Elections are considered the bedrock of a democracy. The fairness of elections is sine qua non to maintain the quality of the democracy in a country. Maintaining the fairness and freedom of elections is the first-hand duty of the Election Commission. And here comes the role of the EC in a democracy which is, in fact, very important. India is one of the few countries to have independent election commissions.
Articles 324 to 329 of the Indian Constitution provide for the establishment of the Election Commission of India and give it the power to conduct, supervise, administer and control elections. Further, 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments also make similar provisions for state election commissions. The roles assigned to both of them are somewhat similar, though there are specific areas of functioning. These various roles are registration of political parties, assigning them symbols, conduction of periodic elections, checking for malpractices in any election, resolving electoral disputes, disqualifying candidates according to various laws etc. Besides, enforcing the Moral Code of Conduct and taking appropriate action in case of violation are two of the most important functions of the EC, for which, the credit goes to TN Sheshan, who is considered the cleaner of electoral politics in India.
Hence, the EC is the guardian of free and fair elections. Additionally, it upholds the values enshrined in the Constitution, i.e. equality, equity, impartiality, independence and rule of law. It takes into cognisance electoral malpractices during elections and takes appropriate action. For example, during the recent Assembly elections in West Bengal, action was taken against many candidates who were allegedly involved in electoral malpractice.
In spite of having such powers, the credibility of the EC has been in question as various issues have surfaced over the last few years. Indirect control of the government and its executives over the EC has seemingly increased. The executives at helm of all affairs of the EC seemed to be taking biased action or in fact, not taking appropriate action at all.
Due to this, the transparency of institutional working has been compromised. Also, the EC has been unable to deal with challenges such as criminalisation of electoral politics (as has been witnessed in the recent Assembly elections in many states) and inappropriate funding of elections through unjust means. Further, the EC is inadequately equipped to regulate political parties and enforce inner party democracy.
Therefore, these challenges are vigilant and watchful, and require an appropriate response. In order to do so, more legal backing is required for the EC to function well. Reports of the Tarkunde Committee (1975) and Goswami Committee (1990) must be taken into consideration to provide legal measures, as should the second ARC recommended for the establishment of a collegium of several members including leader of the opposition party and members of judiciary to appoint election commissioners.
The honourable Supreme court has also asserted that no bureaucrat serving or has served in the government should be given charge of state election commissions. The EC must be given the power to deregister political parties, something it has been demanding for a long time to have effective control over. Also, the use of technology should be enhanced for transparency. Though, with the use of EVMs, VVPATs and NOTA, the EC has gained much confidence of the people, it is not sufficient as there have been allegations of hacking these machines.
Thus, the role of the EC in a democracy is one which ought not to be compromised. This becomes even more essential in a country such as ours where we claim of having the largest democracy. The reforms are the need of the day to not just substantiate our claim, but also to make the EC more powerful and independent. This is an imperative to have more healthy, clean and representative democracy.