After being accused repeatedly by opposition parties over its alleged inclination towards the ruling dispensation, the Election Commission of India appears to be under close judicial scrutiny. The Madras High Court has expressed its strong reservations over the callous manner in which the EC allowed the Covid protocol to be infringed during the campaign, and has directed the poll body to ensure that all norms are observed, when the counting process commences on Sunday.
The failure of the EC to impose reasonable restrictions to curb huge gatherings at rallies, is also being spelt out as a factor for the second wave of the pandemic that is sweeping the country. In fact, in Bengal, the Trinamool Congress has already started propagating that the campaigners from New Delhi and the paramilitary forces sent to oversee the conduct of the polls, were principally responsible for the spread of this deadly disease.
The fervent appeals by various parties to the EC for merging the last few phases of the Bengal elections, fell on deaf ears, with the poll officials refusing to see both reason and caution. If the Apex Court had once described the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as “a caged parrot”, a similar description is now being used for the EC by several political leaders.
The Election Commission has for the last many years been blamed for ignoring requests for the resumption of the poll process through ballot boxes, as was done in the past, instead of sticking with the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), about whose functioning doubts continue to be expressed.
It is often stated that no developed country in the world uses the EVMs but goes by the conventional ballot paper system, which may take more time while counting, but continues to be a fool-proof method. Some BJP functionaries had expressed serious doubts over the functioning of the EVMs when the UPA was in power and strangely changed their opinion once the NDA won. Now numerous leaders and experts believe that the EVM method left a lot to be desired and took away from the credibility and integrity of the poll process. However, they have been unable to furnish any evidence to substantiate their beliefs.
There is at least one former Chief Election Commissioner, who would describe the EVM hacking charges as baseless while he was holding office, but now has a different opinion. He would be happy if the doubts over the functioning of the EVMs could be laid to rest for all time. The only other alternative is voting through ballots.
Soon after the Madhya Pradesh byelections were over, a senior Congress leader claimed in private that if his party had paid Rs 5 crore per seat to a group of hackers, who were willing to tinker with the poll process, the outcome would have been different. The insinuation here is that somebody paid on behalf of those who won. This may appear to be case of being a bad loser, but if there is even 0.1% truth in the claim, then it must be examined impartially and objectively. The contention is that the results can be manipulated by fixing the vote percentage of each candidate. Several technology experts are of the view that no machine was ever fool-proof, but for wrongdoing to be concluded in elections there has to be solid evidence. In absence of that, it is plain rubbish.
One of the reasons why doubts are raised over the conduct of elections is because over the years, Election Commissioners have been appointed due to their proximity with those in power. However, it does not mean that the Election Commissioners were not fair while performing their duties. Some of the CECs we have had are people whose integrity and reputation can never be doubted.
Another criticism that gets levelled is that the opinion polls and the exit polls are used by political parties to create a perception which may be different from the reality. Thus, the results when they get declared conform to the perception instead of reflecting the ground situation. The example of Bihar Assembly polls is often cited though the argument continues to be weak and lacks gravitas.
It is true that opinion polls and exit polls have more often than not proved to be inaccurate with the science of psephology not very well evolved in our country due to the complexities it involves. The majority of psephology experts base their predictions on western models that do not hold good here and the exit polls also reach conclusions on the basis of very small sample sizes. With large numbers of regions in India that lack connectivity, it is extremely difficult to decipher the mood of the people by using telescopic projections.
The most important thing to sustain democracy is to ensure that people do not ever lose faith in the system. A compliant system may work for a few individuals or political parties but is not in the overall interest of the country. Secondly, questions should not be raised if the outcome of the polls is not favourable to a party or candidate. The issue must be handled right in the beginning.
The uncharitable charge against the BJP is that it has subverted the institutions in such a manner that no one dares to question its alleged wrongdoing. In absence of any proof such allegations stand baseless. The EC must be left alone and allowed to perform its functions. Between us.