An institution which was hailed for its transparency, accountability and fairness is facing flak for opaqueness and turning a deaf ear to serious issues raised by citizens and the media.
An open letter to the Election Commission of India (EC) – which is considered the backbone of our democracy – by around 145 Civil Service officers, military veterans and renowned academics questions its silence and inaction on several serious issues raised during and after the 2019 Lok Sabha Election. Some of the prominent personalities who have signed the letter are former Inspector General (Prison) Meeran Borwankar, former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, former Ambassador to Portugal Madhu Bhaduri and Retired Admiral L Ramdas.
The letter states,
“The 2019 General Elections appear to have been one of the least free and fair elections that the country has had in the past three decades or so…. the bias of the Election Commission towards one particular party became evident from the date of announcement of the elections.”
Here are some of the concerns raised in the letter:
‘EC Deliberately Delayed Announcing the Election Dates’
Stating that the dates of the 2004, 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha Elections were declared by 5 March for all three elections, the letter emphasises that this convention was not followed for the 2019 Lok Sabha Election and the announcement was delayed till 10 March. It says,
“The ECI deliberately delayed the announcement to enable Prime Minister Narendra Modi to complete the inauguration blitz to slew of (157) projects that he had scheduled between 8 February and 9 March.”
Questions were also raised on the rationale behind number of polling days granted to different states. Apparently, in the sates with fewer number of Lok Sabha constituencies, such as Karnataka, Odisha, Rajasthan, ‘where the BJP faced tough competition or was likely to gain ground, the polling was scheduled in multiple phases.
‘Flouting of the Model Code of Conduct Blithely Ignored’
During the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, the Supreme Court pulled up the EC for not using its power. As a result, the letter states, the EC started exercising its powers selectively on small fry and did enough to protect the big ones. It adds,
“The Prime Minister’s blatant misuse of the Pulwama and Ballot issues to whip up nationalistic, or more correctly, jingoistic fervour and channel it in favour of the BJP was shocking violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).”
The letter also points out that the EC did not even issue a show cause notice to the PM for the repeated violations of the MCC, and states the dissenting opinions of Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa on the matter should have been published.
In fact, the EC in its RTI on Lavasa’s dissenting note had said that it cannot be made public because it might “endanger someone’s life.”
Pointing out yet another alleged MCC violation, the letter says, “the Niti Aayog had officially written to the various UTs and some districts in the country to provide local information about the area since the PM was likely to visit these places. This was done so that the information could be used in the PM’s election campaigns.” However, the EC dismissed the complaint.
‘EC Refused to Take Note of Media Violations’
Several complaints were received by the EC on the telecast of Namo TV, which only aired PM Modi’s speeches and events. The channel sought no permission from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, and did not comply with many rules and regulations required to start a new channel.
“Even though the ECI ordered the channel to be closed, Namo TV continued to telecast almost until the end of the elections,” the letter states.
Controversy On The Use of EVMs
The electronic voting machines (EVM) were the centre of controversy throughout this year’s elections, with several political parties raising doubts about the devices being tamper-proof.
In 2013, the SC allowed the introduction of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs) based on a petition which revealed that EVMs were not trusted.
The open letter highlights five major controversies pertaining to EVMs towards which the EC brazenly maintained silence.
- An RTI query revealed that as many as 20 lakh EVMs were missing. EC denied all media reports on this matter, but has not yet filed a reply in the Bombay High Court where a petition on this issue is still pending.
- The EC informed the SC that tallying the votes of 50 percent of the VVPATs with the EVMs would take about 6 days, though it is a known fact that in the past 100 percent of paper ballots were counted in 12-18 hours. ECI’s refusal to count 50 percent of VVPATs left a cloud of confusion in the minds of the electorate.
- There were several media reports with videos which revealed unexplained movement of EVMs between the last polling day and the Counting Day. The EC's unsatisfactory response led to further controversy.
- The EC failed to explain huge discrepancies between the number of votes polled and votes counted on EVMs.
- The EC did not make public the number of votes counted on VVPATs.
The strong open letter points out that “procrastination, silence and inaction characterised ECI’s responses in so many matters… Hence the ECI needs to pro-actively issue public clarifications in respect of each of these reported irregularities and put in place steps to prevent such incidents from occurring in future.”
Click here to read the letter to EC.
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