Did the Supreme Court adhere to the principle of separation of powers laid down by our Constitution when it ruled against the executive’s exclusive authority to appoint the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and the two Election Commissioners without consulting other stakeholders? The question is being debated in political circles and people are waiting for the ruling dispensation’s next move as the ball is now squarely in its court.
If the government wants to come up with some other formula to assuage the public sentiment for justice and fair play, it can bring in a legislation to lay down the process of choosing.
I am delighted that the five-judge Bench has unanimously decided that the public would be better served if there is a more broad-based committee, including the Leader of the Opposition and the CJI, involved in the choice. If the government wants to come up with some other formula to assuage the public sentiment for justice and fair play, it can bring in a legislation to lay down the process of choosing. The Constitution had suggested that rules needed to be framed, which was not done even as six decades have elapsed.
James Michael Lyngdoh was the CEC whose name was repeatedly taken by the then CM of Gujarat, and presently our PM. When the Assembly elections in Gujarat were announced by the Election Commission, Modi wanted a change of dates. The CEC did not oblige. Hence, the CEC’s name was repeatedly proclaimed by him in full to make it obvious that the CEC was a Christian who was not willing to oblige a BJP calculation!
Incidentally, Lyngdoh, a Khasi tribal from Meghalaya and an IAS officer of good repute, was born a Christian but turned atheist in his student or working years — I know not when. He was a no-nonsense officer who took decisions quickly and firmly according to his conscience. Modi’s charge that Lyngdoh ruled against the BJP because he was a Christian was far from the truth.
What I gathered from the sorry episode was that Modi felt that he was entitled to get his wishes granted! I knew then that wherever the choice was that of the executive and the executive alone, and Modi headed that executive, officers chosen would be those who were likely to comply with his requests.
No wonder then that an institution like the Election Commission that had built such a good reputation, right from the time of TN Seshan to that of SY Quraishi, and was admired even abroad for its even-handed dealings with all political parties, has slowly lost its sheen. It is heartening that the Supreme Court has intervened and ruled that in future appointments of the CEC and the two ECs, the Leader of the Opposition, or the principal party in Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and the CJI should sit as a triumvirate to decide on the choices. The party in power cannot be solely entrusted with nominating the commissioner because then a conflict of interest would arise.
Every Indian citizen will agree that the commission should be led by apolitical officers of high integrity and merit. Our IAS cadres have a number of such men and women. The IPS may not throw up as many names, but there are officers of integrity who will be guided by the book and conscience, and who will rule on issues in a fair, just and unbiased manner.
Fixation of dates for polling is an issue that matters to political parties. The integrity of the actual process of casting the vote and the safety of the ballot boxes is another. A very important issue that has troubled the citizens of late is the tone and temper of the election rhetoric and the adherence to the Code of Conduct laid down by the commission itself. This aspect has gained importance disproportionately in the last decade. It needs to be better monitored and transgressions recorded and suitably punished.
The Supreme Court’s solution to the problem of appointment of unbiased and truly independent Election Commissioners may not turn out to be the ideal or the ultimate solution. All institutions are as good or bad as the persons who man them. Finally, it depends on the individuals chosen to lead it. The Opposition leader at that moment of time may be one who is contemplating a change of loyalties. Even the CJI, in office when the committee of three meets, may not be without any bias! But the option chosen by the Constitution Bench appears to be the best that can be thought of in the prevailing circumstances.
The current CBI Director, Subodh Jaiswal, was known in Maharashtra to be a man of integrity. He was selected by a triumvirate that has now been chosen as the solution by the court for choosing Election Commissioners. It was a wise choice. But why then did he agree to go after Manish Sisodia? Only time will tell. Subodh completes his term of two years next month. It is only when he leaves office that we will know the truth.
People expect Election Commissioners to be fair to all parties. They must enforce the Code of Conduct with an iron hand, just like it was done by Seshan, but without his abrasiveness. Most of the CECs who followed Seshan in office did just that. They dispensed justice with firmness but without pomp and show. Hate speech or use of religious motivation in any form were dealt with swiftly. It is this aspect of its work that, of late, the commission has neglected and has, sadly, preferred to turn a blind eye to.
If the Supreme Court’s order is enforced, the members of the Election Commission will get identical protection as the CEC now enjoys.
Most Read In 24 Hours
Don't MissView All
The ordinance Rahul Gandhi trashed could have saved him
Congress leader has been trapped in the consequences of the ...
Centre hikes DA by 4 per cent for central govt employees
About 47.58 lakh government employees and 69.76 lakh pension...
Rahul Gandhi disqualified as Lok Sabha MP; Congress vows to fight legally, politically
LS secretariat has sent notification to EC to declare Wayana...
Opposition holds protest march alleging 'democracy in danger'; seeks JPC probe into Adani issue
Prominent leaders stopped by police and detained at Vijay Ch...
Mere membership of an unlawful association sufficient to constitute offence under UAPA, rules Supreme Court
Overrules a 2011 verdict by a two-judge Bench