The unfolding rift within the three-member Election Commission (EC) could deal a fresh blow to the reputation of the panel, which is already under political fire for allegedly overlooking violations of the Model Code of Conduct by the ruling party. Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa has repeatedly kept away from meetings on code-related matters in protest against the panel’s decision not to record voices of internal dissent in its orders. Earlier, Lavasa had disagreed with the panel’s let-offs given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over a series of complaints made by opposition parties. The EC argues that notes of dissent can only be included in orders on quasi-judicial cases, while code violations aren’t in that category. So disagreements here are for its internal files, as has been the practice all along.
The EC may have a legally valid point there. But the rift has cast doubts over the integrity of the poll panel.
Opposition leaders of various hues have all but called it a captive of the ruling party. Election losers in general tend to gripe about such things, and unless the results spring a surprise, most of the opposition is expected to be on the losing side. Nevertheless, cracks within the body can’t be ignored.
Part of the problem is that the penalties to be imposed for code violations aren’t properly defined. Many believe that far too were punished this election season, and outrageous behaviour was spotted on either side of the political divide. Also, its penalties are so light that they fail to deter further transgressions. All this has created an image of the EC as a meek spectator. It’s time it lays down the rules of the game clearly. Its independence and fairness must be beyond doubt. It’s not just the EC, Indian democracy has a global reputation to defend.