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50 shades of Dhritarashtra in Election Commission

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One doesn’t have to ponder much to identify the fundamental difference between China and India. Almost everyone can immediately say it is democracy. But does democracy mean a lovely parliament building we have, elected leaders, elections or is it something more? Thankfully, the framers of India’s constitution adopted a parliamentary form of government to address India’s vast heterogeneity, and the party system has since been a vibrant feature of the parliamentary democracy in India. 

Political parties organize democracy, and elections constitute the signpost of democracy, which we cannot find in China. Unlike the Communist Party of China (CPC), which proclaims as the sole sovereign of the Chinese people, India’s elections symbolize the people’s sovereignty and provide legitimacy to the government’s authority. Political parties usually contest, differ, debate among themselves, offer evolved choices, and enable the electorate’s effective decision-making ability. A multi-party system would ideally usher a healthy competition among the political parties to get better and earn the legitimacy to rule the nation. Hence spirited political parties are essential for a healthy, modern, and vibrant democracy for a country like India.

The founding fathers and framers of the Indian constitution have envisioned the role of Election Commission (EC) to be independent in character and entrusted to it not only the function to spin the eternal wheel of Democracy but also to ensure the spiritedness and integrity of the political parties. That is why registration and regulation of political parties has been entrusted to the neutral EC institution by the constitution and the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Apart from mere superintendence, direction & control of elections, the EC has the solemn responsibility to protect the fundamentals of democracy, including ensuring the integrity of the political parties, which intrinsically safeguards democratic values, protect sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India.

The EC is mostly an accomplished institution and is seemingly the most trusted institution in India. But the pertinent question to ask is that is it living up to the full responsibilities entrusted to it by the constitution and the people of India? Looking at the functioning of the grand old Indian National Congress (INC) party and the Gandhis, one has to wonder if EC has any concern for political parties’ internal democracy or their integrity.

Although the executive and legislative branches have the primary role in improving the economy and enhancing the Indian people’s socio-economic conditions, the EC has a granted and indispensable role in ensuring leaders and political parties holding power and offices are nationalistic and have utmost integrity. Facilitating a multitude of nationalist political parties that compete against each other with better ideas, democratic values, and integrity is essential for a nation to progress more efficiently and productively, and it is the eternal debt all institutions, leaders, and bureaucracy owe to the India’s poor and the youth.

Perhaps in this context, the EC may be reminded that apart from the mandate of deepening the democracy, it also has to enable the vibrancy of participants’ political activity and ensure integrity. EC is undoubtedly an underdog that deserves and can take a more important place on par with the executive, the legislature, and the Judiciary. But over the years, the EC has primarily become an ad-hoc operational force that usually wakes up just before the election seasons rather than being an essential core pillar in the Indian democratic framework working at all times. 

The EC has mostly focused its energy and powers to administer timely elections, put limits on poll expenses, lay down guidelines and issue model code of conduct for political parties, publish criminal antecedents, assets liabilities, educational qualification of candidates to educate voters, conduct elections in free & fair manner during elections season. In this role as an empire, it has tried to control the use of money, muscle power, and the ruling party arbitrariness as tactical measures to conduct and administer elections. 

However, the EC is shy to take an active role in dispensing its core constitutional and democratic duties mainly because it overweighs its inherent need to maintain neutrality. But this cannot be an excuse to ignore its fundamental responsibility to ensure the integrity of key participants, i.e., political parties and candidates. An effort is made to remind EC of its fundamental role by filing the below RTI. It is to be seen if EC can live up to its solemn responsibilities to meet the expectations of the young and ambitious generation, or will it play Dhritarashtra turning a blind eye to corrupt candidates, to stifling internal democracy within political parties, and tolerate parties getting drifted away from democratic values and the fundamental integrity.

RTI Asked Questions:

As per section 29A clause (5) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951, which governs the registration of political parties, the Election Commission must ensure registration of all political parties to be accompanied by a copy of the memorandum or rules and regulations of the political party, and such memorandum or rules and regulations shall contain a specific provision that the political party shall bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy, and would uphold the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India.

As per section 29A clause (6) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951, the Election Commission may call for such other particulars as it may deem fit from any political party registered with the commission.

Now the following information is requested as per section 2(f) of The Right To Information Act, 2005:

  1. Does the Election Commission of India, which is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering election processes in India, also have the solemn duty to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established and to the principles of democracy, and uphold the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India.
  2. It is true that the Indian National Congress (INC), a political party registered with the Election Commission has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in the year 2008 with the Communist Party of China (CPC) for exchanging high-level information and co-operation. This fact is in the public domain, which is well discussed and debated and has not been rejected or denied by the INC party. Is the Election Commission aware of this truth.
  3. It is true that Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said on the issue of INC entering into an MoU with CPC is very serious and unheard-of about a political party entering into an agreement with a foreign country. Is the Election Commission aware of this fact.
  4. It is a fact that the INC is alleged to have unlawfully entered into an MoU with CPC that may have some aspects of high-level information exchange or co-operation as part of the MoU that can be detrimental to the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India. Is the Election Commission aware of this fact.
  5. As per section 29A clause (6) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951, does the Election Commission has the power to call for such other particulars as it may deem fit from any political party registered with the commission.
  6. Can the Election Commission, in the exercise of its powers and performance of its solemn duty to uphold the constitution, sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India, call on the INC to produce before it a copy of the MoU that INC has entered with the CPC.
  7. Will the Election Commission exercise its powers and in performance of its solemn duty to uphold the constitution, sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India, call on the INC to produce before it a copy of the MoU that INC has entered with the CPC.
  8. When will the Election Commission exercise its powers and in performance of its solemn constitutional duty to uphold and protect sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India, call on the INC to produce before it a copy of the MoU that INC has entered with the CPC.
  9. Why the Election Commission should not make public on its website the MoU (as already being done with the constitution, articles, memorandum, or rules and regulations of the political parties) in the best interest of the nation to strengthen the democratic & electoral integrity of India in performance of its constitutional duty to protect sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India.

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