Karnataka elections: Election Commission proving to be a lame duck

The Election Commission as usual appears helpless in curbing big expenditure, vicious campaigns and fake news in the run up to the Karnataka Assembly election scheduled for Saturday

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IANS Photo
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Uttam Sengupta

If one goes by the mainstream media, the result of the Karnataka election is already known. There is going to be a hung house and, as in Goa and Manipur, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going to form the Government.

There is also a third, clear conclusion one can draw: The Election Commission is a lame duck. It has once again failed to curb or stop hate speech, communal polarising, role of money in influencing elections, misleading WhatsApp forwards and fake news.

The narrative, by anecdotal evidence and by popular consensus, is driven by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. With his teeth clenched, nostrils flaring and arms flaying in the air, he has predicted that Congress will be decimated in the election.

Watching Narendra Modi addressing rallies is clearly an addiction for some while for others it can be an unpleasant experience. To see him flay his arms, jab his index finger in the air, clench his fist, curl his lips and to see his eyes glazed is, to put it mildly, can be disturbing. He looks like a man possessed, a man who is about to have a cerebral attack. In some videos doing the rounds of the social media, he would appear demented.

Large crowds, hired or otherwise, do have such effects on politicians. And Narendra Modi undoubtedly revels in it. Unlike at least some of his campaign stops in Gujarat, where the BJP had a hard time drawing a full house, in Karnataka the party has taken care to ensure that the turnout is impressive. And if the size of the gatherings has any bearing on election results, the BJP would sweep the state. But then in Bihar too, Modi had drawn large crowds in 2015 and the party had splurged money. By all accounts, it is spending a lot more in Karnataka in 2018.

There is also a third, clear conclusion one can draw: The Election Commission is a lame duck. It has once again failed to curb or stop hate speech, communal polarising, role of money influencing elections, misleading WhatsApp forwards and fake news

There is of course no ceiling under the law on the money a political party can spend. And the Election Commission of India concentrates on the futile exercise of ensuring that candidates themselves do not spend more than the permissible limit fixed for them. In Karnataka the ceiling is an unrealistic ₹28 lakh for each candidate.

In contrast, observers estimate major political parties splurging between ₹8 crore to ₹24 crore on each constituency. And, of course, the EC can do nothing.

The Commission has helplessly watched fake surveys being circulated with the BBC logo for credibility. It does not seem to have made much of an effort to trace the source and initiate proceedings against the perpetrators. It has been equally helpless in curbing distasteful speeches.

No warning seems to have gone out this time from the Commission so far. And perhaps acknowledging the helplessness of the Commission, fewer complaints have been made by parties and candidates. Indeed, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah has taken the somewhat unprecedented recourse of sending a lawyer’s notice to the Prime Minister for defamation.

No matter who wins in Karnataka, the Election Commission would appear to have lost.

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Published: 9 May 2018, 12:48 PM
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