As Punjab voted for a new government last week, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi Party is in the contest for power, alleged that EVMs have malfunctioned in the state on an unprecedented scale and asked a leading question: “Was it a mischief done deliberately by or in collusion with EC?”. Earlier, he accused the Narendra Modi government of destroying the institution of the EC (“beda garak kar diya”) by filling it with yes-men. He has called the EC “completely shameless” and “spineless”, and charged that it has “completely surrendered before Modiji” like the CBI and RBI. He has dared the EC to take action against Union minister Manohar Parrikar, for allegedly inappropriate remarks while campaigning in Goa. This frontal attack by a chief minister on the Election Commission of India is remarkable — and not just because it happened on Twitter, which seems to be emerging as a political arena in its own right. It is striking that a politician occupying a high constitutional office should so unabashedly accuse a premier constitutional body of bad faith and worse, without substantiation.
Over the last few years, Kejriwal’s brand of politics has distinguished itself by its defiance of established conventions and its sheer, even disarming, audacity. Whatever the outcome of this election, the spread of the AAP to Punjab, and even to Goa, has underlined his growing political reach and visibility. When he casts aspersions on the EC in this manner, however, he crosses a line, or two: He flouts the sobriety and constraint imposed by his own office of chief minister in its dealings, at all times, with other officials and bodies in the system. And he shows disrespect to an institution that over the last few decades, has emerged as one of the most trusted in the country. But this episode does not just frame the dangers of a reckless politics that does not adequately acknowledge the importance of due process and procedure in defining the coexistence and confrontation of institutions in an intricate system of checks and balances. It also underlines the impression of a slide of the EC, and its perceived vulnerability as a target.
Ever since T.N. Seshan awakened a sleepy institution to its own powers in the early 1990s, the EC has grown in stature as a neutral and impartial minder of the poll process. It has cleaned up many of the visible distortions, and its model code of conduct, even though not underwritten by law, has acquired enormous moral weight and influence. Yet, institutional integrity is not something that can be acquired and left unattended, it must be — and it must be seen to be — constantly reiterated and upheld. The manner and style of Kejriwal’s attack on the EC does not speak well of him. But that he can do so, no questions asked, does not show the EC in very flattering light either.
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