People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 18

May 18, 2008



EC Curbing Constitutional Rights

K Rajendran

THE ongoing assembly elections in Karnataka are unique not only in the sense that they are the first election after the delimitation. More important is the fact that there were rampant violations of the constitutional rights of Indian citizens in the state at the hands of the Election Commission of India. We may recall here that taking the last West Bengal assembly elections as an experiment, the Election Commission had banned wall writings, posters and banners in both private and public premises by misusing the West Bengal Prevention of Defacement of Property Act 1976. It is another that no such restriction was enforced either in Kerala or in Tamilnadu.

We also recall that, in this regard, a Left delegation headed by CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat had met the Election Commission officials and submitted a memorandum on April 3, 2006. Among other things, the delegation had emphasised:

In fact this has led to the denial of a cheap mode of campaign for political parties. In place of this, no other cost-effective method of propagating the election symbol, the names of the candidates and other relevant content has been put forward. You will agree that people’s participation in the election process is the essential core of our democratic system. Political parties play a crucial role in ensuring people’s participation. Unless political parties are provided with the wherewithal to approach the people, the very essence of this democratic exercise gets undermined. We hope you will consider this vital question because this issue has wider ramification for the future of the electoral process in the country.” (emphasis added).

And the “wider ramification,” which the Left memorandum talked about, is clearly visible in the Karnataka assembly polls, without any limits. Here too, the commission has gone on banning the wall writings, posters and banners. To demonstrate how stringently it could implement the code of conduct, the commission is vigorously violating the fundamental rights of Indian citizens, which was guaranteed to them by the constitution of India.

Take an example. The CPI(M) had decided to contest 9 seats out of 224 in the state assembly and to support the winnable secular candidates in other seats in order to ensure the defeat of the BJP. But the Election Commission officials in Karnataka prohibited the CPI(M) from conducting in other constituencies any public meetings against the BJP on the ground that only such parties can organise public meetings in a constituency as are contesting there. On the same lame excuse, the CPI(M) was also prohibited from distributing pamphlets and leaflets against the BJP. Article 19 of the constitution of India ensures the protection of the citizens’ freedom of speech and expression, freedom to peacefully assemble and other rights. But the commission’s stringent prohibitions amount to blatant violation of our fundamental rights. The question arises: who this vituperative ban benefits?

On the other hand, communal forces are playing very dirty tricks in the state. For example, they are organising satyanarayana poojas in all parts of the state as a cover for their incendiary propaganda, with BJP leaders and candidates attending these programmes. They are thus utilising these occasions for their surrogate campaigns. There has, however, been from the Election Commission’s side absolutely no action against such political misuses of religion. In this regard, the commission has chosen to remain a mute spectator.

Further, the Election Commission says it intends to curb the malpractices including the illegal pouring of funds for the election campaign. This is a bona fide intention and the CPI(M) has always stood for such curbs. However, as usual, the commission has been neglecting the ground realities in Karnataka. It perhaps felt ashamed to take note of the fact that in the Bangalore Urban district with 28 key constituencies, most of the candidates of the BJP, Congress and JD(S) are real estate swindlers. Similarly, those operating mines on lease, who are popularly known as mining mafias, dominate the whole election process in the mine region. In fact, the real estate as well as mining mafias have put forwarded many benami candidates with the wholehearted support from the three major political parties in the state. These people got tickets not because of their ability but only because they were able to pour crores of rupees into the kitty of this or that political party or leader. And now they are further spending crores to get votes.

Ballepally is a case in point. Here one can easily see the influence of mining mafias. In this constituency, Sreerama Reddy is the sitting MLA and contesting again as the CPI(M)’s candidate. In the outgoing legislative assembly, Reddy was the one-man crusader against the mining mafias in the state. He revealed the illegal routes through which the mine operators are evading huge tax amounts. He says: “In the last legislative assembly, the CPI(M) had only one MLA. When I raised issue of the plunders and cheatings in the mining sector, all the other MLAs in both the ruling and opposition side kept quite. Almost all of them have received benefits from the miners. This time, these mafias have decided to defeat me by any means. They have already spent 4 crore rupees to defeat me.”

Did the Election Commission take any steps to prohibit this kind of illegal flows of black money?

In any case, what is the main issue for the commission? Holding of peaceful meetings an organisation of peaceful campaigning through wall writings, posters and banners, or spending of billions for getting tickets and votes? As it is now, the upcoming Karnataka assembly will be a house of crorepatis and mafias rather than a house really representing the people of Karnataka.