It is emerging as a hard reality that in these unscrupulous times of political gamesmanship, the Election Commission is proving to be a pale shadow of the awe-inspiring body that it was in better times. When T N Seshan was the Chief Election Commissioner he was castigated for his impulsiveness and eccentricities but there can be no doubt that the commission invoked greater fear among wrongdoers.
Today, its dictates are flouted with impunity because governments at the Centre have failed to clothe it with adequate authority and in the intervening period politicians in general have become more thick-skinned and violative of norms and standards. Political parties promise the moon in their manifestoes and get away with luring and enticing the voter through what are largely false promises or assurances that if implemented would hit the State exchequer hard, thereby hurting the people indirectly by crippling the economy.
The latest case in point is the paper circulated by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to voters at a joint press conference on Saturday in Lucknow entitled 'Pragati ke 10 kadam' (10 steps to progress) issued on the threshold of the first round of Assembly elections. In varying degrees, all parties make rash promises without a thought to how and whether they would fulfil them but this one is particularly unabashed and comes at a crucial time.
Among the promises made to the electorate are: free smartphone and skill development to 20 lakh youths, waiver of farm loans, Rs 1,000 monthly pension to 1 crore families, free cycle to girl and boy students of class 9, 10 and 12, free homes to 10 lakh Dalit and Other Backward Class families, among others. There is no word on how the State would mobilise resources to fulfil these extremely-expensive demands and whether there would be anything left in the exchequer for creating essential infrastructure and spurring development.
Truly, most voters have learnt over the years to take these promises with a pinch of salt but there also are the gullible ones who get swayed. Over the years, the betrayal of faith of the people has led them to view the whole system of elections and democracy with cynicism.
If the system does not throw up solutions, it is time the people themselves call the bluff of habitual liars among politicians. There is also a dire need for Parliament to clothe the Election Commission with more enforceable monitoring -- also for Parliament legislating for a 'right to recall' to drill some measure of accountability in representatives of the people.