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'MCC Muzzling Opposition; Can't Act Just Against Smaller Politicians': 2 English Editorials Slam EC

'The EC has been found grossly wanting...and has given the impression that it did not want to take action in cases that involve highly-placed persons.'
Screengrabs of the headlines on The Hindu and Deccan Chronicle. To the top right is a detail from an illustration of a person casting their vote, by Pariplab Chakraborty.

New Delhi: Two editorials on English newspapers today have taken on the Election Commission which in its partisan conduct this election has garnered significant criticism.

The Hindu has noted that its letters on May 22 to Bharatiya Janata Party – and Congress – against the use of divisive issues in speeches is late but does little to convince people of the poll body’s impartiality.

The Deccan Herald, on the other hand, has taken a more direct approach, noting that the failures of the poll body are apparent for all to see now.

‘Too important to be left to its own devices’

The Hindu’s editorial notes that the EC’s letter to Congress and BJP is “a case of better late than never” while at once observing how the poll body has “disappointed the Indian electorate by its inability to be effective, impartial and prompt in its role as the watchdog of elections.”

The editorial highlights how the appointment of the ECI’s members – a decision by the executive – is responsible for it.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

The editorial says that the EC’s actions against YSRCP chief, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, BRS chief K. Chandrashekar Rao, Telangana minister Konda Surekha, BJP leaders Shobha Karandlaje and Dilip Ghosh, and Congress leaders Supriya Shrinate and Randeep Surjewala “might give an appearance of impartiality but that is not enough.”

Complaints against UP chief minister Adityanath and Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma are pending, it adds.

The editorial unsparingly notes how the EC is “assuming a false parity between legitimate debates on policies that impact various social groups differently and an incitement of xenophobia for social polarisation.”

It warns against the use of the MCC to silence opposition.

The MCC cannot be a ruse to muffle political debates and disagreements which are, and should be, at the heart of campaigning. Misuse of power and creation of disharmony fall in a different basket. The integrity and the credibility of the ECI is central to the legitimacy of elections. Reinforcing its independence should be a priority for all stakeholders in Indian democracy, particularly political parties and the judiciary. The ECI is too important to be left to itself.

‘Acted only in the case of some lesser persons, and late’

The Deccan Herald noted that the courts are now forced to do the work expected of the EC and “sit in judgement on the compliance of parties and candidates with the model code of conduct to be observed during elections.”

The paper said that the Calcutta high court’s orders restraining the BJP from publishing “slanderous and derogatory” advertisements  and criticism of the EC for not addressing the complaints promptly was example of this.

The editorial said:

It is ironic that the EC objected to the court looking into the complaint after it had failed to do so itself…The court rightly asked whether the EC would take action only after the election was over.

The Kolkata case is not an isolated one, the editorial notes, adding that there have been many other cases of failure on the part of the EC to act in time on complaints about violations of the model code.

When it has acted, it has acted in the case of smaller politicians and the action was late and not immediate, it says.

The EC has been found grossly wanting in this respect and has given the impression that it did not want to take action in cases that involve highly-placed persons.

The ongoing campaign has seen resort to hate speech and communal statements on a much larger scale than in all past elections, the editorial points out, adding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has particularly “often resorted to hate speech against Muslims, misrepresentation, and statements and allegations without basis.” It adds:

He finds a communal angle to beat the Opposition with almost every day and even tried to create a North-South issue by saying that parties from the South have used abusive language for the people of UP.

The Election Commission is undermining its own authority and losing the trust of the people when it fails to take timely action on complaints, the editorial finds.

The general guidelines it gave to parties on Wednesday do not change this perception, it adds, scathingly.

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