The Congress on Saturday said the Election Commission might have been captured by the Narendra Modi government and the watchdog’s institutional integrity was “in jeopardy”, voicing its fears at a time fair and transparent counting of votes is the overriding concern among Opposition leaders.
The party, which has constantly accused the commission of bias and abdication of constitutional responsibility in ensuring a level-playing field in this election, reacted with alacrity after differences among the election commissioners erupted into the open.
What has shocked Opposition leaders is chief election commissioner Sunil Arora’s public attempt to keep the differences under wraps instead of proposing remedial measures.
“(Election commissioner Ashok) Lavasa’s letter — contents of which have appeared in the media — is extremely serious,” senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel tweeted.
“The sanctity of the electoral process and the institutional integrity of the Election Commission of India is in jeopardy. There must be a thorough credible enquiry into the issues raised by Lavasa & restoration of the commission’s independent status as the watchdog of (the) world’s largest democracy.”
Lavasa, one of the three election commissioners, had written to Arora on May 4, saying: “I am being forced to stay away from the meetings of the full commission since minority decisions are not being recorded.”
Lavasa had expressed his dissent on the clean chits given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah in cases that — according to Opposition complaints — involved brazen violations of the model code of conduct for the elections. But the order passed by the commission had not recorded the dissent.
“I might consider taking recourse to other measures aimed at restoring the lawful functioning of the commission in terms of recording minority decisions. Deliberations of the commission become meaningless since my minority decisions go unrecorded,” the May 4 letter added.
Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala said in a statement: “This speaks volumes about the political pressure being exerted by the Modi government on the Election Commission.”
Party veteran P. Chidambaram said in a series of tweets: “EC Ashok Lavasa complained that his dissent was not being recorded and hence decided to stay away from meetings of the commission. The CEC has replied that silence is eloquent. I am still trying to find the connection between the complaint and the answer!”
A statement from Arora on the differences coming out into the open said the episode was “unsavoury” and “avoidable”.
Chidambaram added: “The CEC tells the people that some matters are best kept ‘internal’. Is he saying that the people — the voters — should not know or be concerned about the manner in which the commission is conducting its business? There is no need for any more proof that another independent institution has been captured by the Modi sarkar.”
Congress president Rahul Gandhi had on Friday openly said the commission’s role in this general election was “biased”.
Surjewala echoed that sentiment on Saturday. “The commission has become ‘Election Omission’. Lavasa dissented on multiple occasions when the Election Commission was busy giving clean chits to (the) Modi-Shah duo, opts out of EC meetings, as the ECI even refused to record his dissent notes. This is daylight murder of constitutional norms, set conventions and propriety,” he said.
“The poll panel’s rules express preference for a unanimous view, but provide for a majority ruling in the absence of unanimity. Being a constitutional body, the minority view has to be recorded, but this is being trampled (upon) to protect (the) Modi-Shah duo. All election commissioners have equal say in the decision making of the commission. Omitting the dissent of (an) election commissioner simply because he had asked for a notice to be issued to the Prime Minister has severely tarnished the institutional integrity of the commission.”
Surjewala recalled that the Congress had filed at least 11 complaints to the poll watchdog against Modi and Shah and alleged that the Prime Minister himself had led the assault on democratic institutions in the past five years.
“For the first time in 70 years, four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court had to go to the public to seek justice,” he said, referring to the unparalleled January 2018 media conference where the judges, the four senior-most after the then Chief Justice of India, had spoken out about their concerns over the judiciary.
“Four economic advisers stepped down and two RBI governors were unceremoniously removed for standing up to the economic misdemeanours of the Prime Minister.”
Surjewala also spoke on the government’s “sinister attempt to hide the NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) data on jobs” and said it had been “exposed by the resignation of the independent members of the autonomous National Statistical Commission (NSC)”.
“Modi demolished the integrity of the CBI in a midnight coup to save himself from any scrutiny in the Rafale scam,” he added, referring to the transfer of then agency director Alok Verma.
“He used the CVC as the ‘Colossal Veil to Cover Corruption’, to publish a fallacious report, based on which an incumbent CBI director was illegally removed. The nation has to count only five more days to overthrow the five years of mal-governance.”