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TOI EDIT-Trust Deficit

May 23, 2019 05:16 AM


Trust Deficit
Despite decades of institutional expertise in conducting elections, EC had a rough ride this time
Election Commission’s rejection of the opposition demand for tallying of VVPAT slips in five polling booths per assembly constituency with their corresponding EVMs before the counting of votes has predictably upset opposition parties. EC’s decision is justified given that altering at a late stage the established procedure of performing the tallying after all votes are counted will cause needless confusion. Arguably, opposition parties expecting to lose after exit poll projections are nitpicking about EC’s procedures as an alibi for poor performance at the hustings.

Nevertheless EC could do with more transparency about its procedures as there is an extraordinary level of mistrust in them this election – evidenced in 22 opposition parties getting together to present to EC inconclusive viral videos about alleged unauthorised movements of EVMs. Former President Pranab Mukherjee, who has endorsed the work done by EC, has also stated that the onus of ensuring institutional integrity lies with it, and it is EC which must put all speculation to rest. Mukherjee is right.

No doubt the opposition’s gambit of approaching Supreme Court demanding 50% tallying of VVPATs – an exercise that undermines the benefits of EVMs without much evidence to the contrary – was a misplaced one. But given the supreme importance of EC in ensuring a level playing field in elections its role is a kin to that of Caesar’s wife – it must not only be impartial but also be seen to be so, at the cost of fuelling institutional mistrust. Some of its model code of conduct verdicts raise questions about whether it has been able to live up to this lofty role – such as, just to cite one instance, its coming down hard on Mayawati for making a religious reference but giving a clean chit to BJP president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in similar circumstances. EC would do well to publish dissenting minority views by election commissioner Ashok Lavasa on these verdicts as the Constitution of India imposes equally weighty responsibilities on all three commissioners.

To combat snowballing institutional mistrust, a fundamental change is also required in EC appointments. Presently, election commissioners are appointed entirely by government. It would be prudent to leave the choice, in future, to a bipartisan committee comprising the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and Leader of Opposition

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