Opinion
Dangerous for democracy
Mar 21, 2013 12:10 AM | 16 comments

The ‘counter-affidavit’ submitted by the Union government to the Supreme Court in the Ashok Chavan case is a scandal. Simply put, it argues that the Election Commission of India has no power to disqualify a candidate on the basis of his or her poll expenditure accounts, even if those have been falsified. It holds that the ECI’s power to disqualify a candidate “arises only in the event of failure to lodge an account of expenses and not for any other reason…” The government is, in the process, calling for a radical and dangerous change in the way polls are conducted in India. If there is one issue on which there is a consensus in the country, it is on the damage inflicted on free and fair elections by the unbridled rise of money power. Now the government argues that the “correctness or otherwise” of the accounts is no concern of the body that conducts and regulates elections. The United Progressive Alliance government is behaving with the ECI the way it has with the Comptroller & Auditor General. It is trying to bat its way out of ugly scams and scandals by seeking to curb the independence of these constitutional bodies. This is dangerous for accountability and for democracy, given the signal role assigned to the Election Commission in our political system.

The fact that this affidavit has been filed in the Ashok Chavan case — notoriously known as the ‘paid news’ case — makes things worse. Mr. Chavan was facing a rough time in the Election Commission’s inquiry into his poll expenses in the 2009 election campaign — especially the money he allegedly spent for ‘paid news’ in his favour in several newspapers. He has challenged the jurisdiction of the ECI on this matter in the Supreme Court. Though the Supreme Court is still seized of the matter and has made no ruling in the matter yet, the Centre’s affidavit raises troubling questions about the government’s motives. Why is it challenging the jurisdiction of the Election Commission over elections? Why is it taking such a blatantly unscrupulous stand, and to help whom? Yet, the damage this would do goes far beyond even the pernicious realm of paid news. If the government has its way, it would mean there is no institution or body that is empowered to regulate poll expenditures in the country. It would also mean the serious erosion of the powers of constitutional bodies like the ECI and the CAG that have performed their duties with diligence and integrity. Over a decade ago, a full bench of the Supreme Court held that the Election Commission had the power to disqualify a candidate whose accounts were not filed in a true and correct manner. That is the way to go. The government should withdraw its ill-advised affidavit at once and not stand in the way of the ECI doing what it is constitutionally mandated to do.

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  • India is fortunate that it had greatest politicians at the time of independence like BR Ambedkar, Lal Bahadur Shastri, JL Nehru and others. At the time of formation of constitution they were aware of the loopholes in the systems and they made provisions for independent institutions like Election Commission, CAG, UPSC etc. If we had leader like what they are today then these prestigious institutions would not have came into existence. They would have been used for their benefit as the ruling government uses CBI for their gain. It is the height of shame that government is trying to seize away the power of ECI and making our democracy weak. Our only hope is now SC which will maintain the dignity of Democracy.
    From: Akshay Dhadda
    Posted: Mar 21, 2013 at 16:00 IST
  • Indeed, the counter-affidavit filed by the Union government in the Supreme Court is aimed at curbing the power of the Election Commission. Incidentally if a candidate submits false declaration oh his wealth (assets) he/she cannot be disqualified if the argument and reasoning of the counter-affidavit is accepted as valid. This scenario is really a scary scenario, and just underlines the need for urgent reforms to make our election process transparent and our election more democratic. As pointed out in the editorial, we urgently need electoral reforms to curb excessive power of money and also of religions and castes. If necessary we need to amend our constitution to introduce a system of proportional representation so that political parties, rather than candidates will be important. Parties with democratic credentials can then solicit votes on the basis of pro-people programmes. It is time our political parties seriously consider implementation of these reforms,
    From: Narendra M Apte
    Posted: Mar 21, 2013 at 15:05 IST
  • It seems that the corrupt Congress-led government at the Centre has sensed that it does not stand any chances of winning the next general elections, and hence it is trying to impose these curbs on democratic institutions assuming that doing so may help increase its chances through the availability of more scope to indulge in dishonest practices during elections.
    From: Murtuza
    Posted: Mar 21, 2013 at 14:54 IST
  • The issue of paid news has come to forefront in subsequent state and central election. The constitutional power endowed to Election Commission is limited and the court case involving Ashok Chavan has exposed the loop holes in the stringent implementation of the model code of conduct during the election process. The election commission should be empowered with more regulatory powers so that persons with criminal background and history of using unfair means during election can be better dealt with. Unless and until a candidate fears of cancellation of his candidature, he won't refrain from using his muscle and money power in election to get a upper hand. Indian democracy stands on the strong base of free and fair election which must be protected and preserved rather than diluting their stand in the Supreme Court through reminder of its power and limitation by the central government.
    From: Shashikant Nishant Sharma
    Posted: Mar 21, 2013 at 14:54 IST
  • I agree completely with the editorial. The government should actually support a constitutional authority and not a politician involved in "paid news". This has further tarnished the image of government which is already saving its face on several fronts. Supreme Court should penalise the government if it can for undermining the mandate of constitutional authority .
    From: Bhushan
    Posted: Mar 21, 2013 at 14:46 IST
  • Government is making making fun of everything. They don't have any concern for nation, countrymen, constitution, nation's pride. Rather they are busy in filling their own bags. And it has become so shameless now, that they accept corruption with proud.
    From: Rupesh
    Posted: Mar 21, 2013 at 14:35 IST
  • Its a shame on Democracy the way Government is trying to tie the hands of constitutional bodies like ECI and CAG which have always worked with integrity ti keep the Democractic values intact and let live the hopes of public on democratic system of the nation. If the government's affidavit is accepted by court, it would not only mean loss of ECI but it would be loss of democratic spirit of the biggest democracy of the world.
    From: Srujan
    Posted: Mar 21, 2013 at 14:28 IST
  • This is a very disturbing trend but we the "common people" may find out the solutions for this anarchic state of affairs by their protests here in our comments, on the street demonstrations or in joint statements by prominent think tanks, etc.
    From: chandrasekaran
    Posted: Mar 21, 2013 at 11:53 IST
  • This is dangerous for the democracy. Sadly in India, money and muscle power are the dominating factors in one's victory. There are MPs and MLAs who get elected because of their wealth. Such things are already happening and this move by government is justifying that. Supreme court should rebuff this application of government. The duties of CAG and Election commission is not defined by the government, it is defined by the Constitution.
    From: Rahul
    Posted: Mar 21, 2013 at 11:33 IST
  • The organisation like ECI & CAG should be free from govermental structure and should be accountable for other ogranisation like supreme court.
    From: Sudeep Srivastava
    Posted: Mar 21, 2013 at 9:22 IST