A Step Backwards in Our Democracy


Dr VBJ Chelikani Rao 

          The Election Commission of India is an exalted constitutional institution with an independent secretariat paid from the Consolidated Fund of India, and it must play the most indispensable role in the functioning of our democracy. The Constitution has assigned to it the task of “superintendence, direction and control of elections” and hence, the Commission has to function autonomously,  and has ample scope to interpret and extend its role so as to conduct free and fair elections. The EC is thus the guardian of the democratic rights of the citizen. But, during these 70 years, we have seen the bureaucracy overpowering this institution and weakening its foundations. The appointments of the EC should never be confused with other appointments of the departments of the government. It is certainly more than a department of the government. Now, a new danger is lurking. A political party emboldened by its majority strength is trying to capture and manipulate it. In such a case, the elections will run the risk of not being credible and democratic. 

            It is very unfortunate that Parliament passed without much debate the ‘Appointment, Conditions of Service & Term of Office Bill, 23’ in December 2023 concerning the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners. The present Act makes the Commissioners further lose the trust, confidence and respect of the citizens who believe in secular democracy. It is a suicidal act for all political parties, even though the present ruling party shortsightedly believes that it will continue to rule forever. One day, the current ruling party would sit on the Opposition benches and would bitterly complain that the ruling party is manipulating the elections. A similar thing is happening in Russia, where the Central Electoral Commission has rejected the application of Yakaterina Duntsova, who wanted to contest as an independent female candidate in the elections in which the current president Mr.Vladimir Putin intends to win in any case.

The Semantics of a Political Party:          

          This incident exposes the true nature of a political party. Any political party, though operating in a democracy is inherently undemocratic in nature and in its ambitions. M.N. Roy, the radical humanist had long ago realised and envisioned democratic regimes without political parties. After independence, Gandhiji also refused to be a member of the Indian National Congress as a political party. It is in the nature of a political party to try to eliminate all other political parties and perpetuate itself in enjoying power. Like the Communist Party of China, ultimately, the party would like to control the state, as well as the society. Within the same party, there will be groups trying to eliminate other groups; and one group would like to dominate the whole party. Again, within the dominant group, there will be struggles for leadership among the leaders in the group, and each leader would like to perpetuate himself or his family. That is how many initial democratic regimes ended up in producing autocratic leaders. Since such politics of struggle for power cannot remain pacific, soon the militants will resort to spreading hatred and inciting violence and may physically try to eliminate the opposition within the party; and outside the party. This is inherent to the logic of the functioning of a political party. This has happened in the case of all the Communist and Fascist parties in Europe and Asia. This is happening in Africa and Latin America even in the case of parties, which started as liberal parties.


            In our present case, the current ruling party can never hope and expect to manage to win every term forever, even with the most favourable Election Commissioners. Any attempt to manipulate elections would make the other political parties desperate and resort to violence to oppose. In any case, even if a ruling party manages to do so at the level of the Union government for long, it cannot manipulate to win all the states all the time. Since the Chief Electoral Officers in the states are from the state-cadre, they cannot for long time be influenced by the ruling party in the Central government. Neither can the ruling party dominate, nor suppress all the regional parties. The regional political parties would naturally resort to violence for their survival in the name of their ideology or caste or tribe or religion. We have already such examples before us in some states. It has been the history of the Indian continent all along; kings, dynasties, castes, races, religions and now the political parties have been dominating for some time, but eventually get defeated and disappear away into obscurity. Of course, for the present, China and North Korea could be shown as successful examples of such manipulation of electoral process. Maybe, we can also include in the list the Republican Party headed by Mr. Donald Trump in the USA and the Russian Federation party headed by Mr. Putin in Russia.

 How the Bill passed is Un-democratic?

            There are going to be two committees to accommodate the interests of two sections: One Search Committee of the bureaucrats headed by the Union Law Minister will prepare a panel of eligible candidates. The Panel members would invariably be coming exclusively from the top bureaucrats and they will propose as candidates their senior colleagues who are likely to relinquish their current posts soon. This is what is happening all these years. While functioning as commissioners, except for the late Mr. Seshan, all other commissioners have been observing a ‘minimalist’ approach of waiting for all important decisions the instructions from the top bureaucrats in the government, who were their colleagues.

         The second is the Selection Committee: It is composed of the prime minister, the leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha and a cabinet minister chosen by the prime minister, who will recommend the names of CEC and ECs for appointment by the President. As such, it turns out to be a political appointment by the ruling party since out of the three, two members belong to the ruling party. Usually, the Leader of the Opposition does not participate and when s/he does, s/he does so to oppose, knowing that it does not matter since the ruling party has the majority. This has been our experience.

         The deliberate omission of the Chief Justice as a member and to favour a minister at that place clearly reveals another deficit. When the Supreme Court suggested in its observations on March 23 to legislate upon the matter and to include the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the Selection Committee, it is ignored and the judiciary is denied any role. Thus the spirit of Separation of Powers is also not respected. This also betrays another ambition of the politicians to make Parliament supreme and not the Constitution. Nominated by a party, elected as a symbol of that party, and that too elected by probably only 20% of the population of a constituency for a limited term, and taking decisions by a majority of them, how can they claim to be supreme? 

         Since, at this stage, a Public Interest Litigation by any civil society stands a faint chance of succeeding, we can only hope that the ruling party does not impudently try to abuse the powers it acquired. It is our wish that the next upcoming ruling party will make necessary changes to the current Act.      

Image courtesy: Thesaurus.Plus     

Post a Comment