In the recent era — since the time of T.N. Seshan in the 1990s — India’s Election Commission has not been under such intense scrutiny as it is today. This is due to the laidback or dismissive attitude of the head of the poll body over complaints by the Opposition parties piling up by the day without being addressed in the ongoing Lok Sabha poll season.
Chief election commissioner Sunil Arora appears to cut a sorry figure, unable to rein in some of the top leaders of the ruling side, and this is heightening fears that the poll process has already been sullied. The opponents of the present government are also keeping their fingers
crossed about the temperamental behaviour of the electronic voting machines (EVMs).
Anecdotal evidence appears to be multiplying of malfunctioning EVMs throwing up the name of the present ruling party alone, no matter which button is pressed by a voter. Amusingly, no instance has been reported of a malfunctioning EVM giving the green light to any other party.
Severe doubts have been created in the public mind due to this, and not only among the BJP's political and electoral opponents. To salvage the situation, the Election Commission needs to come as close as feasible to meeting the demand of Opposition parties made last week to run VVPAT (paper trail) checks in 50 per cent of votes cast in a constituency.
The EC took the plea before the Supreme Court recently that this would delay the election results. The point is, so what? It is more important to have credible and transparent polls to elect the Parliament of the world's largest democracy, with 900 million eligible voters, than to be bogged down over any technicality.
Unable to rein in communal speech and other lowly remarks, and prejudicial conduct of top politicians, especially from the ruling party, the CEC recently pleaded helplessness in the Supreme Court, lamenting that he lacked the powers to crack the whip. The court blasted the poll chief and reminded him he had adequate authority to enforce the Model Code of Conduct under Article 324 of the Constitution. But the court's sharp words are yet to prove a sufficient goad. Mr Arora continues to prevaricate, show lethargy in the discharge of his duties, and attract the charge of partisanship.
Last Saturday, senior representatives of the Congress, Trinamul Congress, TDP, NCP and AAP complained to the Election Commission about the ballot papers in Barrackpore in West Bengal displaying the name of the BJP along with its party symbol. This is against the law, but the EC seems determined not to change the ballot paper. Frustration with the EC's conduct appears to be mounting and the Congress Party has threatened legal action. It's to be hoped it won’t come to that, and the poll body would take corrective action to salvage its reputation.