Winning at Any Cost the New Normal in Indian Politics: Election Commissioner

O.P. Rawat stressed on the fact that a democracy could thrive only when elections were free, fair and transparent.

New Delhi: Criticising the “creeping new normal of political morality” in the country, election commissioner O.P. Rawat on Thursday, August 17, said that nowadays all ethical considerations were being surpassed by political leaders in their quest for winning elections.

Barely ten days after the Election Commission invalidated the votes of two Congress MLAs who had switched sides in the Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat, the election commissioner stressed on the fact that a democracy could thrive only when elections were free, fair and transparent, Indian Express reported.

However, under the garb of resourcefulness, “strategic introduction of money for allurement and tough-minded use of state machinery for intimidation” is being executed by political parties. At the same time, the frequent poaching of legislators is being labelled as “smart political management,” he added.

In present times, Rawat said, “it appears to a cynical common man that we have been scripting a narrative that places maximum premium on winning at all costs – to the exclusion of ethical considerations,” he added.

Speaking at the ‘Consultation on Electoral and Political Reforms’ organised by the Association of Democratic Reforms, the election commissioner further said:

“The winner can commit no sin; a defector crossing over to the ruling camp stands cleansed of all the guilt as also possible criminality. It is this creeping ‘new normal’ of political morality that should be the target for exemplary action by all political parties, politicians, media, civil society organisations, constitutional authorities and all those having faith in democratic polity for better election, a better tomorrow.”

The election commissioner’s comments gain importance in light of the recent high-stakes Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls at the end of which Congress’s Ahmed Patel managed to hold on to his seat.

According to Indian Express, six Congress MLAs in Gujarat had defected to the BJP just days before the August 8 polls. The Congress had then taken the rest of their legislators to a Karnataka resort fearing the loss of more MLAs. When the income tax department conducted raids on multiples premises linked to D. K. Shivakumar – the Karnataka energy minister who was the man incharge of the stay of the Congress MLAs – the part alleged that the BJP was misusing its resources and turned to the Election Commission for assistance.

On the day of the Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls, the election commission intervened to invalidate the votes of two Congress defectors since they had shown their ballots to BJP president Amit Shah.

This despite the BJP pulling out the big guns and deploying the finance minister to argue that the violation of secrecy of the two MLAs was of no relevance to the election process and hence their votes must be counted.

According to Financial Express, the Election Commission had earlier sought additional powers for the purpose of initiating contempt proceedings against political parties that were taking advantage of freedom of expression to make allegations against the EC without evidence.

In a letter in April, the EC had urged the law ministry to amend the laws to allow it to use the Contempt of Courts Act against the parties that were attempting to “tarnish” its image.

At the ADR event on Thursday, Rawat also slammed the practice of paid news and called for limiting the election expenditure of political parties.

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