When the Election Commission shuts its eyes and ears

When the Election Commission shuts its eyes and ears
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The Election Commission has suspended a poll observer, Muhammed Muhsin, for inspecting prime minister Narendra Modi’s helicopter in Odisha’s Sambalpur district.

The commission has alleged that the Karnataka cadre IAS officer violated the guidelines regarding VIPs under the cover of the Special Protection Group.

One of the initial orders from the commission regarding aircraft and helicopters came in 1999.

This order specifically banned the use of any aircraft or helicopters belonging to the government or public sector companies for election campaigns.

When the Election Commission shuts its eyes and ears

The prime minister, however, was exempted from the order.

The guidelines of April 2014, which was cited as the basis of Muhsin’s suspension, reiterated the ban but extended the exemption to all persons under the SPG cover.

The guidelines of March 2019 repeated the order.

None of these guidelines, however, prevent poll observers or other officers from inspecting the vehicles used for campaign, even if the passengers enjoy SPG protection.

The suspension of Muhsin puts into question the credibility of the Election Commission.

A poll observer’s post is created by the Representation of People Act to ensure free and fair elections.

The commission describes observers as its eyes and ears. All these while they were allowed to work freely and fearlessly.

The officer who dared to inspect the prime minister’s chopper would have earned a pat on his back had he worked under former chief election commissioner T N Seshan, a former election official told me.

The commission has only managed to dent the morale of its observers by suspending one of them citing a non-existent guideline.

That could affect the conduct of the general election.

When the Election Commission shuts its eyes and ears

Surveys in time

Elections are always preceded by opinion polls. News organisations vie with each other to put out forecast of election results. Even fake surveys and social media hoaxes are sent out to influence voters.

Experts are not so sure about the impact of the surveys though. Prannoy Roy and Dorab Sopariwala, in their latest book ‘The Verdict – Decoding India’s Elections’, cites data to suggest that opinion polls seldom reflect the actual outcome of elections.

The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), one of the most credible organisations, forecast 240-280 seats for the ruling National Democratic Alliance before the first phase of the election was kicked off. However, CSDS director Dr Sanjay Kumar later wrote that the alliance is losing its edge as the campaign progresses. He cited the polling percentage data to suggest that the BJP is on the backfoot in six of the eight constituencies in Uttar Pradesh after the first phase of the election, in contrast to the centre’s early forecast of the BJP winning 40 per cent of seats in Uttar Pradesh.

This underscores the importance of the timing of the survey. CVoter also measures the popularity of political leaders. Modi’s popularity soared after the Balakot air strikes. His popularity, however, dipped from 62 per cent on March 7 to 43 per cent on April 12. The different periods in which the surveys were conducted might explain the difference in the forecast fortunes of the NDA.

The election surveys feed on the people’s curiosity about who will win the election.

The real outcome will be revealed only on the counting day. Bear in mind that the surveys and exit polls were way off the mark in 2004.

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The indestructible Notre Dame

I had been to Paris several times. During a trip in 2017, my first evening destination was the Notre Dame Cathedral as usual. The Gothic cathedral was partly covered in scaffoldings put up as part of reconstruction. It occurred to me that the Arthunkal church was modelled on Notre Dame.

When the Election Commission shuts its eyes and ears

I was drawn to Notre Dame through literature. Victor Hugo’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ was the most sought-after book in libraries during my younger days. I have read Venmani Sankara Warrier’s Malayalam translation of the classic many a time. Esmeralda the gypsy girl and Quasimodo the hunchback were familiar faces to me. The scene of Quasimodo pushing off Claude Frollo came to my mind whenever I looked towards the dizzying heights of the church.

When the Election Commission shuts its eyes and ears

Inside, the church became a place of worship, sun rays filtering through coloured glasses, the music flowing melodiously and the faithful praying with their eyes closed. The church had three previous avatars before the latest structure was built in the 12th century. The Catholic church was once targeted by the Protestant Huguenots, who demolished most of the icons. After the French Revolution, the revolutionaries proclaimed the cathedral as a church of reason. Napoleon’s marriage was solemnized in the church. Parisians flowed into the church to celebrate the liberation of the city after World War II.

The church was devastated by an inferno last week but destruction and reconstruction, like laws of nature, are part of the cathedral’s history.

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