Weathervane of democracy – By Rashmi Sharma
For the first time since the general election of 1996, the reputation of the Election Commission of India (ECI) has taken a beating. Subsequent to the 1996 election, which marked a turning point in the reduction of electoral malpractices, surveys showed that trust in the ECI was the highest among the major public institutions in India. However, there are now perceptions that the ECI has responded inadequately, or not at all, to violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), which is in effect from March 10 to May 23.
Some examples in this election include the Prime Minister’s announcement on national television of India’s first anti-satellite weapon test, the Rajasthan Governor making statements in favour of the ruling party, leaders of the ruling party invoking the Indian Army in their election campaign, and, in a spate of dubious media initiatives, a continuous line of statements along communal lines.
The MCC, like the ECI itself, is a unique Indian innovation and encapsulates an important story about democracy in India – the conduct of free and fair elections. … They now encompass its processes such as the use of electronic voting machines, which had become acceptable when the ECI was stronger. A vicious cycle has been set in motion. The MCC is, in many ways, the weathervane of our democracy.… During the early to mid-1990s, the ECI enforced the MCC on reluctant political actors, and MCC began to feared, if not voluntarily followed. Today, the ECI’s own commitment to the MCC seems to have weakened, a bad omen for our democracy.
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