Dhaka, Bangladesh
For a free referee: Election Commission’s powers

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For a free referee: Election Commission’s powers

It took more than a rap on the knuckles by the Supreme Court before the Election Commission of India stirred from slumber amid repeated violations of the law and transgressions of the Model Code of Conduct in the ongoing election campaign. In fact, the EC had appeared to be willing itself into inaction amid a flurry of abusive and divisive speeches by pleading powerlessness to act. On Monday, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the EC for its lack of initiative in enforcing the law. The EC cracked the whip soon after the court’s censure and barred four leaders accused of intemperate speeches from campaigning for varying durations of time. By suggesting a clinical parity between BSP chief Mayawati’s call for Muslims to not divide their votes, and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s speech in which he characterised the election as a contest between ‘Ali’ and ‘Bajrang Bali’, in a reference to Muslims and Hindus, the EC perhaps wanted to demonstrate impartiality. However, it needs to do much more to be seen as a fair referee. The incumbent members of the EC may end up expending the accumulated trust in the institution if they do not consistently and unfailingly demonstrate efficiency and neutrality in enforcing the law and the MC C. For now, the EC has managed to redeem that hope to some measure, but not entirely. Article 324 of the Constitution gives the commission the powers of “superintendence, direction and control” of elections. Through the Representation of the People Act, other rules and orders, by the apex court and the EC, the system governing the Indian electoral process has evolved, and continues to do so. The EC has powers to deal with newer challenges that crop up, such as the easy dissemination of misinformation with the help of technological tools in recent years. While responding to new situations by changing the legal architecture is essential, the EC needs to build upon a fundamental premise of the rule of law, which is, ‘be you ever so high, the law is always above you.’ --The Hindi

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