EC wields stick but it was a little too late

It is just as well that the Election Commission has started cracking the whip on those, who, by their intemperate statements, are queering the communal and caste divide between communities in the course of the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections.

The commission’s powers are nothing to write home about but a great deal depends on how it creates elbow room within the confines of its powers which are considerable or insignificant depending upon how it exercises them and the respect it manages to command.

The Election Commission, indeed, is in the position in which the political parties for the most part have a vested interest in keeping it largely mute and ineffective. Yet, an active and interventionist EC can be a useful and in fact vital element in ensuring that it is duly respected and held in awe.

The commission sends notices to many typical rabble-rousers but often lets them off the hook with reprimand which is hardly enough to deter. This time around it has invoked its special powers to ban from campaigning four political leaders temporarily- UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, Union minister Maneka Gandhi and Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan. These are indeed big names in the world of electoral politics in India.

While Adityanath and Azam Khan have been barred for 72 hours starting Tuesday morning, Maneka and Mayawati cannot campaign for 48 hours. That they would lose out on crucial campaigning for the second phase of the election in the politically-crucial state of UP is a fair deterrent for the future.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, for the first time the poll panel had barred two bigwigs- BJP president Amit Shah and SP president leader Azam Khan- for making inflammatory speeches in defiance of notices issued to the two leaders with the ban on Shah having been lifted after he apologised, but this time the net seems to have spread wider.

Yogi Adityanath was punished for his statement- ‘Agar Congress ko Ali par, Sapa-Baspa ko Ali par vishwas hai, hame bhi Bajrangbali (Lord Hanuman) par vishwas hai.’ Undeniably, this had communal overtones and Yogi needed to be disciplined.
Azam Khan, who is an uncompromising Muslim communal leader had said in one of his election speeches- ‘Uski (actress turned politician Jaya Prada’s) asliyat samajhne mei aapko 17 varsh lag gaye, mei 17 din mei pahchan gaya ki inke neeche ka jo underwear hai woh khaki rang ka hai.’ This was not only communal but in rank poor taste.

Mayawati too had her brand of communal slant when she said, ‘Muslim samaj… vote baantna nahin.… ek taraf vote BSP, SP, RLD ke umeedwaron ko vote dekar kamayab banana hai’ was an appeal to the voter not to let the Congress divide the Muslim vote.

Then there was Maneka Gandhi who told the voter ‘Agar meri jeet Musalmano ke bin hogi … phir phir Musalman aata hai kaam ke liye, phir mein sochti hoon rehne hi do, kya fark padta hai’ virtually holding out a threat to Muslims to vote for her or else…

It now remains to be seen what the Supreme Court does on Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s statement ‘Supreme Court ne clear kar diya hai ki chowkidarji ne chori karwai’, a shocking attribution that the apex court had said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a ‘chor’ (thief) while the court had drawn no such hypothesis. The apex court would do well to take stern action that sets a precedent against misrepresentation and twisting of statements by a rival leader against as high a personage as the prime minister.

Indeed, the apex court would be watched for what it does against a seemingly errant leader who defies the model code so brazenly. But it would be foolhardy to let EC and the government rest on this limited laurel. Wide-ranging reforms are required in quest of cleaner politics. In the second phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, 251 (16 per cent) out of 1,590 candidates have declared criminal cases against themselves while 167 (11 per cent) have declared serious criminal cases against themselves, according to a report by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

Among the major parties, 16 (31 per cent) out of 51 candidates from BJP, 23 (43 per cent) out of 53 candidates from the Congress, 16 (20 per cent) out of 80 candidates from BSP, 3 (14 per cent) out of 22 candidates analysed from AIADMK, 11(46 per cent) out 24 candidates from DMK and four out of 11 (36 per cent) of Shiv Sena candidates have declared criminal cases against them.

Election expenditure has spiralled out of control, way beyond the ceiling laid down by the EC but the practice goes on without being reined in. The EC can hardly be blamed for inaction when the politicians do not want such reforms. In the present atmosphere of huge departure from a level playing field, it is well nigh impossible for a person of modest means to get elected to the Lok Sabha.

There are exceptional cases where the party meets the high cost of getting elected when the candidate is of poor means but such cases are rare. While money continues to play a stellar role, muscle power is also an important factor. In the process Indian democracy is beset with a major dilution of norms.

Kamlendra Kanwar is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.

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