Saturday, March 03, 2007

Election Commission of India's non-transparent role

India has just completed assembly elections in Manipur, Punjab and Uttarakhand. And India's largest State, Uttar Pradesh is going to the polls in May-June. As usual, the Election Commission - independent three-member body to conduct and supervise elections - is sure to bag all the credit for the free and fair polls. But it is amazing to witness media's lack of interest in some of the crucial decisions that the E.C. takes. In 2005, the E.C. decided to bring all the polling stations in all the assembly constituencies in West Bengal under the control of the Central Para Military Forces (CPMF), completely keeping out the state police from manning the polling stations. The unstated reason was that the E.C. wanted to ensure a complaint-free election. Similarly, in the ensuing U.P.assembly elections - faced with the complaints that the present care-taker Government of Mulayam Singh Yadav may not ensure an impartial policing during the polling process - the E.C. appears to have decided to bring 95 per cent of the polling stations in the State under the CPMF. The decision in West Bengal invited a sharp rebuke from the CPI(M) which won the elections there, in the form of a comprehensive note. The basic thrust of the note was that the E.C. undermined federalism, by suspecting the role of the state governments selectively, and imposing the CPMF on the state, thus conveying total lack of trust in the state police. In the West Bengal elections, the E.C. could not manage the availability of CPMF during the last phase, and had to bring in the state police, thus rendering its own decision impractical. If so, why alienate the state police in the first place, and lower their morale? Has not the E.C. learnt any lessons from this, while taking a similar decision in U.P.?
Seeking to break the E.C.'s silence on the issue, I filed an application under the Right to Information Act, and wanted to know the reasons for the E.C.'s decision in West Bengal. The answer was that the E.C. did not have any file notings on this, and that the decision was taken on the assessment of the "ground situation". Can there be a vaguer reply than this? Is not the E.C. accountable for its decisions, and bound to give specific reasons for its decisions? Hopefully, my appeal to the Central Information Commission will provide the answers.
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