An Election Commission of puppetstext_fields
While hearing the arguments in the petitions demanding that the Central government be directed to form an independent committee to recommend names for appointing the Chief Election Commissioner and the members of the Commission, the head of the five-member constitution bench, Justice KM Joseph made some scathing criticism which should be an eye opener for the nation. The action of appointing Arun Goyal as the Election Commissioner in haste before the apex court gave its decision on these petitions angered the Supreme Court. Goyal, a 1985 batch Punjab cadre IAS officer, was supposed to retire on the 31st of next month. However, he voluntarily retired on the 18th of this month and was appointed as the Election Commissioner within just three days.
Prashant Bhushan brought to the attention of the Constitution Bench that those normally retired are appointed as commissioners, but Goyal, who voluntarily retired from the post of secretary on Friday, was appointed as Election Commissioner on Saturday, paving the way for him to start work on Monday. The government was appointing a person in a single day. Prashant Bhushan pointed out that no one knows what procedure was followed in this regard or what precautions were taken. It was after this the court asked the government to produce all the files related to the appointment of Arun Goyal. When Attorney General R. Venkataramani presented the government's stance, Justice Joseph reminded that the Chief Election Commissioner should be a determined person to take action even against the Prime Minister if necessary. "Do you think the Election Commissioner... if he's asked to take on none less than the Prime Minister — it's just an example — and he doesn't come around to doing it: Will it not be a case of complete breakdown of the system?" a question by Justice Joseph hit on the bull's eye. The court was emphasizing that elections should be a free and unbiased system. The Constitution Bench also observed that whichever party was in power, its yes-man would be appointed as the poll panel chief.
There is no doubt that past events confirm the observation of the Supreme Court. TN Seshan, a Keralite who was the head of the Election Commission for six years from 1990, was the only one who gave life to the Commission - which had been the government's tool - and implemented reforms. At that time, all political parties had to follow strict election rules. It was during the time when Narendra Modi started ruling the country that the Election Commission invited serious criticism. Complaints were raised against the Commission that restrictions imposed on the opposition parties in the name of Covid-19 were not implemented when Prime Minister Modi campaigned for the November 2021 state elections. In the 2019 general election itself, a valid complaint was raised against the Election Commission that it took action on many in the opposition while not taking any action against the ruling party leaders and candidates for violating the model code of conduct.
The shocking action of taking away not only the special status of Jammu and Kashmir but the statehood itself by an order from the President's office and dividing Kashmir into three and the imposing central rule continues uninterrupted. However, the Modi-Amit Shah team appointed the Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Committee in the belief that the situation cannot be continued forever without at least returning to statehood. And what the Central Election Commission did was to accept the one-sided report submitted by the Delimitation Committee as such. Accordingly, just one constituency has been increased in the more populous Kashmir Valley and six constituencies in the less populous Hindu-majority Jammu. The number of reserved seats in Kashmir has also increased. The complaints of Kashmiris are that the boundaries of the constituencies have also been redrawn arbitrarily. It is clear that the aim is to ensure a BJP rule if an election is ever declared.
An election commission of puppets acting like this is subverting the democratic system itself. Therefore, to make an independent, impartial and a commission with spine a reality, as the Supreme Court Constitution Bench has opined, making the Supreme Court Chief Justice a member of the appointment committee or taking other more effective measures is indispensable for a healthy democratic order.