The Election Commission’s (EC) censure of Varun Gandhi for making hate speeches in Pilibhit parliamentary constituency was very much in line of what was expected from it.
The other, “moral suasion”, aspect of EC’s order, delivered late on Sunday has, however, generated controversy. While the commissioners were right in demanding that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) deny its nomination to Gandhi, the non-binding character of the order made it a non-starter.
That is the rub of the problem. The motives and the intent of the commissioners were clear. To put pressure, moral or otherwise, on the BJP and the candidate in question. What, however, is not clear is how EC thought its strategy would work? No doubt, the BJP will have a hard time trying to fend off criticism from other parties such as the Congress, but that pressure will exist for a few days only. Once the story ceases to be headline-grabbing stuff, the guns will surely fall silent.
What many will ask is whether EC lowered its prestige by passing an order that it most likely knew would not be implemented.
In many of India’s unruly states, EC’s writ runs by its control of the state administrations after the model code of conduct comes into force. But at the same time, any perceived weakness of the commission can put a spanner in the smooth conduct of elections. The order in this case certainly has the potential to create such a damaging impression.
The BJP’s reaction, too, was along expected lines: it was, to put it mildly, duplicitous. The party’s assertion that it did not agree with Gandhi’s statements and then saying that he would be the BJP’s candidate in Pilibhit, is contradictory, to say the least.
Here, EC has certainly scored a goal: It has managed to expose the BJP. Perhaps the party thought that it could get away from censure and scrutiny merely by distancing itself from Gandhi’s statements. It did not anticipate the commission’s order. But, as argued above, EC’s labour will be in vain.
In any case, what force can moral suasion have in an age when every single member of Parliament counts in the government’s formation and stability? Perhaps it’s time political parties spared some thought to the consequences of their actions.
Will EC’s order make a difference in the behaviour of politicians? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org