Ensuring Free and Fair Assembly Elections – All India Radio (AIR) IAS UPSC

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  • July 10, 2021
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TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Elections

The Constitution has created numerous institutions to strengthen its democratic foundations. The Election Commission was established to ensure free and fair elections for elected representatives to enjoy the genuine mandate of the people.

The Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgment, had placed the Election Commission of India and its head among the most important ‘institutions of integrity’. India’s greatest pride is that it is not only the world’s largest democracy, but it has also been able to hold country-wide elections at regular intervals on an unprecedented scale, unlike many other newly independent countries

But ensuring free and fair Assembly is perhaps the toughest challenge that the Election Commission of India (ECI) will face in recent history.

Here are a list of measures the ECI should take towards that end:

A. Make revision of rolls transparent and fair:

The ECI should directly overlook the updation of electoral rolls so that biased state government employees cannot rig the rolls and indulge in foul play. For this to happen, the ECI should –

  • Depute its own officers and those from other states to conduct random checks on the process of revising the rolls.
  • Special camps should be organised to receive claims and objections and central armed police forces (CAPF) and police forces from other states requisitioned by the ECI should be deployed at such camps to prevent intimidation or interference by party workers. At least one such camp should be organised for an area covered by every polling station in the state.
  • Monitor the entire process and if any foul play by a state government employee is detected, exemplary penal action should be taken against such an employee.

B. Administrative Measures:

The ECI should send a stern warning to state officials, right from the Chief Secretary to the Group D staff, to work impartially without any favour or bias towards any political party.

  • Violations should be dealt with promptly and in an exemplary manner so that the message goes down the line that any aberrations on the part of officials will not be tolerated.
  • Also, officers who are known to be close to the current ruling dispensation should be shunted off to insignificant posts or kept on ‘compulsory waiting’ where they can do no damage or will be in no position to help the party of their choice.
  • Better still, such IAS and IPS officers should be summoned to Delhi for the required ‘detoxification’.

C. Election Observers:

The ECI should start sending Election Observers to the concerned states right away to oversee fair and transparent preparation of error-free electoral rolls and in order to ensure that the state administrative and police machinery works in accordance with the Constitution.

The working of the state police should be strictly monitored to ensure that the men in uniform do not favour any one party and harass Opposition activists and supporters by lodging false cases against them.

D. Effective Deployment Of CAPF:

The central armed police forces have to be deployed much before the elections and should be given adequate powers to prevent foul play and rigging, independent of the supervision and direction of the state police.

Also, it has been observed in the past that ruling party functionaries at the grassroots levels often reach out to CAPF personnel deployed to oversee conduct of elections with offers of liquor, lavish feasts and even money and material gifts. CAPF personnel are known to have been lured by such enticements in the past.

The ECI has to lay down a strict code of conduct for the CAPF personnel deployed and warn them against fraternising with any local people in the areas they are deployed in.

E. Prompt Grievance Redressal:

The ECI should set up a grievance redressal mechanism at the state level that deals promptly with complaints of rigging or foul play.

  • The ECI usually takes a long time to respond to complaints and by the time it does so, the elections are long over. The ECI should, thus, respond quickly to complaints of foul play and investigate such complaints fast. 
  • The ECI should not balk from countermanding elections in polling stations from where genuine complaints of foul play are received.

All these measures will ensure free and fair polls. Without them, the polls will in all likelihood be rigged and will make a mockery of democracy.

F. Elections in the times of Pandemic:

Besides ensuring fair polling, the EC must ensure all safety protocols are adhered to in the current round of Assembly polls.

Besides the usual norms related to sanitising and social distancing, the guidelines by the Election Commission should include reduction in the limit of electors per polling booth in order to prevent overcrowding, addition of polling stations, EVMs, restricting door-to-door canvassing to groups of five persons and many more such steps.

To counter the possibility of a lower voter turnout, the EC should extend the postal ballot option to senior citizens, Covid-positive patients, persons with disabilities and voters employed in essential services, along with making use of its now famous SVEEP (Systematic Voter Education for Electoral Participation) programme. It can draft a voluntary code of ethics in collaboration with social media platforms allowing direct engagement between the two over problematic posts during election session.

Note: According to Article 324-329 of the Constitution, the EC is a constitutional body that has supervisory and directional control over the complete process of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every State and to the office of the President and Vice-President of India.

Connecting the Dots:

  1. The Election Commission is now the Institution for Omissions. Do you agree? Critically analyse.
  2. Many Indian states are undergoing assembly elections. Analyse the role of Election Commission in organising fair and peaceful elections.

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