The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering election processes in India at national, state and district level. The body administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies, State Legislative Councils, and the offices of the President and Vice President of the country. The Election Commission operates under the authority of Constitution per Article 324, and subsequently enacted Representation of the People Act. The commission has the powers under the Constitution, to act in an appropriate manner when the enacted laws make insufficient provisions to deal with a given situation in the conduct of an election. Being a constitutional authority, Election Commission is amongst the few institutions which function with both autonomy and freedom, along with the country’s higher judiciary, the Union Public Service Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
One of the most important features of the democratic policy in India is elections at regular intervals. Holding periodic, free and fair elections are essentials of a democratic system and a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The Election Commission is regarded as the guardian of elections in the country. In every election, it issues a Model Code of Conduct for political parties and candidates to conduct elections in a free and fair manner. The commission issued the Code of Conduct for the first time in 1971 for the 5th Lok Sabha elections and has revised it from time to time. It lays down guidelines for the conduct of political parties and candidates during an election period. However, there have been instances of violation of the code by various political parties with complaints being received for misuse of official machinery by the candidates. The code does not have any specific statutory basis but only a persuasive effect. It contains the rules of electoral morality. However, this lack of statutory backing does not prevent the commission from enforcing it.
A law for the registration process for political parties was enacted in 1989 and a number of parties got registered with the commission. The registration helps avoid confusion and ensures that the political parties are brought under the purview of the commission.
The election commission has the right to allow symbols to the political parties. It gives recognition to the national parties, state parties and regional parties. It sets limits on poll expenses. The commission prepare electoral rolls and update the voter’s list from time to time. Notifications of dates and schedules of election for filing nominations are issued by the commission. It is noteworthy that Election commission cannot allot same symbol to two regional political parties even if they are not in the same state.
The commission is empowered with prohibiting dissemination or publication of voting trends that seek to influence voters by opinion polls or exit polls.
To curb the growing influence of money during elections, the Election Commission has made many suggestions and changes in this regard. The commission has appointed IRS officers of the Income Tax Department as Election Observers (Expenditure) of all elections and has fixed the legal limits on the amount of money which a candidate can spend during election campaigns. These limits have been revised over time. The Election Commission, by appointing expenditure observers from the Indian Revenue Service, keeps an eye on the individual account of election expenditure. The commission takes details of the candidate’s assets on affidavit at the time of submitting nomination paper, who are also required to give details of their expenditure within 30 days of the declaration of results. The campaign period has also been reduced by the commission from 21 to 14 days for Lok Sabha and Assembly elections to cut down election expenditure.
In an attempt to descriminalise politics, the Election Commission has approached the Supreme Court to put a lifetime ban on convicted politicians from contesting elections.
The general election in India, the world’s largest democracy, will take place in nine phases between April 7 and May 12. The general election is a celebration of democracy, no doubt, but it is also a huge challenge for the Election Commission, which is responsible for the smooth operation of the general election. Conducting general election in a country with over 800 million eligible voters is a nightmare and proper planning has to be carried out to ensure that there are no security breaches and that people vote in a safe and secure environment.
Security is a huge challenge for the Election Commission, especially in areas that have a significant presence of Maoist rebels. In the previous elections, Maoist rebels have opposed the elections and tried to sabotage them as well, and it will not come as a surprise if they try to do it this time around. Therefore, the Election Commission is making a list of groups that may oppose the elections and it is coming up with elaborate plans to handle them while maintaining peace in the region.
The Election Commission, apart from overseeing the general election, is tasked with keeping an eye on speeches made in the country that could disturb the peace and weaken the social fabric of the Indian society. In addition, it is required to monitor the expenditure of the various parties in India and maintain religious harmony in every state. This year, Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) will also be able to cast their votes in view of the amendment of The Representation of the People Bill in 2010. Close to 12,000 NRIs have registered as voters and they will be exercising their voting rights for the very first time. With the advancement of technology, Indians living miles away from their homeland are able to stay up to date with the current affairs and developments in the Indian political scene.
With news spreading like wild fire on social networking sites and other new media platforms, people have begun to take an interest in affairs of the nation. As such, they are involved in political and economic issues like never before. This is not just applicable to NRIs but also to people living in India. This is the first time in India’s history that people are showing enthusiasm and interest in the polls. As such, with greater participation from Indians at home and abroad, the Election Commission is expected to be more vigilant of the conduct of the people on the voting day and ensure that people abide by the rules as stated in the Constitution.
New parties have emerged on the political front in India and they are all fighting for diverse issues. The Congress, which has been in power for the last 10 years, is fighting to defend its political record and to protect the secular fabric of the nation. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is fighting for a change in the centre and is trying to convince the people of India that it can do a better job than the Congress. Regional parties are on the rise and a new party that has joined the bandwagon is the Aam Aadmi Party, which claims to represent the common man and is keen to address the problems of the common man.
With so many parties fighting for attention and votes, it is inevitable that there will be clashes between the parties and the people. So, the Election Commission has to ensure that the parties adhere to the Constitution and the rules it has put forth with regard to rallies. Mr . Veeravalli Sundaram Sampath CEC (Chief Election Commissioner of India) has a huge task at hand and with more parties joining the political scene and more voters in the picture, its job essentially gets harder. Maintaining peace in the region is crucial and it is difficult to predict when chaos will erupt. So, the Election Commission has to take proactive measures to ensure that the general election conforms to the Indian Constitution and proceeds in a smooth manner.