Big question mark over ECI’s fairness in last few years: Prashant Bhushan

Nagpur: Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan on Sunday said the fairness of the Election Commission of India (ECI) has come under cloud in the last few years.

He accused the ECI of keeping mum when big leaders from the ruling party violate the poll code, while acting swiftly against the opposition parties in such cases, and also claimed that the schedule of elections is made keeping in mind the convenience of the government.

Bhushan alleged that the independence of the judiciary is under threat and those speaking against the government face sedition and other serious charges, and they are not able to get bail for years.

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He was speaking on the topic ‘Challenges before Democracy ‘ during a programme organised here by ‘Deshonnati’, a Marathi daily.

“After T N Seshan became the chief election commissioner, for many years we could see that the Election Commission was very fair and impartial. But in the last six to seven years, a big question mark has arisen on its fairness,” he said.

The Election Commission takes action if the Model code of conduct is violated by the opposition parties. But it keeps quiet when big leaders from the ruling party violate it. We have been witnessing this for a very long time, he alleged.

The election dates are prepared as per the convenience of the government, he said.

“Earlier, even the government did not know what dates will be decided by the EC for elections. But now, it is being witnessed that representatives of the ruling party even before the formal announcement tell what the polling dates are and the same dates are later announced by the EC,” he said.

“The reason for the EC not being fair anymore…the problem for this has always been the selection in the poll watchdog is done by the government and there is no independent selection committee. And now, what the government is doing is that it is selecting people mostly from Gujarat and they are those who will do what the government will ask them to do. This also is an issue before democracy,” he said.

Bhushan also alleged that there was a lack of independence in all regulatory institutions, and termed it as one of the biggest problems.

He said the judiciary was formed to protect the fundamental rights of people and to keep the legislature and the executive within limits.

“But now we are seeing that this is not happening. Those speaking against the government are facing sedition and and sometimes false cases under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. They are not able to get bail for years and this is being done blatantly. Our judiciary is not able to act against it. Hence, the independence of the judiciary is also under threat,” he said.

“Media is also being controlled by the government. The police agencies are also being used for political use. The selection of some agencies like the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Income Tax department is completely in the hands of the government, which has put democracy in real danger,” he alleged.

On the electronic voting machines (EVMs), he said that although there was no significant manipulation in EVMs at present, in the coming times it cannot be ruled out.

“There is a possibility of manipulation and I feel EVMs are very dangerous. Paper ballots should return and they have returned in most of the countries,” he said.

In order to tackle these challenges, a number of reforms can be brought by introducing Initiatives and Referendum law, Pre-legislative Transparency and Consultation law, he said, adding that parliamentary committees should be revived.

Since the opposition has become weak now, these reforms cannot be done by it alone and hence people need to raise their voice now. They can raise voice for unfair practices like it was done for the Lokpal Bill.

People can launch big agitations on issues like unemployment and privatisation of public sector units, which will also strengthen the opposition, he said.

Replying to a query by PTI on the sidelines of the programme about why the Supreme Court was not taking up issue of electoral bonds on priority basis, Bhushan said the government was not interested in the issue and probably they were stalling it. “However, with the new Chief Justice of India at the helm, the matter will be heard,” he said.

Bhushan has filed a PIL challenging laws permitting funding of political parties through the electoral bond scheme.

When asked whether the opposition parties would be able to put up a united fight against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the next elections, he said he was not sure whether united opposition would be a good idea or not.

“But, in any case, civil society needs to play a major role to any major political change is to be brought in the country,” he said.

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