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The “win-at-all-costs” narrative should be targeted by all stakeholders, says Election Commissioner Rawat

The narrative that placed maximum premium on winning at all costs, wherein poaching of legislators was extolled as smart political management, use of money for allurement and tough-minded use of State machinery for intimidation were commended as resourcefulness, should be targeted for exemplary action by all stakeholders, said Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat.

Mr. Rawat’s remarks comes days after the Congress party accused the ruling BJP at the Centre and in Gujarat of using agencies for intimidation and money power to win over its MLAs ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections in the State.

“The winner can commit no sin; a defector crossing over to the ruling camp stands cleansed of all the guilt as also possible criminality, etc. It is this creeping ‘new normal’ of political morality that should be the target for exemplary action by all political parties, politicians, media, civil society organisations, constitutional authorities and all those having faith in democratic polity for a better election, a better tomorrow,” said Mr. Rawat.

The Election Commissioner was speaking at the “Regional Consultation on Electoral and Political Reforms — Northern Region” organised by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

Sharing the steps taken by the Election Commission to ensure free and fair elections, Mr. Rawat said the electoral body has made a proposal to amend the relevant law so as to enable filing of Election Petition on allegations of corrupt practice also by a defeated candidate. “The consequence is that if the High Court holds a person elected or otherwise, guilty of corrupt practice, there could be further disqualification of the person for a maximum of six years,” he said.

Stating that large influx of funds from special interest groups into the electoral process would weaken democratic governance and result in “policy capture” to the benefit of a handful, though powerful, groups, Mr. Rawat said introduction of electoral bonds by the Central government could be a retrograde step in terms of transparency.

Certain amendments to the Income Tax Act, Representation of the People Act and the Companies Act ensure that any donation received by a political party through an electoral bond has been taken out of the ambit of reporting in the Contribution Report.

“Furthermore, where contributions received through electoral bonds are not reported, a perusal of the Contribution Reports of the political parties, will not make it clear whether the party in question has taken any donations in violation of Section 29B of the Representation of the People Act, which prohibits the political parties from taking donations from government companies and foreign sources,” he cautioned.

The Commission has also expressed apprehension that the abolition of the relevant provisions of the Companies Act (removing the cap of 7.5% of profit for political donations) could lead to money laundering by setting up shell companies for diverting funds for donations to parties.

Mr. Rawat said the EC has noticed that paid operators run by PR firms are being actively deployed to shape public opinion online and therefore, it is formulating a social media policy to address the issues. He also raised the issue of “paid news”, for which the Commission has recommended two years’ imprisonment as an election offence.

“It is often observed that the panel discussions on news channels are one-sided or motivated. In the name of panel discussion on probable election results based on astrology, social dynamics, media insights, etc. before the expiry of prohibition on telecast of exit polls is another emerging area to manipulate tail-end polling,” he said.

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