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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 15, April 13, 2024

A Discourse on Public Trust in the Election Commission | Arup Kumar Sen

Friday 12 April 2024, by Arup Kumar Sen


The 18th Lok Sabha elections in India are almost knocking at our doors. On the eve of the Lok Sabha poll, The Caravan (April 2024) carried a report titled ‘The Taming of the Election Commission of India’. The author of the Report, Eram Agha, highlighted the ideal role of the Election Commission of India (ECI) in the context of offering her assessment of the institution: “The ECI is the regulatory body that oversees elections in the country. It is tasked with ensuring that the electoral process is free and fair, preventing overreach by the ruling party and its misuse of state machinery, as well as enforcing the model code of conduct.” The findings of the Report are quite alarming.

Regarding the functioning of the ECI in recent years, it is observed: “Over the past decade, the ECI has been criticized for allowing the BJP to escape scrutiny, even as the party hollowed out practically every democratic institution in the country…Several former chief election commissioners spoke to me about the deteriorating standards they have noticed over the past years.” The recent reconstitution of the ECI in 2024 has also been criticized for its direct linkage with the party in power at the Centre: “The ECI itself has been recently reconstituted, with two new of three election commissioners, who have been handpicked by the government, thanks to an appointment system that gives it unfair control…In essence, the two men who have been chosen by a government-controlled panel have worked closely with BJP governments.”

One might argue that the above critical observations represent elite perceptions about the ECI. In responding to this hypothetical question, we would like to mention what The Hindu-CSDS-Lokniti Pre-poll Survey 2024 observed regarding public trust in the Election Commission: “The survey…revealed that 58% of the respondents expressed some or great distrust in the Election Commission. Nearly 45% suggested the likelihood that electronic voting machines could be manipulated by the ruling party, a lot or somewhat.” The Survey further observed: “The data clearly indicate the fact that the trust of the voter in the Election Commission has declined compared with five years ago (2019).” (See The Hindu, April 12, 2024)

Lack of trust in the Election Commission of India, expressed by a substantial number of voters in the Pre-poll Survey 2024, raises a fundamental question about the present health of our democracy.

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