Derek O'Brien Raises Concerns Over Election Commission's Neutrality and Fairness

Prominent politician questions the neutrality and fairness of India's Election Commission, raising concerns over selection process, delayed elections, and rule changes that could undermine its independence.

Dil Bar Irshad
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Derek O'Brien Raises Concerns Over Election Commission's Neutrality and Fairness

Derek O'Brien Raises Concerns Over Election Commission's Neutrality and Fairness

Derek O'Brien, a prominent politician and member of the Rajya Sabha, has questioned the neutrality and fairness of the Election Commission of India (ECI). O'Brien, who is also the leader of the Trinamool Congress party in Parliament, has raised concerns over several issues, including the selection process of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, the delayed announcement of the Gujarat assembly election, and changes to polling agent rules.

O'Brien contends that the recent changes to the selection process of the CEC and ECs, where the President appoints them on the recommendation of a committee that includes the Prime Minister, give the Union government de facto power to appoint these officials. "This dilutes the independence and authority of the ECI, as it equates the Election Commissioners with civil servants who can be 'disciplined' by the political class," O'Brien stated.

Additionally, O'Brien points to the delayed announcement of the Gujarat assembly elections, which he claims gave the ruling party extra time to inaugurate projects before the Model Code of Conduct came into effect. He also questions the ECI's response to various complaints about alleged misuse of government agencies and announcements of monetary benefits schemes, which the ECI deemed to be 'largely clutter-free.'

Furthermore, O'Brien cites the ECI's decision to change the polling agent rule in 2019, which he believes could have been done to help the BJP in states where it has a weak organizational setup. He concludes by drawing a parallel to the Supreme Court's intervention in the Chandigarh mayoral election, where the court had to act as the 'Third Umpire' to overturn the ECI's decision.

Why this matters: The concerns raised by Derek O'Brien reflect a broader apprehension about the perceived erosion of the Election Commission of India's independence and impartiality. As the country's top electoral body, the ECI plays a critical role in ensuring free and fair elections, and any doubts about its neutrality could have significant implications for the integrity of the democratic process.

Economists and political observers have expressed apprehensions about the ECI's independence, particularly after the BJP-led NDA government came to power in 2014, citing unconventional appointments and surprising resignations of election commissioners. The ECI's reversal of its position on the controversial electoral bonds scheme and its failure to ensure transparency in the implementation of the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system have further tarnished its reputation. As the nation gears up for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the concerns raised by O'Brien underscore the need for the ECI to take steps to restore public trust in its impartiality and commitment to upholding democratic principles.

Key Takeaways

  • Derek O'Brien questions ECI's neutrality, cites issues with CEC selection process
  • Delayed Gujarat polls announcement gave ruling party extra time before MCC
  • ECI's response to complaints about misuse of agencies deemed 'clutter-free'
  • Changes to polling agent rule in 2019 could have helped BJP in weak states
  • Concerns over ECI's independence, integrity of democratic process ahead of LS polls