Friday, May 15, 2009

Thank you, Election Commission

The Indian Express

Posted: Saturday , May 16, 2009 at 2158 hrs IST

As votes are counted today, and the election to the 15th Lok Sabha draws to a close, we are reminded of one thing: that the Election Commission of India is not an institution that habitually invites reprimand for the way it does things. Testimony to that is this concluding, and apparently successfully-conducted, election. The EC’s business is ensuring the free and peaceful exercise of suffrage. At the end of the fifth and final phase of the polls, the people of India would have thanked the EC for letting them do just that. And those that cry murder should also be grateful for being allowed, and made, to contest in the world’s largest democratic election in the only manner feasible. Some of them will be a lot less happy than others after May 16, but, by then, the EC would have left the most visible national space to them once more.

The EC overshadows every branch of government, and almost every other institution, during a general election on the Indian scale. But the EC’s success is measured in how it rises to the occasion every time, and how seamlessly it manages to withdraw immediately after the job’s done. At this very moment, the EC should deservedly take pride in a job well done, in a non-partisan manner. Perhaps, the more than usual sense of relief this time round comes from two factors: first, the ominous beginnings on April 16, when Naxalites killed about 16 people — including polling officials — across three states; and second, the often simultaneous controversies that the EC found itself in the midst of. Just as the N. Gopalaswami-Navin Chawla stand-off embarrassed it weeks ahead of the polls, the commission needlessly invited scorn by its unwarranted advice vis-à-vis Varun Gandhi. In fact, for a body without punitive powers, but with a mammoth task at hand, the EC spent too much time pouring over the trivial, chasing, almost literally, campaign helicopters, photographs on walls and websites, and bureaucrats sporting “suggestively coloured” shirts.

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