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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

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.

  

Politics of last resort

Monday, 13 February 2017

Even as acting Governor Vidyasagar Rao ponders over options to determine who he would call to form the next government in the wake of a virtual split in AIADMK or whether he would order a floor test to ascertain which of the two factions enjoys a majority, the fact that practically all the party legislators were whisked away to a resort about 80 km from Chennai is being viewed with disfavour by political commentators and people at large.

Various moves are being contemplated by O Panneerselvam camp to get the support of these legislators in 'virtual captivity'. Sasikala Natarajan camp, that orchestrated the resort politics, could face the heat in days to come as both the Madras High Court and the Governor have sought reports from the police on whether the legislators are being kept away from public life and from their families through coercive means.

Early reports said the legislators were denied access to newspapers, mobiles, Internet and wi-fi, but later they were presented before the media, and many of them claimed they were at liberty. But till now, the question why they are holed up there in the resort, which has turned into a fortress now, still awaits a convincing answer. The Governor, on his part, is keeping everyone guessing on his next move even as the Centre maintains a studied silence.

This unhealthy way of keeping the legislators away from crossing over to the other side has been practised many times earlier too in various parts of the country. Even in Tamilnadu, a month after sitting chief minister M G Ramachandran died in December 1987, the war of succession between Jayalalithaa and Janaki Ramachandran saw legislators of two factions put up in resorts. The Janaki faction won a majority which proved short-lived as her government was dismissed by the then Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre 24 days later.

In 1984, chief minister NT Rama Rao confined his loyalists in hotels in Hyderabad, Delhi and Bengaluru after he was sacked by Governor Ram Lal in an Independence Day coup by his Cabinet colleague Nadendla Bhaskara Rao. This coup of sorts was also short-lived. There were similar examples in UP in 1988 and 2002, Bihar and Jharkhand in 2005, Arunachal in 2007, and Karnataka and Uttarakhand in 2016.

But use of similar tactics in the past do not make Sasikala's move any less reprehensible. It is indeed time that those perpetuating this practice be punished appropriately so that a deterrent is created for the future.

  

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