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The direct fallout of the EVM controversy, in which the Election Commission of India (ECI) was forced to do a face-saving ‘EVM Challenge’—one that was a complete dud, with nobody allowed to even touch the machines, leave  alone play around with its innards—was a defensive posture by the autonomous body. It now wants more power. It wants powers akin to a court of law, with contempt powers, so that nobody can point a finger at any ineptitude that the commission may have shown.

Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi had unilaterally announced after the June 3 EVM Challenge that it was proved that EVMs cannot be hacked and that they were 100 percent safe. At the same time, it was shown that Russians had hacked into a US election system.

AAP had stayed away from the challenge as had many other parties and techies who had initially said that hacking was possible. They stayed away simply because of the odd conditions that the ECI had put in.

The ECI now has decided that it will not tolerate dissent or even criticism. In line with the general trend of the country, where a differing view is considered dissent or even anti-national, the ECI has reportedly asked for amendments to be written into the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, which will empower it to take punitive action against anyone not obeying its orders or being discourteous towards its authority.

In short, the ECI is pitching for authority—with the added bonus of being able to mete out punishment—without accountability. This is as per a news item in The Indian Express, which says that the ECI had sent a letter regarding this to the law ministry a month back, which means that even while they were preparing for the dud EVM Challenge, they were preparing groundwork to stymie any further challenges.

More interestingly, says the news item, the ECI sees the election commission of a failed state such as Pakistan as a shining example of why such a strange amendment has to be woven into a perfectly straight act. The ECI in its letter detailed how Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) initiated contempt proceedings against politician Imran Khan for accusing the election body of bias in a case of foreign funding. The case is on.

Technically, issues regarding elections would be taken over by the ECI in a democracy, where difference of opinion and criticism is a right. It may be recalled that the ECI, by trying to explain the methodology of the process, itself violates the Supreme Court. Technically, the EVM Challenge was not only a dud, but also not fully legal.

What possibly got the ECI’s goat was the allegation that Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal made about two election commissioners. This is where the probable similarity with the Imran Khan case comes in.

In an interview, Kejriwal had alleged that two of the three election commissioners were probably not neutral. One was Gujarat chief secretary when Narendra Modi was the chief minister, while the other is from Madhya Pradesh and is close to Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

The threat perception of the ECI is probably a self construct. It thinks it deserves Z category of punitive provision. Hence this.

 India Legal Bureau

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