The Election Commission of India
Sardar Patel Chowk,
mail to: email@example.com
SUB : An Appeal to the Election Commission of India : A Snap Poll in Gujarat at this juncture will be Grossly Violative of Democratic and Constitutional Principles
As an ordinary citizen of India, concerned about its future and continuance as a secular democratic republic, I submit the following facts and arguments for your kind and judicious consideration while finally deciding the timing of the next assembly election in Gujarat. For I believe that this decision of yours, which you are now expected to take and announce soon having concluded your on-the-spot investigations in Gujarat, will be a momentous one -just not shaping the future course of development in blood and shame stained Gujarat, but the very continuance and existence of India, as we know of it today.
1. As the now dissolved Gujarat assembly came into being in mid-March of 1998, if allowed to run its full course, the next elected assembly would have been due by next year mid-March. But the Chief Minister of Gujarat, duly backed by his cabinet, recommended the premature dissolution of the state assembly last month to force an early election, and this was promptly accepted by the state Governor. Moreover, the incumbent government was asked to continue till the next government takes over after the coming assembly election.
2. The constitutional right of the Chief Minister, enjoying the confidence of the assembly, to recommend its premature dissolution and seek an early election in the quest for a favourable mandate from the electorate at a time of his own choosing is, no doubt, unassailable. In fact, to my knowledge, even the worst critic of the Chief Minister has not challenged his right to do so.
3. But the timing and the actual conduct of the election eventually rests with the Election Commission, and the Commission has to take into account a number of factors in a holistic manner, not excluding the broader and the specific contexts, and just not the Chief Minister’s constitutional prerogative while taking the final decision.
4. This, in fact, has been implicitly conceded even by those, viz. The BJP, who are demanding an early election, preferably in September-October, in so far as they are buttressing their contention based on a couple of constitutional and political arguments.
5. The votaries of an early election are essentially putting forward twofold arguments :
One, it is imperative, in fact constitutionally obligatory, for the EC to conduct the election in such a way that the next assembly session can be held by early October – before the expiry of the six month period since the closing of the last session.
Two, popular elections constitute the central piece of a democratic system, and hence in view of the widespread allegations against the Narendra Modi government of engineering a communal carnage in Gujarat it would be only proper to seek a fresh mandate from the electorate and thereby test the validity of such allegations – which according to the BJP are evidently false, malicious and politically motivated, in terms of the of the outcome of the poll; as in a democracy, the “people”, i.e. the electorate, are the supreme and final arbiter. Hence, the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, is these days quite often referring to and swearing by the “Janata Janardan” (people the divine).
There is also a third, even if supplementary, argument. If elections can be, and could be, held in Jammu and Kashmir (and the North-East), then why not in Gujarat?
6. Despite apparent plausibility, all these arguments are essentially flawed, contrived and even gravely dangerous – we will try to establish as we go along.
7. The first argument contends that the Article 174 of the Indian Constitution provides that the interval between the last day of the preceding session of a state assembly and the first day of the following session must be less than 6 months. It is, in fact, on the strength of this argument the Narendra Modi government went in for recommending premature dissolution of the assembly, instead of simply proposing an early election, to force the hands of the EC.
But the argument is at best spurious. Read together with the other provisions, it evidently refers to the two successive sessions of the same assembly, and not two different assemblies separated by an intervening election. In fact, that is the stand the union government has taken in a case before the Supreme Court pertaining to the UP assembly.
The unsustainability of this line of logic becomes all the more evident if we consider the fact that nothing in the Constitution prevented Narendra Modi to go in for dissolution of the house just before the next session becomes due. In that case meeting the alleged deadline of six months for the next session would have simply become an impossibility.
8. The second argument, however, is positively and extremely dangerous. It equates majoritarianism with democracy, and is based on a partial and perverted definition of the latter.
Democracy, of course, means the rule of the common ‘majority’, an ever-changing conglomeration of individual citizens – or rather their elected representatives, clearly contrasted with other systems of governance – which provide for the reign of a solidly entrenched privileged few, or ‘minority’, quite often – but not always, selected through heredity.
But it does not mean just that. It also means, among many other things and values, the right to dissent, special protection for the (vulnerable and underprivileged) ‘minorities’, and certain civilised norms of social transactions.
So, faced with a terrible famine, if ninety-nine out of a hypothetical community of a hundred decide to slaughter the hundredth one and partake his/her flesh just to ensure their survival – that would definitely not be democratic, even under those extreme circumstances. That is precisely why Hitler, who at a point of time polled overwhelming majority votes of the German electorate, is considered the worst dictator and criminal the civilised world has seen till date as the perpetrator of the “holocaust”. “Popular mandate” could in no way mitigate the enormity of his crimes. That is why a “popular mandate” cannot set aside the verdict of a court as regards the culpability either of an individual or a group.
The Indian Constitution, like in all other democracies, clearly recognises this limit to “people’s power”. Hence, there is separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial wings of the state. And the basic features of the Constitution, howsoever nebulous and undefined they stand, are considered unalterable.
9. Now, if we look at the specific context of Gujarat – we find that the BJP-led government of Gujarat, which in the recent days was encountering a virtually uninterrupted series of serious electoral reverses at all the three levels – panchayat, assembly and parliament, has suddenly gone gung-ho about elections just with the onset of the blood-bath in the state in the wake of the Godhra carnage. That is why the talk of a snap poll started doing rounds virtually from the day one. Evidently bestial sectarian violence has been looked upon as an extremely effective instrument, made readily available through the control over the state machinery – of course through an earlier round of election, to polarise and mobilise voting ‘majority’ in its favour. That is why the state government behaves in such a revoltingly biased manner – openly and demonstratively. To take only a few examples, the Godhra victims, overwhelmingly Hindu, are offered compensation at a rate double of that offered to the subsequent victims, overwhelmingly Muslim. Draconian POTA is made applicable in case of the Godhra accused, and routine criminal laws for the subsequent ones. Senior and experienced lawyers, with higher fees, are appointed as prosecutors for the Godhra cases, and greenhorns for the riot cases. When the board examinations, which could not be held because of the carnage, were held after the violence subsiding to a significant extent – all the centres from the ‘minority’ Muslim areas were shifted to ‘safe’ Hindu areas, regardless of the fact that the victims of violence were overwhelmingly Muslims. The few functionaries of the state, who tried to discharge their duties with at least some degree of integrity, got summarily transferred to inconsequential postings. The criminal and deliberate callousness towards the tasks of relief and rehabilitation and bringing the culprits of unspeakable violence to book is, however, too evident to merit any special mention.
As a result, even if the explicit violence has significantly, though not completely, abated (in fact, too many are even today unable to go back to their erstwhile homes) – in today’s Gujarat terror and hatred permeates the very air that we breathe. That is why the BJP is so insistent on holding the elections right now, lest the terror and hatred dissipates with time. That is why the VHP is talking of election as ‘Dharam Yudh’ (crusade) and the BJP is talking of ‘Gaurav(!) Yatra’ (Glory March).
That is precisely why the election must be deferred till a modicum of ‘normalcy’ is restored. And the only authentic evidence of the ‘normalcy’ would be the normalcy restored to the lives of the riot victims. Otherwise the election will be neither “free” nor “fair”.
10. As regards the third argument, it has to be clearly recognised that Jammu and Kashmir (along with parts of the North-East) is a completely different case – in a class of its own, in so far as it is faced with secessionist insurgencies enjoying supports from beyond India’s territorial limits. Here, the Indian state, rightly or wrongly, has decided, with support from all the mainstream political parties, to suspend the democratic rights of the local populace, and rigged elections have been considered over the years one of the many instruments to thwart insurgency. Just because the Indian state, for evident reasons, cannot go public about this approach, there is no sense in equating Jammu and Kashmir with Gujarat, where the government of the day, and not any insurgents, is patronising sectarian violence to promote its nefarious political agenda.
11. In conclusion, your attention is most humbly drawn to the fact that if an early election held in an ambience of terror and hatred brings in hefty electoral reward for the perpetrators of bestial violence, which in fact is not too unlikely given the level of communal polarisation in the civil society of Gujarat, brought about by the active intervention of the state ably aided by the vernacular media, the bloodbath in Gujarat will stand politically, if not legally, legitimised putting the lives of millions in grave jeopardy. Not only that, in such an event this gory experiment will in all likelihood be attempted to be replicated all across India with disastrous and unimaginable consequences.
An immediate election will also definitely halt whatever relief and rehabilitation works have been undertaken by a reluctant government, and reverse the process of normalisation, albeit at an excruciatingly slow pace, by raising the pitch of political/communal conflicts.
12. To sum up, you are once again urged not to give in to the bullying tactics of the union government and do full justice to the independent and constitutional positions that you hold.
In the case of electoral reforms, you have already shown exemplary boldness in implementing the Supreme Court directives. The people of India are keenly looking forward to the same sort of fearless dispensation of justice in this case as well.
The future of India lies in your able hands!
EKTA (Committee for Communal Amity) Mumbai