No system of picking officials to the EC may be perfect & nothing can guarantee that an official once chosen won't behave in partisan manner
The Bill introduced by the government in the Rajya Sabha seeking to exclude the Chief Justice of India from the panel to select the chief election commissioner and election commissioners is deeply flawed. In seeking to do away with the non-partisan presence of a third member like the Chief Justice of India along with the Prime Minister, who heads the panel, and the Leader of the Opposition, it attempts to undermine the very democratic foundation of picking executives to oversee the election process in autonomous and neutral roles.
The CJI has been part of the process of picking top officials to the Election Commission of India only since a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the head of the judiciary should be involved till the government passes a law. The change being contemplated now will provide the worst possible optics to the appointment of election officials from among a set of chosen bureaucrats or others by a panel of government officials.
No system of picking officials to the EC may be perfect and nothing can guarantee that an official once chosen will not behave in partisan manner. But the idea of an autonomous election commission, presided over in its history by a few dedicated bureaucrats, who withstood all kinds of pressures from ruling dispensations in states and at the Centre, to bring fairness into the poll process, is being upended by a total takeover of the system of appointments.
It was the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin who may have said that “it’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the votes”. In eroding the process of holding elections and counting votes that has been largely done in a fair way to satisfy a large working electoral democracy like India, the present rulers are opening a Pandora’s Box and may let loose forces that may come back to bite.
The downgrading of the status of the EC members is another change that must be addressed before the Bill is allowed to become law. In all fairness, the government should reconsider the proposed change by which any ruling party at the Centre will have unfettered say over who mans the EC with a Cabinet minister as the third member of the panel.
A non-partisan figure like the head of the judiciary is the ideal choice to serve on such a significant panel in a democracy. It is up to the government to recognise that and correct the flaws rather than risk the new law being struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.