"We Are Watching! Do Your Duty Properly or Resign": Concerned Activists Rebuke ECI Over Electoral Concerns

Lok Sabha Elections 2024: A joint complaint was lodged through the offices of the Chief Electoral Officers in various cities such as Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and others. Simultaneously, a formal letter was submitted to the office of the Chief Election Commissioner in Delhi.
Bahutva Karnataka
Bahutva Karnataka

Guwahati- As India gears up for the fourth phase of the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections, concerns about the fairness of the electoral process are mounting. Activists and citizens are voicing worries about alleged bias, manipulation, and inaction by the Election Commission.

From questions about voter turnout data to the unchecked spread of hate speech, these concerns highlight a growing distrust in the democratic process. A joint complaint was lodged through the offices of the Chief Electoral Officers in cities like Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and others, while simultaneously a formal letter was submitted to the office of the Chief Election Commissioner in Delhi.

Regrettably, many events have sparked legitimate worries. These include flagrant violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), the freezing of opposition leaders' accounts, media partiality, the exploitation of religious sentiments for political advantage, inconsistencies in voter turnout, and a notable erosion of trust in the Election Commission of India (ECI).

According to a survey by CSDS-Lokniti poll, “58% of the respondents expressed some or great distrust in the Election Commission in 2024 as opposed to 78% evincing trust in the poll body following the 2019 Lok Sabha election.”

Nearly 45% indicated a belief that “electronic voting machines could potentially be manipulated by the ruling party to some extent.”

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"We intend to convey to the ECI that citizens are closely observing their actions and inactions," Vinay, a social activist based in Bangalore, told The Mooknayak. "We demand that they either exercise their powers to ensure free and fair elections or resign from their positions."

"We need to remind the ECI that we are closely monitoring their actions and that they must improve their performance. The upcoming four phases of the elections must be rigorously ensured to be free and fair."

He further commented that article 324 of the Constitution grants the Election Commission of India (ECI) the authority to conduct free and fair elections.

However; according to various social organizations, elections conducted thus far have not met this standard.

The Election Commission has failed to take notice, conduct investigations, or file any FIRs regarding reports of opposition candidates facing pressure to withdraw their candidature. Additionally, the discrepancies between votes polled and votes counted in Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) during the 2019 elections remain inadequately explained.

To bolster public trust in the electoral process, various social organizations and intellectuals have collectively voiced their concerns in an open letter. They are urging the Election Commission of India (ECI) to promptly acknowledge these concerns and ensure fairness in the upcoming phases of the elections.

The concerns are as follows:

  • Manipulation Concerns in Voter Turnout Data

    The absence of precise voter turnout figures, with data shared only in percentages, has sparked apprehensions regarding potential manipulation of vote counts. Previous instances, such as the reported discrepancies in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections where votes polled didn't align with votes counted, remain unexplained by the Election Commission of India (ECI). This time around, the ECI's reluctance to disclose actual vote counts exacerbates fears of electoral manipulation.

  • Failure to Address Hate Speech:

    Despite numerous instances of hate speech, particularly from political figures like Mr. Modi, aimed at fostering religious discord, the Election Commission has failed to take decisive action.

    Violations of the Model Code of Conduct and the Representation of People’s Act, along with disregard for ECI advisories, have gone unaddressed. Furthermore, the dissemination of hate-filled content by political parties, such as the BJP, remains unchecked, even in cases where FIRs have been filed.

  •      Selective Enforcement of MCC Violations:

    The Election Commission's biased approach is evident in its disproportionate targeting of opposition parties for MCC violations while overlooking more serious infractions by the ruling party, the BJP.

    Bans on campaigning, such as those imposed on Mr. Randeep Surjewala of the Congress and Mr. K. Chandrashekhar Rao of the BRS, contrast sharply with the impunity enjoyed by BJP leaders.

  • Failure to Regulate Surrogate Ads:

    The unchecked proliferation of surrogate advertising and targeted online campaigns by political entities raises concerns about transparency and accountability.

    Despite calls for regulatory standards to govern political expenditure on online ads and targeted campaigning, the Election Commission has yet to disclose any concrete measures taken to address this issue.

  • Inaction on Candidate Withdrawals and Threats:

    Reports of intimidation tactics employed by the BJP against candidates, as well as instances of candidates switching allegiances at the eleventh hour, underscore a troubling trend.

    Additionally, cases where elections were not conducted, as observed in Surat and Indore, highlight the erosion of democratic norms. Despite clear legal provisions labelling such actions as corrupt practices, the Election Commission's failure to investigate or take action is concerning.

Further, a joint complaint was lodged through the offices of the Chief Electoral Officers in various cities such as Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and others. Simultaneously, a formal letter was submitted to the office of the Chief Election Commissioner in Delhi.

In addition to these formal complaints, a symbolic postcard campaign was organized. Hundreds of postcards, each adorned with an image of a spine, were dispatched to the ECI in Delhi from different cities.

This visual representation served as a poignant demand for the Election Commission to exhibit courage and integrity in its actions or to resign from its position of authority.

Consequently, in an effort to escalate their concerns and amplify their voices, several organizations united to orchestrate a national-level campaign on May 11th across multiple cities.

Among the signatories of the collective complaint and campaign were 222 individuals from diverse backgrounds, including lawyers, activists, filmmakers, academics, and concerned citizens.

Additionally, a civil society delegation met with Mr. S. Chockalingam, Chief Electoral Officer of Maharashtra, at Mantralaya in Mumbai on May 11, 2024.

They submitted a joint letter petition endorsed by various civil society organizations and citizens, expressing concerns about the Election Commission of India's (ECI) inaction against violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and electoral laws during the Lok Sabha Elections 2024.

The letter addressed issues such as delays in releasing voter turnout data, discrepancies in 2019 voter data, failure to combat hate speech, inaction against surrogate ads, campaign violations, and unchecked threats to candidates.

Mr. Chockalingam assured the delegation that he would forward their concerns to the ECI and address Maharashtra-specific issues under his jurisdiction.

He agreed with the delegation's demand to promptly share voter turnout numbers, explaining the data collection process and promising to raise the matter with the ECI for resolution.

Bahutva Karnataka

What has the Social Organizations and Intellectuals Demanded?

The demands are listed as follows:

1. Ensure that Narendra Modi who is a star campaigner for BJP is banned from campaigning for 96 hours.

2. Ensure that an inquiry is conducted into candidates being pressurised to withdraw/ being offered incentives to withdraw in Surat, Indore, Gandhinagar and elsewhere

3. Immediately declare the number of votes polled in all the three phases conducted so far

4. Explain conclusively the discrepancies in votes polled and counted in 2019

5. Ensure that action is taken against all parties for MCC violations

6. Take immediate action against surrogate ads by political parties

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