The Election Commission’s decision not to make public the dissenting views on matters pertaining to the model code of conduct cases comes as a blow to the cause of transparency and fair play. The decision was taken by a 2:1 majority at a meeting of the full bench of the commission. The dissenting opinions will not be made part of the poll panel’s orders but would only be mentioned in its internal files. What it means is that the present practice of opaqueness will continue in future. An autonomous constitutional authority like the EC must uphold the principles of transparency and openness so that it can set an example for other institutions. It is unfortunate that the Commission chose the status quo instead of reformative approach. The meeting was held against the backdrop of Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa writing three letters to Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, conveying his decision to stay away from proceedings related to the model code of conduct if dissenting views were not incorporated in the orders. The election authorities have taken cover under the existing rules to argue that there has been no precedent of recording dissenting views in formal orders when it comes to non-quasi judicial issues like the model code of conduct. After Lavasa had dissented in several EC decisions involving complaints against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah for an alleged poll code violation, the functioning of the poll panel has come under a cloud. By a majority vote, the EC gave clean chit to both Modi and Shah.
Never in the recent past did the conduct of the EC come under a cloud as it happened in the just-concluded general elections. However, the way it handled the allegations of poll code violations leaves much to be desired. It must be pointed out that the complainants have a right to know whether the EC’s order was unanimous or there was any dissenting note. The dissent views pertained to the clean chit given to Modi with regard to his election rally at Wardha where he attacked Congress president Rahul Gandhi for contesting from the minority-dominated Wayanad seat in Kerala and his appeal to first-time voters in Latur by invoking Balakot air strike and Pulwama terror attack. As a referee in the largest democratic exercise in the world, the poll panel has a great responsibility to ensure a level playing field and enforce the rules of the game in a fair and impartial manner. Any action that seeks to suppress the dissenting opinions will raise questions about the integrity of the institution. Already, the opposition parties have been accusing the EC of being hand in the glove with the NDA government and taking biased decisions.