Opinion: The Dangers Of Election Commission’s Sena Order

The Election Commission of India, in a surprise move on Friday, decided to hand over the Shiv Sena name and symbol to the Eknath Shinde faction, knowing fully well that the case between the two factions is in the Supreme Court, awaiting a verdict on the Speaker’s function and the disqualification of 16 rebel MLAs. Surprisingly, the Election Commission handed over the party name and symbol to the very same faction that betrayed the leadership and chose to run to Surat, Guwahati and Goa before forming a government in Maharashtra along with the BJP. If this isn’t a mockery of democracy, then what is?

This is unassailable proof that there is no independent agency that is functioning to uphold democratic principles and constitutional morality. So complete is the centralisation of power that first, the Enforcement Directorate, CBI, and Income Tax were deployed to split the Sena, then the Election Commission of India – henceforth to be remembered as Entirely Compromised Institution of India – was wheeled in to give this treachery a stamp of approval. The Eknath Shinde camp, instead of resigning and facing an election, as is the constitutional mandate for them, chose to steal power through deceit and manipulation.

They may have stolen the mandate but they cannot take away the legacy of party founder Balasaheb Thackeray.

With the exit of these rebels, the party has been purged of people who don’t have the stomach to fight the growing authoritarianism of the BJP, a party that doesn’t mind finishing off its long standing allies for its gains.

The aftermath of the Sena split raises two very pertinent questions for India – the independence of executive institutions and the order of precedence among the pillars of democracy.

The decision of the Election Commission, or the Entirely Compromised Institution of India, is disappointing but predictable, given the state of India’s institutions under the BJP. A mere reading of the ‘final order’ under the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 is reflective of how the commission first arrived at a conclusion, then framed the reasoning around it to justify the order.

To quote, “the Commission was once again forced to rely upon ‘Test of Majority'”. If the Commission were to indeed refer to the test, it must also delve into the aspect of how the majority was secured. The ‘majority’ is nothing but an example of horse-trading, allurement and coercion. If the apex body to regulate elections in the country does not qualitatively analyse such issues, politics will be reduced to a game of numbers.

What is surprising is the ruling that a “Test of Party Constitution’ shows lack of internal party democracy. Yet, there is enough and more evidence in the public domain that the election of Uddhav Thackeray followed the Election Commission rules and had the stamp of approval of all party representatives in 2018.

As for inner party democracy, Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray has the majority support of the grassroots workers of the Shiv Sena. The proof was in over 20 lakh affidavits of primary members and 2.83 lakh affidavits of office bearers submitted to the Election Commission, compared to 12 lakh primary members and 711 office bearers of the Shinde faction. It is astonishing to see the poll body ignorecadre support and rely on ‘legislative support’.

While we are on internal party democracy and transparency, will the ECI explain to the country how the BJP chooses its party president? Indeed, to quote Arun Jaitley, “post-retirement placements affect pre-retirement judgments”. Though this was said in the context of the judiciary, it doesn’t seem misplaced to apply that statement to the ECI.

This order is a dangerous deviation from precedent. For instance, in 2017, when the AIADMK split between VK Sasikala and E Palaniswami, both factions took new names and symbols. Similarly, the Lok Janshakti Party split between Chirag Paswan and his uncle Pashupati Paras also required both factions to use new, modified names and party symbols.

These examples are for the ECI to understand that apart from numerical majority, it is important to consider the legacy of a party. The ECI order on the Shiv Sena may undermine India’s democratic values and constitutionalism, reducing them to a game of toppling governments.

There is an urgent need for a relook at what necessitated anti-defection laws. The ECI should have kept this fundamental jurisprudential aspect in mind while deciding the case, unless guided by external considerations. It is now for the Supreme Court, which is also under constant attack, to ensure that democracy is protected and to prove that the judiciary will continue to be the beacon of light in these turbulent times.

(Priyanka Chaturvedi is Member of Rajya Sabha and Deputy Leader Shiv Sena.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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