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India is Not Ready for State Funding of Elections, Says Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat

Rawat spoke on wide-ranging issues like religion and caste planked campaigning, seizures before Karnataka elections, simultaneous elections and more. The CEC also spoke at length about the poll body's legal position and future outlook on key electoral issues.

Deepa Rana | CNN-News18

Updated:May 3, 2018, 12:55 PM IST
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India is Not Ready for State Funding of Elections, Says Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat
File photo of Om Prakash Rawat.
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New Delhi: Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat in an exclusive interview to News18’s Deepa Rana said that he does not support state of public funding of elections.

Rawat spoke on wide-ranging issues like religion and caste planked campaigning, seizures before Karnataka elections, simultaneous elections and more. The CEC also spoke at length about the poll body's legal position and future outlook on key electoral issues.

Why is there a credibility crisis for some Constitutional institutions? Election Commission has often been accused of being a toothless tiger.

All lawmakers after they come to power, should remember the days they weren’t in the position and do things to strengthen the constitutional authorities. Then, they will never have to complain. When you are in power and can frame laws, you should make authorities stronger.

There were allegations that you are running a biased campaign.

The Commission examines allegations and comes up with a response. It can take action if there is a legal aspect. Even then, some people complain that the EC decision was lenient but it's not so. For instance, in Tamil Nadu, when the commission got to know that money was being floated in, it took action under Article 324 despite there not being a specific law.

The Supreme Court had also observed that whenever there is a violation, and in case there is no law to tackle it, the EC then must not act like God without any powers. ECI is entrusted to take superintendence, direction and control. In case of Tamil Nadu, we sent a message to the people.

A delegation led by Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union minister Nitin Gadkari and MA Naqvi complained about senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad trying to influence voters in the name of religion. Earlier, BJP had also complained they are not allowed to put advertisements in Karnataka by the state government. What is the EC doing about this?

On the advertisement issue, EC has taken the decision that spaces should be earmarked equitably and distributed among parties so that there is no partisan or any favouritism.

The complaint against Ghulam Nabi Azad has come to us. We forwarded it to the Chief Electoral Officer in Karnataka and have requested for the video. Unless we see what was being said, we cannot take action or comment on it. If any party/candidate seeks votes in the name of caste or religion then it is in stark violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling. In case a violation is visible, then action will be taken.

Should there be simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls? What’s your recommendation to the Law Commission?

The commission was asked by the Law Ministry to submit suggestions in 2015 and it did on the necessary constitutional amendments, legal amendments and logistical amendments. Based on those, the EC will have no issue delivering a simultaneous electoral process. So far, though, there is only talk in the media. We haven't gotten any details. In case a legal framework is available and a little support is provided, the EC will be ready to deliver.

What suggestions were sent to the Law Ministry?

Amendments will be required in Articles 82, 84, 172, 174 and 356. RPI Act, changes in term of government, cases of houses dissolving, no confidence motions etc. all kinds of eventualities were suggested so that in times to come the elections are in sync and not just the one time.

Will simultaneous polls not compromise India’s basic federal balance?

That is not our domain. EC has been set up under article 324 which says the body shall maintain electoral role and provide superintendence, direction and control of electoral conduct.

What is your view on the federal structure?

Simultaneous polls were taking place since 1967 and there was no damage to any federal structure. There are countries where this is happening.

Can Indians ever vote differently if polls were to be held on the same day?

I have enormous faith in the Indian voters. Even some illiterate voters have worldly wisdom on how to exercise their discretion.

What are you doing to control black money usage? For instance in Karnataka polls.

There are still 10 days to go for the election and this time we have seized over Rs 128 crore till date. About Rs 61 crore in cash, liquor worth Rs 22 crore, Gold valuing Rs 18 crore and drugs worth Rs 40 lakh. During the last elections, it was Rs 14 crore that we had seized, so this time it is huge.

Do you think that state funding of polls is the right way ahead?

No, I don't think so. Even if public or state funding is done, how can the government ensure there is no abuse of black money or other resources? I think it is not the right time to have state funding in our country as of yet.

EVM Tampering is an issue that often crops up after poll results are declared. How are you tackling it?

We have conducted an EVM challenge twice — once in 2009 and then in 2017. To ensure free and fair election, we have installed EVMs and VVPAT in large numbers. We are also monitoring the situation on ground and have deployed security in every district.

During Karnataka polls there was not many complaints or hue and cry about EVMs. But, we have ensured security.

How prepared are you for 2019 Lok Sabha elections?

We have already started preparing for 2019. We are on schedule and have stepped up our activities to ensure free, fair and credible election.
| Edited by: Aditya Nair
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