(Photo by STR / AFP)
(Photo by STR / AFP)

Power-hungry and ready to go to any lengths. The lame-duck Modi Government is going after political rivals with IT and CBDT. Modi, in an interview to a TV channel, said he cannot be blamed if there are skeletons in ‘Bhrast Nath’s’ cupboard, the simultaneous IT raids in Bhopal and Delhi is unearthing “cash” and “heads” of endangered wildlife.

But why are the raids being mounted at such time when the Model Code of Conduct is in force and the first phase of polling is two days away? The Shiv Sena, Modi’s ally, asked this question in its mouthpiece Saamna the other day, questioning the Modi Government’s intentions.

The Election Commission, too, took notice. And issued notice. EC called revenue secretary AB Pandey and chairman, Central Board of Direct Taxes, PC Mody, to discuss the income tax raids. Pandey and Mody have been told to explain the raids even as the Congress charged the BJP and Modi with using central enforcement agencies to target it at election-time.

The EC had earlier “strongly advised” the Finance Ministry to ensure that enforcement agencies during election time act “neutral” and “non-discriminatory”; that the EC should be kept in the loop. The EC’s advice, it seems, was a waste of breath. In the last week and a half, there have been IT raids in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Actually, it’s a valid question: With the Model Code Conduct in force, can government conduct I-T raids on political leaders and their associates? Is it not a misuse of power? The Income-Tax Department justifies its action with the defence that it has detected a “widespread and well-organised” hawala racket allegedly run by aides of MP Chief Minister Kamal Nath.

The CBDT parrots a similar line. But coupled with BJP advertisements suddenly swamping media, several of them singing praise of Modi’s war against corruption, the raids are turning into a potent mix to help the BJP get an upper-hand in the polls. The raids, if they run the gamut of seven phases, will likely influence voting patterns, much more than the Modi biopic could have.

The question now boils down to “Can the Election Commission of India enforce its diktat”? The Constitution gives the EC extraordinary powers during elections and many honest district collectors-turned-electoral officers will find themselves handicapped in ensuring free and fair elections if the Election Commission itself is seen as weak and compromised.

It’s not just about whether the EVM delivers honest voting results, it’s also about whether the EC, custodian of the EVMs, gives an honest, free and fair appraisal of itself for everybody to see. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is going around addressing election rallies, saying “when I’m PM again”, as if the elections are over and results declared. Does this not tantamount to influencing voters, and a breach of the Model Code of Conduct?

The CEC, while calling IT and CBDT bosses to explain the raids on political rivals of Narendra Modi, should first ask himself if he’s as honest to his duty and responsibilities as he expects them to be. IT and CBDT will do what they have to, but the EC should do what is mandated to. Beforehand, not after and during the raids. It reduces to the question, ‘who will bell the cat, when the cat has the bell?’

The Election Commission of India should get it into its head that come elections, the powers transfer to CEC from the Prime Minister. Central enforcement agencies should not in any way be used to influence voter-preference, ensure votes go “seedha-seedha” into “Modi Ki Khaata.”

Prime Minister Modi is going to Latur and places further south, telling rallies: “Dekha Ki Nahi Dekha? Noton Ka Bandle Kahan, Kahan Se Nikhal Raha Hai? Inki mastery Dekhiye, Bade-Bade Logon Ke Ghar Se Noton Ka bundle Nikhal Rahein Hain.” Does the Election Commission have its hearing aids on?

Sushil Kutty is a freelance jounalist. Views are personal.

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