What if TN Seshan were leading the EC today? - Hindustan Times
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What if TN Seshan were leading the EC today?

May 18, 2024 11:35 PM IST

Imagine what Seshan would have done. He would have called out the PM, loudly, bluntly and unhesitatingly.

“I’m strict and I may be stern but I’m always fair and transparent. You get what you see. There are no sides to me.” This was how TN Seshan, arguably the Chief Election Commissioner who made the Election Commission of India an admired institution, used to describe himself. Then he would add “Whilst I sit on this chair I have a job to do and I’ll do it to the best of my ability. Wild horses can’t stop me”. No wonder he was fondly called “Bulldog Seshan”. It was a moniker he revelled in.

Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan in a picture dated 01 March 1991. (HT Photo) PREMIUM
Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan in a picture dated 01 March 1991. (HT Photo)

Alas, the Commission of today behaves like a very different animal. It’s more a pet dog than a guard dog, if you want to extend the analogy. It seems to have forgotten the need for fairness and transparency. It is no longer determined to do its job even in the teeth of fierce resistance. Instead, it seeks the easy way out.

A month has lapsed since Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s Banswara speech — in fact, in 13 days from now voting will have concluded — but the Commission has barely acted in response to accusations the PM blatantly breached the model code of conduct as well as the Representation of People Act. Consider what it’s done.

Unlike the case of K Chandrashekar Rao, A Raja, Supriya Shrinate and Randeep Surjewala, it decided not to issue a notice directly to Modi. Instead, it wrote to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president JP Nadda on the flimsy grounds that Modi is the party’s star campaigner. The notice did not mention the PM by name or designation. Only the annexed documents did that. When the party failed to respond on the specified date, it readily agreed to a week’s extension. Thereafter, it agreed to one week more. Even after receiving a response, the Commission is in no hurry to take a decision. This deliberate prevarication suggests it is playing for time.

Meanwhile, what has the PM done? On virtually a daily basis, he’s continued to demonise Muslims in Hindu eyes with repeated allegations that reservations intended for OBCs, STs and SCs will be snatched and given to them. Even mangalsutras and streedhan — and if you have two buffaloes, one of them — will be grabbed and given to Muslims.

Is this not compounding his original breach by careful and deliberate repetition? Is it not disregard for and defiance of the Commission’s authority?

All the Commission seems to be able to do is sit back, listen and twiddle its thumbs. Why has it not taken tougher action? Why has it not moved to act suo motu? Why has it not called out the PM or, at least, the BJP for this continued, actually ceaseless, defiance? Article 324 of the Constitution gives it all the powers it requires.

What it lacks is the willingness to exercise them. That means it lacks the commitment to a fair election. It lacks the moral imperative to act fairly, equally and transparently.

Imagine what Seshan would have done. He would have called out the PM, loudly, bluntly and unhesitatingly. He would have barred him from campaigning for two or three days. And then he’d have held press conferences and given interviews to explain and justify his action. In return, the country would have applauded and breaches of the model code would have immediately ceased.

No wonder Ramachandra Guha, one of our highly-regarded historians and an astute public commentator, says the present three commissioners have brought “dishonour and disgrace” to the institution. He adds when the history of the Commission is written, they’ll be remembered as amongst the worst. He’s right.

But the sad truth goes deeper. In the first instance, the injury is to our democracy. We’re proud of being the world’s biggest but the Election Commission is hollowing out that boast. And don’t think the world won’t notice. Their correspondents are on top of the story.

Ultimately, of course, it’s us, “we the people”, who’ll pay the price. By failing to act, the Commission has let all of us down.

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story. The views expressed are personal

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