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Model Code of conduct needs to change, has to be in line with changing times: Sunil Arora

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We have set up working groups on various subjects and will start work on these from July, said Arora.
Deliberations on scheduling J&K elections this week; ‘political propaganda’ in EC’s defence-related advisory of March needs sharper definition, CEC tells Anubhuti Vishnoi.

What are your initial takeaways from the Lok Sabha elections?
My first impulse is of relief that a mammoth exercise has been completed. We have set up working groups on various subjects and will start work on these from July.

Where’s the debate on EVMs after these elections?
It is more a debate in the minds of limited stakeholders. If it was a debate across the country, then why would 67% people turn out to vote? EVMs have been used for two decades. We also started using VVPATs since Himachal Pradesh assembly elections. As per SC orders, VVPAT verification was done at randomly selected five polling stations per assembly segment this time. Still, two days before counting, a demand came for a change in the SOPs. We kept an open mind and deliberated within the Commission and with all CEOs. It was felt that making any last minute change was nothing short of disrupting the electoral process. Some felt it was like derailing, even sabotaging the mandate of the people. We decided against any change. Now 22,000 VVPATs have been put through verification, virtually without any glitches. If still some people for their own reasons are creating a phantom or a ghost where there is none. let them keep doing. We will keep replying as is our duty.

What about delays in handling Model Code of Conduct complaints?
There are complaints of violations from various parts of the country, often on speeches in various languages. Transcripts, certified translation with reports have to be sought from DEOs and CEOs and then a decision is taken.

And on complaints related to the Prime Minister?
We have taken strong action against senior functionaries of the ruling party. Is the litmus test of EC or its purity of intentions only proven when action is taken against a Prime Minister? I do not recall any such condition detailed in any rule book.

One of your Commissioners seemed to disagree?
An Election Commissioner may have his own opinion which he is welcome to put on record. I had issued a statement earlier mentioning clearly that the three Election Commissioners are not expected to be templates or clones of each other. I have also said in an interview to ET that the eloquence of silence is always difficult but far more desirable… this was an ill-timed controversy.

But the concern was on making dissent public?
The issues raised are on legally incorrect premises. MCC orders are not quasi-judicial. These proceedings would involve arguments and defence by lawyers. In a model code period of 2-2.5 months, can we conduct quasi-judicial inquiries? In multi-member bodies like say UPSC, they advise ministries on a range of issues but do they mention varying views recorded by different members? The question is also, who is suppressing dissent? All opinions are there on the file. They can be accessed through RTI. But while conveying the combined wisdom of any multi-member body, you convey it as the ECI. I can also be overruled by both Election Commissioners but it will not be mentioned since it is an executive decision and not a judgment.

The SC had desired consensus among three ECs...
Yes, of course, consensus is definitely desirable… but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen.

Does the MCC need review?
MCC most certainly does need a change. There is no doubt about it. It has to be in line with changing times, like everything else. We have constituted a working group on it to examine it closely.

Were the EC advisories on depicting Balakot followed?
The advisory on March 19 dealing with ‘political propaganda’ needs to be looked at. The term should be more sharply defined for greater clarity.

Was a seven-phase election necessary in West Bengal?
The phasing of elections depends on availability and movement of forces from one state to another…do note that if the 42 seats in West Bengal went to polls in seven phases, so did Bihar’s 40 seats. In hindsight, in fact I think it was the correct assessment and an essential one considering the levels of street violence. Both in West Bengal and Tripura, we felt the situation warranted some drastic measures which were taken including sending special observers for recount.

What about assembly polls in J&K given that home ministry has revised its stand?
We have just completed parliamentary elections there and want to hold assembly elections. We will be meeting soon on the issue. The term that MHA or state is ‘revising’ its position is incorrect. They have inputs on law and order situation from various agencies. If they do a review and give us an opinion with the consent of responsible authorities like the Home Minister or the Governor, we must consider them. We at EC are not sitting in a fortress or a small island. We cannot be, and no EC has been, non cognisant of the field situation.
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