‘Law Ministry can’t control Election Commission’
With the Assembly elections in the five states culminating to its peaceful and decisive end, it is the Election Commission (EC) of India that has emerged to be the real winner. Clearing the air of speculation and allegations leveled against it, the Chief Election Commissioner, SY Quraishi spoke about the model code of conduct, ‘government’s interference’ and much more in an exclusive interview with Zeenews.com`s Swati Chaturvedi on her chat show Kahiye Janab.
Swati: Generally you are perceived to be a man of soft nature. But as Trueman said “Talk softly and carry a big stick.” Does the Chief Election Commissioner also carry a big stick with him?
Quraishi: The Election Commission has lots of power. We exercise it when the need arises. But again, there are certain things which get done easily.
Swati: Compared to the former Chief Election Commissioner, you are quite soft spoken and this worked in your favour to conduct the just concluded elections in a peaceful way. But of late the government made many attempts of attacking the institution itself. What is your take on this?
Quraishi: Well, you are right. I won’t say that the government attacked the Election Commission. But yes, there are certain political leaders who accused the Election Commission of being irresponsible. However, we took appropriate action and issued notice as per the model code of conduct. Ultimately, the leaders also apologized for their statement which indeed is a big thing.
Swati: Do you concede the fact by not voting in favour of Louise Fernandez, the voters of Uttar Pradesh gave an appropriate answer on your behalf?
Quraishi: Well, I won’t endorse the statement. It is the prerogative of the voters to decide whom to vote. But yes, such kind of lose talks did not go down well with the public. So, this is a sort of lesson.
Swati: Many feel that this time you implemented the model code of conduct quite mechanically which also includes covering of Mayawati’s statues. Even Law Minister Salman Khurshid opined that every political leader has the right to voice out the poll promises made by their parties. Don’t you think that the EC’s mechanical implementation of the code of conduct triggered the controversies?
Quraishi: This is not right at all. In fact, one of the greatest qualities of the model code of conduct is that it is flexible. Covering of Mayawati’s statues and her Elephants is not a knee jerk reaction. The foundation of this decision was itself put by the Supreme Court 15 months earlier.
Swati: Many Congress leaders including Salman Khurshid attacked the institution of Election Commission. Don’t you think that the Election Commission should have banned these leaders from canvassing?
Quraishi: Why should Louise Khurshid be punished for some folly which Salman Khurshid committed. Both are different individuals. In this case, they are husband and wife, but one cannot pass the buck of one to the other.
Swati: The government’s attack on the institution of Election Commission by floating statutory powers was indeed dangerous. How do you see this whole thing?
Quraishi: The government’s intention and timing are the most important things. The way many leaders said it is time to revisit the model code of conduct indeed raise a few questions on their intentions. Of late the model code of conduct has been quite well. In last two or three years, there has not been the incidence of hate speech or anything of that sort. So, to tinker with the model code of conduct or to offer certain powers which we don’t need at all raises few big questions. Revisiting of code of conduct is done when a particular institution fails to deliver or is weak. In India, the Election Commission functions in one of the finest ways. The entire world looks up to our democracy and the institution of the Election Commission.
Swati: It is the Law Minister Salman Khurshid who gives clearance to your tours. How far do you think is it appropriate for the Law Ministry and government to do so?
Quraishi: See, I don’t blame the government. But yes, if the Law Ministry thinks that it can exercise control on the Election Commission then I would say it is not possible. It is just not possible to exercise control over it as it forms the basic structure of the Constitution. It has given the power of being autonomous to the Election Commission. So I would say, being the basic structure of the Constitution, no one can tinker with the Election Commission. The government just cannot change the basic structure. Also, over the years, the Supreme Court has been our guardian angel.
-- Adaptation by Soumendra Mitra