How does the Election Commission, that national treasure of India work its magic? The reporters from Dawn interview ex-Chief SY Quraishi.
commission in India does not only have all the powers that it needs to
organise this biggest electoral exercise in the world, it is willing and
ready to use it as well. The size of electorate in India is a colossal
810 million, ten times the one in Pakistan and multiplying it with the
geographical, linguistic and other diversity factors, the sheer
mechanics of the exercise become mind boggling.
Yet, the commission
comes out victorious from this labyrinth as the participants generally
do not contest its impartiality or capacity. The commission has faced
some criticism in the present hotly contested elections but that has
largely focused on it being not quick in responding to calls for action.
Pakistan’s point of view where the commission is mistrusted and always
deeply embroiled in controversies, the more surprising is the fact that
the commissions in both countries enjoy roughly the same constitutional
powers. There are however some differences as well.
can’t intervene in our working in any manner. The constitution
guarantees this non-interference that many subsequent court rulings have
further reinforced. That gives us the required agility,” said S.Y.
Quraishi, the former Chief Election Commissioner of India in an
interview with Dawn in New Delhi.
“Then we assume total control
over bureaucracy, cutting its links with the political governments
completely. We purge the entire state machinery of political bias by
ordering transfers and postings following our own assessments of each
individual functionary or in response to complaints,” says Mr Quraishi.
He adds: “The commission invites every party individually in every area
and each of them gives us their lists of suspected, biased
functionaries. We act after summary inquires.”
“We also insulate
the officials appointed to perform election duties from their political
masters. No minister or chief minister is allowed to call them for a
meeting. We suspend them even if we come to know that the chief minister
has talked to them on phone,” says the former commissioner who belonged
to Indian Civil Service.
commission in India does not require army to perform any election duty
and in fact keeps it “miles away from the process”. It instead lists
police, paramilitary and other armed forces for assistance and once they
are assigned they come under the commission’s ‘command’.
is all for the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and rubbishes the
criticism on this “illiterate-friendly” machine that has replaced paper
ballots in India. The machine was first introduced in one state on
experimental basis as early as 1984 but it was provided the requisite
legal cover only in 1998. It was then put to use in all the state
assembly elections before being used for the entire Lok Sabha elections
in 2004 for the first time.
He believes that EVMs not only save the
commission from the hassle of printing paper ballots, it also makes the
contentious counting process as easy as one, two, three. “Another
matchless advantage is obliteration of votes rejected for being marked
erroneously,” says Quraishi. (According to a FAFEN report the number of
rejected votes in 2013 elections in Pakistan exceeded the margin of
victory on 35 of the 266 contested seats.) The commission in India is
also experimenting with introduction of biometric system for voter
‘The money power’ however is the biggest and
burgeoning challenge that the commission is faced with. It not only
places a legal bar on the candidates to not spend beyond the prescribed
limit, it makes them open separate bank accounts dedicated to their
campaign expenses. “Then our flying squads videograph the campaign
activities and maintain a shadow account of each candidate,” says
Quraishi. “The candidates have to submit their expense accounts three
times during the 14-day campaign and they are not allowed to report the
cost of a cup of tea that they offered to their supporters at rupees two
if its market rate is rupees seven.” The commission carries a list of
the market prices of all the items that a candidate can possibly use in
his/her campaign and has powers of disqualifying them on wrong