Election Commission is the unsung hero of Indian democracy

The Indian Election Commission (EC) is one of the institutions which has maintained its autonomy, integrity and independence even though various political parties have from time to time tried to politicise it. It has been the unsung hero of establishing a solid tradition of the Indian style of  “democracy” and of orderly transitions between governments. There was a period during the 1980’s when the respect commanded by the EC among politicians and political parties diminished and election violence increased. But the advent of TN Seshan in 1991 as the Election Commissioner and his tough actions brought the political parties back into line and restored much of the EC’s position.

As the Chief Election Commissioner of Election Commission of India he introduced major electoral reforms and redefined the status and visibility of the Election Commission of India. He was largely successful in curbing electoral malpractices in India and his name became synonymous with transparency and efficiency.

Seshan was not popular with politicians but received enthusiastic support from the public. Governments tried to dilute the Chief Election Commissioner’s powers by appointing additional Commissioners but in 1993 the Supreme Court confirmed the CEC’s supremacy and reaffirmed his constitutional position. Constitutional amendments to alter his position require a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The Congress Party when in government made some half-hearted attempts to introduce constitutional amendments to curb his powers but gave up these attempts because of public opposition and lack of support in parliament.

The EC has just announced the dates of polling and counting for the next general election. The Election Commission on Wednesday announced the schedule for Lok Sabha polls 2014. Polling will be held in nine phases, starting on April 7th and the counting of votes will be held on May 16th. These general elections will see 814 million voters eligible to vote, about 100 million more than at the last general election. The term of the current Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) expires on June 1st and the new House has to be constituted by May 31st. This will be a fascinating election with a number of new forces in play – but more of that later.

The EC – rather than governments or political parties – has become the de facto guardian of free and fair elections in India and must be credited with much of the “success” of the establishment of a sort of “democracy” in India. The robustness of this “democracy” can be judged by the strength of the institution of the Election Commission and the independence of the Chief Election Commissioner.

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