Election Commission’s reputation in shambles

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The current West Bengal polls have not been a pleasant version of what we like to call the ‘festival of democracy’. The entire campaign and polling process have been blemished by violence and infraction of both the ethical and the model code of conduct by the main political players. The Election Commission’s purpose for drawing up such a long-winded schedule—even Kolkata has four phases—was only to prevent any form of violence and ensure free and fair polls. But no election in recent times has seemed so turbulent and uncontrollable—from the chief minister suffering a serious injury, her constituency seeing the worst kind of polling day skirmish, to sporadic violence elsewhere. The pre-poll transfer of top civil and police personnel seems to have only contributed to the impasse. But nothing quite prepared us for the death of four villagers—citizenvoters—in CISF firing, apparently in self-defence, at Sitalkuchi. The primary job of central security
agencies is to protect voters regardless of community, caste or gender. The Constitution confers the right of universal adult franchise without any ‘political’ distinctions among voters. If the CM’s ‘irresponsible statements’ urging women voters to gherao central forces could have provoked this confrontation, why did the EC not take confidence-building measures? Some of the EC’s legendary former officials have averted serious situations in conflict zones like Kashmir just by reaching out to voters. These are part of EC folklore, the very thing that gave the institution the international reputation it now enjoys. That past credibility is in tarnish now. The CM’s imprudent language cannot be condoned, but coming in now with a censure and a 24-hour ban seems like a belated attempt to gain control. The EC should have acted against both BJP and TMC for their blatant communal appeals. People’s faith can only be restored if it is seen to be an impartial protector of the Indian voter.

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