Model Code of Conduct in such a scenario becomes extremely difficult. 
  • Use of bots and unfair means to trend on social media – The immediacy of the engagement, with deep penetration through the device of posts going viral, sometimes, allegedly, owing to the deployment of bots, creates challenge in conducting free and fair election. 
  • Phenomenon of fake news and misinformation – an important aspect of the role that social media are likely to play in the elections is the phenomenon of fake news and misinformation. The social rupture caused by such campaigns, including heightened insecurity for marginalised sections of society, is phenomenal.
  • De-Institutionalization of the democratic structure – A relatively small financial cost lends the ability to a small number of users to bombard the electorate with party political messages with little political accountability or responsibility. The net impact is in geometric proportion to the number of such platforms deployed. The result is the de-institutionalization of the democratic structure and a strengthening of what Lloyd Rudolph and Susanne Rudolph call a command polity.
  • Othering/marginalization of some sections – This is the space where othering takes place with impunity and with only a miniscule risk of social censure. Absolved of the responsibility to defend their views in an open arena of co-equal citizens, regressive actors are able to campaign for their political viewpoints from the safety of a smartphone.
  • Dilution of public reasoning – the fulcrum of public reasoning is shifting to the construction of the other. It therefore becomes less important for political actors to propose their own programme of action and more important for them to contest characterizations by others.
  • Allegations of hacking of EVMs – When it’s difficult to verify news and counter fake news, allegations like hacking of EVMs may gain traction. This will completely shake he credibility of EC and erode trust in the election process.   

Efforts made by Election Commission

  • Election Commission of India is empowered to cancel the elections or call for re-elections if any kind corruption or malpractices are found; this is the most powerful tool in the hands of election commission to make democracy possible in letter and spirit.
  • To further improve the transparency in elections, Election Commission of India introduced Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) in 1999.
  • In 2010, Election Commission of India accepted the recommendations of Indiresan committee to introduce Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) for further transparency.
  • In the same line, the EC is currently considering the use of Totaliser Machines during elections to mask booth-wise voting patterns.
  • Internet major Google and social media giants Twitter and Facebook have assured the Election Commission that they will not allow their platforms to be used for anything which affects the purity of polls during campaign period. It is another laudable effort of Election Commission of India to strengthen democracy.
  • The last 48 hours before the elections come to a close is called ‘silence period’ so that voter can calmly decide on as to whom to vote. Google, Facebook, etc. also assured the EC that political advertisements will be flagged, including the amount spent, so that expenditure can also be accounted for during campaign period.

Similarly, some other efforts taken by Election Commission of India to strengthen the democracy by elections in India are, Model Code of Conduct, awareness campaigns, National Voters Day (25th Jan), Electoral Bonds, etc.

Some of the recent steps taken also include – 

  • Banned prominent politician from campaigning for certain period in recent Lok sabha election. 
  • Banned a biopic movie. 
  • Banned election campaign in Kolkata due to eruption of violence. 
  • SVEEP – Systematic voter’s education and electoral awareness program. 
  • C-Vigil – to maintain the integrity of election process. 
  • Setup Media Certification and Monitoring Committee

ECI reform plan: For a level playing field

  1. ECI is considering tightening ways to cap the expenditure of political parties. But even this can be meaningful only if there is more transparency in campaign finance which suggests that the electoral bonds system, as it is in place now, is untenable.
  2. The ECI has suggested bringing social media and print media under the “silent period” ambit after campaigning ends. Regulating social media will be difficult and it remains to be seen how the ECI will implement this.
  3. The ECI also plans to introduce new “safe and secure” voting methods.
    • The use now of the EVM as a standalone, one-time programmable chip-based system, along with administrative safeguards renders it a safe mechanism that is not vulnerable to hacking. 
    • Any other “online” form of voting that is based on networked systems should be avoided
  4. Aadhaar-Voter ID linkage to weed out duplications and misrepresentations from the electoral rolls – The idea of an Aadhaar-linked remote voting system that is sought to be built as a prototype could be problematic considering how the unique identity card has excluded genuine beneficiaries when used in welfare schemes
  5. Amendments to Section 20(6) of the Representation of the People’s Act, 1951 to allow the husband of a female officer to be registered as a service voter where she holds office.
  6. Granting powers to ECI to deregister a party
  7. Greater autonomy to ECI
    • Giving Constitutional protection to all members of ECI
    • Charging budget of ECI to Consolidated Fund of India
    • Setting up Independent Secretariat for ECI like those for Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha

Do you know? 

How can overseas voters currently vote in Indian elections?

  • Prior to 2010, an Indian citizen who is an eligible voter and was residing abroad for more than six months owing to employment, education or otherwise, would not have been able to vote in elections.
  • After the passing of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010, eligible NRIs who had stayed abroad beyond six months have been enabled to vote, but only in person at the polling station where they have been enrolled as an overseas elector.

Refer: Mindmap + Blockchain Technology and Voting

Connecting the Dots:

  1. India’s Election Commission is an embodiment of institutional excellence and professionalism. Comment.   
  2. Liberhan Commission recommendations against parties which misuse religion.

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