Interview: Credibility is important, Election Commission is the main pillar of the electoral process: SY Qureshi

For the past few years, the working style of the Chief Election Commission has been under question. There would be no hesitation in saying that political interference is now taking place within the Commission under the cover of a curtain. In a few years many such changes were seen which no one could have even imagined. Hiding election donations and the identity of donors, announcement of election dates as per the government’s instructions, not taking action against the ruling party as per rules, etc., such as countless political incidents have come to light. The recovery of EVM machines in the vehicles of leaders at many places during the elections also came under question. In such a situation, how can anyone trust the impartiality of the Election Commission? Opposition parties have been raising questions on the independence and credibility of the Commission for many years, now this issue has reached from roads to villages. Journalist Dr. Ramesh Thakur had a detailed conversation with former Chief Election Commissioner SY Qureshi on the issue of why the Election Commission’s arrangements are becoming weak. Here are the main parts of the conversation –

Question: How much do you agree with the questions being raised on the credibility of the Election Commission?

Answer- Questions should never be raised on the autonomy and impartiality of the Election Commission of India. If this happens, then a complete and clean democracy cannot be imagined? Will a lot go wrong due to interference? I completely agree with your question that not only the opposition but also the common citizens have started raising questions on the credibility of the Commission. This is a sad picture, which is emerging rapidly. Look, whatever the institution may be, its working style and its character become weak when unnecessary political influence is exerted on it. Clean construction of social system is possible only when institutions remain independent. Governments will have to take systemic security measures for this. Also, there is a need to further modernize the institutions from time to time. Things should also be reformed after a decade or so. The freedom to spend money in elections should be strictly guarded. At the same time, inflammatory speeches should be monitored and there should be a provision to ban the candidature of candidates who violate the rules. Such strict steps will have to be taken.

Question: How do you view the decision to keep the CJI out of the selection committee on commissioners?

Answer: Courts are seen as the last hope for the public. When hopes fade from everywhere, courts are the only places from where hopes are born. I have always been in favor that the CJI’s interference should be maximum in important committees, I do not oppose the government’s decision. But it is certain that I do not consider the decision of not including the CJI in the committee formed by the Election Commissioner correct. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is part of not one but several collegiums. It would be even better if he remains in the committee to form the Election Commissioner. I think the third member in the selection committee should be independent and absolutely impartial. The involvement of a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will be good in many ways. The central government should move forward on this bill only after creating a general political consensus. Because in a democracy the Election Commission should be constituted with a trust. This is an institution which is very important, the political-social systems of democracy also depend on it.

Question: Amidst thousands of questions, how to awaken the confidence of the common people on autonomy and impartiality?

Answer- I said, there is a need to make the rules of the Commission effective and strengthened. Well, the current rules of the Commission are stringent, there is no doubt about that. But the matter comes to a standstill, how can they be used without restrictions? A golden period has passed for the Commission, now there are a lot of challenges, those challenges have to be understood? The Commission should know that now most of the elections are fought depending on money power. The Election Commission should remain independent and should be given powers of superintendence, direction and control over all elections. Because whenever these powers were discussed, the apex court repeatedly declared these powers to be absolute and unquestionable. Article 324 contains all the powers of the ECI in which free and fair elections are considered a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Provided they are not misused.

Question: Were there ever heated discussions on increasing the status and scope of the Commissioner?

Answer: After increasing allegations, both status and scope are necessary. Last year, there was a ruckus on the Central Government’s proposal to give the status of Cabinet Secretary to the Election Commissioner. Then, I said that this probably wouldn’t be good. Because the commissioner has to manage the election process which is a very sensitive process. The Election Commissioner also has to discipline political parties. For this, the status of Election Commissioner should be increased, but there should not be a post with political influence. Otherwise, it won’t take long for him to become disillusioned. The identity of the donor should be recorded on the website of the Commission, along with details of the actions taken against those who break rules in elections.

Question: Outside countries are also admirers of the Indian electoral process. But, the entire work system from EVM machines within the country is standing in the dock?

Answer- Look, it is also a legitimate question that the ruling parties never raise questions on EVM machines. But when they are in opposition they make noise. Sometimes BJP also used to raise questions on EVMs. Now Congress has taken the lead. As far as our electoral process is being used in other countries, we are proud to say that the Election Commission of India is a world leader. In the last decade, election officials from about 108 countries have come to the Election Commission of India and taken training in conducting elections in other countries. In countries like Nepal and Bhutan, our observers themselves go and conduct elections. But I would still like to say that further improvement in the draft of the bill is necessary. The Government of India needs to move forward by building political consensus on the new bill and amending its existing draft. Maintaining the credibility of the Election Commission is very important in democratic systems.

-As former Election Commissioner SY Qureshi told journalist Dr. Ramesh Thakur in conversation.

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