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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 17, New Delhi, April 10, 2021

When Election Commission pits itself against the electorate | Sankar Ray

Saturday 10 April 2021, by Sankar Ray

The role of the Election Commission of India (EC) with Sunil Arora, the Chief Election Commissioner at the helm is far from being impartial and neutral especially in West Bengal, His term is ending on 12 April and grapevine has it that a gubernatorial post awaits him as a reward of his unflinching performance of dancing to the tune of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his closest associates than honouring the august Nirvachan Sadan whose sanctity had been heightened by former CECs such as T N Seshan, M S Gill, J M Lyngdoh and S.Y.Quraishi. The tradition of pride has been mauled by Arora, an IAS of Rajasthan cadre. He was close to one of the founders of Bharatiya Jana Sangh and former Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat between 1993 and 1998. He was principal secretary to the CM Vasundhara Raje between 2005 and 2008.

Arora’s elevation to CEC took place at a politically critical juncture. He was never known as an upright bureaucrat. On the contrary, he was in several highly questionable acts. The most infamous of those aberrations was having been nabbed chatting with Nira Radia (linked to notorious Radia tapes) on corruption in the Judiciary. Arora was heard telling the corporate lobbyist about a Supreme Court judge’s role in the Delhi land sealing cases and of another judge from the Delhi High Court being paid Rs 9 crore by a middleman in exchange for a favorable verdict in a case.

Remember Former President Pranab Mukherjee’s praise of CEC on 20 May 2019 for the conduct of elections. Within 24 hours Opposition parties were up on their feet alleging tampering with the electorate’s verdict. Soon 22 Opposition parties and citizen groups in many parts of the country drew the EC’s attention to reports on suspicious EVM movements in several constituencies. They demanded verification of VVPAT slips before counting of votes and not after the last round of counting. Social media was flooded with pictures and videos of EVMs allegedly being shifted around. But Arora responded negatively.

Arora’s collusive attitude to BJP continues. Take the nabbing of a car, owned by the wife of BJP candidate Krishnendu Paul in after the second phase of voting in Assam on 1 April carrying the EVMs. A video showing EVMs the Bolero car carrying EVMs was posted in social media. The EC acknowledged that there was a violation of transport protocol, issued a show-cause notice to the presiding officer for violation of protocol and suspended the four officials who were responsible for transporting the EVMs and ordered repolling at polling station number 149 of Ratabari seat but exonerated Paul and his wife. There was ‘no fault of BJP candidate’ in EVMs in car case.

In West Bengal, Modi and BJP brass seemed set to capture the state power by hook or by crook, thanks to a pliant EC.

Addressing an election rally, Modi alleged that the Trinamul Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee said that “all Muslims should unite". In the speech, she also appealed to Hindus not to fall victim to attempts at communalising the state but Modi ignored that part of her speech. The PM banteringly said “Didi [Mamata Banerjee], you are abusive towards the Election Commission.”

The neutrality of EC is questioned by the Kolkata-based morninger, The Telegraph which accuses the poll panel of not responding to a query as to why the BJP candidate at Nandigram constituency, Suvendu Adhikari, pitted against Mamata Banerjee, was not ‘additionally accused of flouting Clause 4 of Part I of the model code of conduct that covers intimidation as well as Sections 123(3) and 3(A) of Representation of the People Act, 1951, which deal with communal appeal for votes and incitement of hatred between communities’, The EC’s notice, served on 8 April, referred to a communal tone in a poll campaign speech last month that a vote to his rival would lead to a “mini Pakistan”. But the poll authority made no mention of Adhikari’s words in his speech on 29 March, “On the one hand, Begum is competing against us… You are not giving votes to Begum. If you vote for Begum there will be mini Pakistan. (Barely audible)… A Daud Ibrahim has come up in your locality.”

The complaint was filed by Kavita Krishnan, politburo member of CPI(ML) Liberation. She quoted Adhikari in the complaint from the BJP candidate’s 7 March speech. “You are the ‘phuphu’ (the word for paternal aunt used by Muslims) of infiltrators and the ‘khala’ (the word for maternal aunt used primarily by Muslims) of the Rohingya.” Krishnan alleged, “The EC has not taken cognisance of the March 7 speech that is extremely communal.” The BJP candidate’s rabidly communal instigation was endorsed to a partial extent at least through lenience towards Adhikari (read BJP)

So the EC is openly helping the Sanghis. One does not know whether Amit Shah’s repeated claim that his party will win 200 out of 294 seats heavily relies on EC’s hidden complicity.

Dr Surjyakanta Mishra, West Bengal state committee secretary and politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) admitted at a meet-the-press session, organized by the Press Club of Kolkata. Better late than never, "We have lodged several complaints, but none of those is being addressed. Several incidents have taken place, but no action has been taken”, he said.

But maintaining the party’s pathological hatred against the TMC (read WB chief minister Mamata Banerjee, TMC supremo), he hastened to add “It seems they (EC) are only working towards pleasing the TMC and the BJP," The fact remains that the TMC has lodged made over 1000 complaints to the EC but the poll panel took action in less than half a dozen of them., according to senior TMC leader Subrata Mukherjee.

The elections at least in West Bengal (to a great extent) is ostensibly electorate’s exercise of Adult Franchise has become a battle between the electorate and EC (under and his sidekicks) which is proxying for Sangh Parivar.

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