The election fever is catching up in five states which are heading to assembly polls. The Election Commission is keeping a close tab on the activities in the poll-bound states to curb any bid to manipulate voters for electoral gains, but some of its decisions are startling. The most surprising step was to cover the statutes of Mayawati and elephants, symbol of the BSP, in Uttar Pradesh. However, there has been a quick implementation of the order of the EC, the action was dubbed as unwarranted. When the statues of Mayawati and elephants were being set up in the parks of Noida and Lucknow, the public perception was that these parks would be a tool for BSP’s advertisement. Last years, these parks were inaugurated and people had started visiting there. Nobody made an issue of the statues of Mayawati and elephants after the election schedules were announced, when the Election Commission passed order to cover them saying that the statues were constructed at the government’s land and expenses, everyone paid his heed to this matter. As the covering of statues of Mayawati and elephants with polythene attracted more attention and became a talk of the day, hence the move of the Election Commission has been proved useless.

People attached political significance to the parks and memorials established by Mayawati. When these parks and memorials were being constructed, some Opposition parties said if they come to power all parks and memorials would be removed. Thereafter, Mayawati played political game by symbolizing the parks and memorials as esteem of Dalits. For Dalit community, these places have really become a symbol of their esteem and today no party can afford to talk of their removal. It is natural that the order of the Election Commission may be annoying Dalits, especially the people who are attached with BSP. Perhaps this is the reason that the BSP is trying to cash in on the development after the EC order of covering the statues.

In its another decision, the Election Commission has put on hold the decision of the Centre to give reservation to Muslims until the elections are completed in five states. The government has recently decided to allot 4.5 percent sub-quota for minorities within 27 percent quota for Other Backward Class. This decision, which was aimed to woo Muslims, had been taken just two days before the Election Commission announced poll schedule for state assembly elections. Before this, the government had also announced to allocate quota for minorities in the Lokpal panel. Justifying its stance, the Congress said that the decision was made before model code of conduct was imposed, but it is obvious that the party made effort to influence Muslim voters. The Congress becomes oblivious to the fact that whenever it tries to play Muslim card in the run up to elections, the BJP will polarize the voters by playing up Hindu politics. It is not surprising that the BJP leader Uma Bharati accused Congress of doing divisive politics on religious ground for its political gains. However, the Samajwadi Party and BSP also try to attract Muslim voters, but the BJP raises its high-decibel protests when the Congress joins SP-BSP bandwagon to flatter Muslim voters. Even after the announcement of 4.5 percent sub-quota for minorities, the Union Law Minister went on promising to provide 9 percent reservations to Muslims, if the Congress was voted to power in Uttar Pradesh. When the Election Commission served notice to Khurshid for violating election code of conduct by making such promises, he began lashing out at the EC. After this, the Election Commission not only lodged its complaints with the Prime Minister against Khurshid but also slapped a ban on the implementation 4.5 percent sub-quota for minorities till the election process is finished.

However, the Congress clarified its stand saying that the comment made by Khursid was in individual capacity and even the Prime Minister had to clear the tangle by shooting off letter to the EC, but everyone is of the opinion that the Election Commission should have put the decision of giving Muslim quota on hold at the time of announcement of polls schedule. With the delaying in taking decision by EC, the matter of giving sub-quota to minorities has emerged as a major poll issue. The Congress and the BJP have taken different stand in this regard, but no one is able to put an end to this controversy.

The Election Commission has got success in its campaign, run by police and I-T department, to checkmate the using of money to rig the polls. But this is tip of iceberg, as major funds may be used stealthily during elections. The EC has clearly said that it is very difficult to stop the use of money during elections in the states like Punjab, UP and Goa. Undoubtedly, the use of unaccounted money during elections should be stopped, but at the same time, it is also needed to make the limit of poll expenditure rational. It is quite impossible for the EC to stop high-end candidates from contesting elections who splurge huge money during elections, because such hard step will have repercussion on electoral process.

The Election Commission is facing stacks of problems in the wake of non-implementation of electoral reform which has been pending for over two decades. Neither the limit of poll expenditure is being made rational, nor are the people of criminal background being stopped from contesting the elections. There is no talk over imposing internal democracy in political parties. Due to lackadaisical attitude of political parties, neither the initiative on electoral reform is being taken, nor are the rules and regulations of coalition politics being evolved. In fact, no political parties are keen on discussing in this regard. However, the EC is very much concerned with the deformed contour of democracy, which is caused by non-implementation of long pending election reform, but it will only happen when political parties think earnestly and take concrete step in this regard.     

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on January 15, 2012 translated by the English Editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)