Source: 
The Sentinel
https://www.sentinelassam.com/more-news/editorial/electoral-integrity-the-challenges-and-commitments-of-the-eci
Author: 
Dipak Kurmi
Date: 
29.03.2024
City: 

During the unveiling of the Lok Sabha election schedule on March 16th, Rajiv Kumar, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), emphatically declared the Election Commission of India’s (ECI) unwavering commitment to addressing the formidable challenges posed by the ‘4’Ms’

During the unveiling of the Lok Sabha election schedule on March 16th, Rajiv Kumar, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), emphatically declared the Election Commission of India’s (ECI) unwavering commitment to addressing the formidable challenges posed by the ‘4’Ms’—the abuse of physical force, the undue influence of wealth, the spread of misinformation, and violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). With a resolute tone, the CEC underscored the ECI’s steadfast determination to confront and mitigate these multifaceted threats, which have the potential to undermine the integrity and fairness of the electoral process.

With an air of unwavering determination, he declared that the Election Commission of India (ECI) would adopt an uncompromising stance against any acts of violence, leaving no room for leniency. Moreover, he emphasized that the misuse of financial resources for undue influence would not be permitted under any circumstances. Extending his firm stance, he warned that violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) would face strict consequences, as political parties were being placed on notice to adhere to the established norms and guidelines.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has legitimate grounds for apprehension due to the recurring episodes of influential individuals and entities flexing their financial and physical might to sway electoral outcomes over the past few decades. Empirical evidence paints a disquieting picture, with data revealing a staggering 835 percent surge in the value of monetary assets confiscated during the 11 state assembly elections conducted in 2022–23, soaring to a whopping Rs 3,400 crore, in stark contrast to the polls held in 2017–18. This alarming escalation in the deployment of illicit funds underscores the pressing need for robust measures to safeguard the sanctity of the democratic process and ensure a level playing field for all contenders.

The states of Gujarat, Telangana, and Rajasthan emerged as the top contenders in terms of cash seizures during the period spanning from 2017–18 to 2022–23, particularly among the larger states. Gujarat took the lead with a staggering Rs 802 crore in cash seizures, marking a monumental surge of 2,847 percent. Hot on its heels, Telangana recorded a substantial Rs 778 crore in seized cash, representing a formidable 506 percent increase. Meanwhile, Rajasthan secured the third position, seizing a remarkable Rs 704 crore, reflecting an astonishing 951 percent escalation in cash confiscations over the same timeframe.

While physical intimidation and blatant electoral malpractices like booth-capturing and ballot snatching were more prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, the abuse of money power continues to plague the electoral process. As per the observations of former Chief Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat, there is no simple, one-size-fits-all solution to address such challenges. The only viable approach, he suggests, is to reinforce the existing legal framework and strengthen the laws governing electoral conduct. The misuse of financial resources to unduly influence voters remains a persistent and pernicious evil that demands sustained efforts to uphold the integrity of the democratic process.

The Election Commission of India has expressed concerns over the widespread disregard for the Model Code of Conduct by political parties and their campaigners. In an effort to address this issue, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar has revealed that the commission has meticulously documented all instances of violations and has issued a final warning to the parties involved. Kumar stated, “After compiling data on all infractions of the code, we have issued a conclusive advisory to the political parties, urging them to disseminate our guidelines to each of their high-profile campaigners.” The onus now lies on the parties to ensure that their star campaigners are made aware of these guidelines. Kumar further emphasised that the commission is determined to take a more assertive stance this time, acknowledging the public’s scepticism about the efficacy of their previous actions. “People have questioned the impact of the numerous notices we issued in the past, as no significant consequences followed,” he admitted. However, the commission has now vowed to go beyond mere moral censure. Kumar declared, “We will also consider the past transgressions and adopt a calibrated approach to address these violations.”

In an effort to maintain law and order during the elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) is implementing a multi-pronged strategy. Firstly, they will strategically position personnel from the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) at key locations to prevent any potential displays of muscle power. Additionally, the commission plans to leverage drone technology for enhanced surveillance and monitoring in border areas. Furthermore, the ECI intends to establish round-the-clock integrated control rooms at the district level as well as implement webcasting in polling booths deemed sensitive. These comprehensive measures are aimed at ensuring a free and fair electoral process devoid of any untoward incidents or intimidation tactics.

Individuals with a history of electoral offenses will be subjected to heightened monitoring measures, according to officials from the Election Commission of India. Concurrently, outstanding non-bailable warrants will be given top priority for execution. In a concerted effort to ensure a fair and transparent electoral process, a network of security checkpoints will be established across the nation’s expansive territory.

Aiming to curb the influence of money in elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has issued directives to enforcement agencies, urging them to take stringent measures against the influx and distribution of liquor, cash, drugs, and other freebies. The commission has instructed these agencies to adopt a no-nonsense approach and deal firmly with the kingpins orchestrating the supply of such illicit items. The ECI’s move is a concerted effort to ensure a level playing field and uphold the integrity of the electoral process by cracking down on any attempts to sway voters through undue inducements.

Authorities responsible for overseeing elections have announced stringent measures to combat the unlawful dissemination of privileged materials and complimentary offerings. Furthermore, they have pledged to maintain a heightened level of scrutiny on unauthorised online financial transactions. These initiatives aim to uphold the integrity of the electoral process and ensure a level playing field for all participants.

As the day draws to a close, stringent measures will be enforced to prevent the transportation of cash by banking institutions. The movement of cash via armored vehicles will be prohibited after sundown. Furthermore, heightened scrutiny will be applied to non-scheduled chartered flights, with particular emphasis on identifying routes utilized for the illicit trafficking of cash, liquor, and narcotics. Comprehensive surveillance and rigorous inspections will be conducted to uncover any nefarious activities. Additionally, a live tracking system has been implemented to monitor and record any seizures that may occur, ensuring comprehensive oversight of unlawful operations.

Aiming to uphold the tenets of the model code rigorously, the election commission intends to cultivate an atmosphere of political dialogue among parties that unites rather than polarizes. Furthermore, it has advocated for campaigns centred on substantive issues, urging politicians to abstain from inflammatory rhetoric and appeals grounded in divisive factors such as caste and religion. The commission’s endeavour is to steer the political arena towards a more constructive and inclusive discourse, steering clear of divisive narratives that could potentially fracture the social fabric.

As the nation gears up for the pivotal 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the election commission has set its sights on fostering an atmosphere of decorum and civility throughout the campaigning process. Drawing upon the lessons learned from previous code violations, the poll body intends to meticulously analyse past transgressions, utilising this invaluable data to formulate stringent guidelines. These measures aim to dissuade political parties from engaging in personal attacks against their rivals, thereby promoting a more constructive and issue-oriented discourse. By implementing these safeguards, the commission hopes to elevate the electoral proceedings to a higher plane, where ideas and policies take precedence over acrimonious rhetoric and character assassination.

In an effort to maintain the integrity of the electoral process, the Election Commission of India has taken a firm stance against the dissemination of unsubstantiated and deceptive advertisements, as well as advertorials masquerading as news reports by political parties. The commission has issued directives urging parties to refrain from such practices. Furthermore, the ECI has declared its intention to impose restraints on social media posts that vilify or insult political rivals, fostering an environment of mutual respect and decorum. Additionally, the commission will call upon prominent campaigners, often referred to as “star campaigners,” to uphold the highest standards of conduct, ensuring that the campaign trail remains a platform for constructive discourse and informed decision-making by the electorate.

The rapid growth of social media platforms since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections has made the challenge of controlling the dissemination of misleading or false information even more formidable. In the digital age, where information can spread like wildfire across various online channels, stemming the tide of misinformation has become an uphill battle. The widespread adoption of social media platforms has provided fertile ground for the propagation of questionable content, making it increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Addressing this issue will require a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including social media companies, government agencies, and the public at large.

According to N. Gopalaswami, the former Chief Election Commissioner, the more technology advances, the greater the challenges become in combating its misuse.

OP Rawat believes that legal reforms are imperative due to the emergence of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and ‘deep fakes’, which will present challenges in the foreseeable future. He emphasises the necessity for amendments to the IT Act and the Representation of the People Act, asserting that current provisions are inadequate to address the complexities of evolving technologies. Rawat underscores the importance of proactive measures to anticipate and mitigate potential problems stemming from these advancements.

Rawat underscores the urgency of addressing the immediate challenges posed by ‘deep fakes’ and AI. He recalls the proactive measures taken during his tenure at the ECI, where engagements with social media platforms resulted in undertakings to prevent the dissemination of misleading information.

During his tenure as Election Commissioner during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Ashok Lavasa reminisces about the collaborative efforts between the ECI and social media platforms. Together, they established a code of ethics through mutual discussions. Lavasa emphasises the necessity for a legal framework to combat misinformation, particularly the spread of false information via social media during elections. He suggests that in cases where legal discrepancies exist, the Election Commission can engage in dialogue with these platforms to develop a code of ethics and seek their active cooperation.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) intends to counsel political parties on promoting responsible behaviour on social media, particularly given the significant presence and influence of IT cells within major parties. Additionally, the ECI plans to take strict action against individuals responsible for spreading fake news. Officials highlight the authority granted by Section 79(3)(B) of the IT Act, enabling nodal officers in each state to promptly remove unlawful content.

To combat the proliferation of fake news and false narratives, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has developed standard operating procedures (SOPs). Additionally, the ECI has published a proactive communication titled ‘Fakes: Myth vs. Reality’ on its website, aiming to address misinformation effectively.

The electoral authority has issued a stern call to all political parties and candidates, urging them to prevent their supporters from engaging in hate speech and spreading fake news. Vigilance over social media activity is being maintained diligently to safeguard the integrity of the election environment and prevent any disruptions.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has called upon the media to take proactive measures to combat the spread of fake news. It emphasises the vigilant monitoring of election-related coverage across major national and regional news channels. The ECI asserts its commitment to taking swift action in response to any observed incidents or violations of laws or regulations during the electoral process.

Monitoring reports will be forwarded to the Chief Electoral Officers, who will then verify the status of each item and generate action-taken reports accordingly.

While the Election Commission of India’s strong strategy inspires hope, analysts caution against overly optimistic projections.

According to Jagdeep Chhokar, the founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms, while announcing measures for seamless elections is one aspect, ensuring their effectiveness on the ground is another challenge altogether. He emphasises the critical role of the Election Commission in guaranteeing the genuine implementation of guidelines issued in practice. As the Election Commission of India endeavours to uphold the principles of free and fair elections, it recognises the pivotal test of fulfilling its commitments.

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