Has Election Commission played the role of neutral umpire? SY Quraishi, Ashok Lavasa respond

And joining me now are two very special guests. I'm joined by the former Chief Election Commissioner, Dr. Sy Qureshi and the former election Commissioner, Ashok Lavasa. Appreciate both of you joining us. Let's cut the chase Seven week, seven phase election. And with every phase, controversies around the Election Commission continue to swirl. The election Commission now facing IR over not releasing the exact voter turn out numbers, instead supplying only the percentage of voter turn out and saying we are not legally mandated. Do this under form 17C. We will only provide this data to candidates and their agents. Does that work for you Doctor Qureshi? Are you happy, satisfied with the way this election is being conducted? Well, actually you know the positive side of the election that the fact that this is the biggest the election in the world, 15,000,000 people are organizing it. Things are happening with clockwork precipitation and almost everybody is doing his job very well. So they are all being subsumed by the controversies which have been generated. And there are only two controversies. One is about enforcement of the model code of conduct even handedly and the 2nd is the question of numbers. To me the controversy about the numbers is totally meaningless, pointless because the data which is essential, which is important, is already in the public domain. In the sense that 17 C is a form which is filled by the presiding officer at the end of the poll. He cannot go home without signing it and without giving the copy the after getting the signatures of the agent, giving it to the agents or the candidates. So once this data is already in the public domain, wow, what is the harm in releasing it to the public? What is so secret about it? What is so sacrosanct about it? What? So you're saying so you're not because the Sir, the Election Commission has told the Supreme Court they are not legally mandated to give these numbers. You're telling me that there is nothing sacrosanct? This should be given to the public as it does in the past. What is? What has changed so suddenly exactly? Exactly that is the question. Because this controversy, according to me, is totally needless, avoidable, and it is damaging the reputation of the Election Commission. Why are they doing it to themselves? Why they should release it immediately? And there was no reason to withhold it. Because you know, the other controversy which I have been reading in the media that, you know, the very high, the change was reported after a couple of days or four days or 11 days. Now to me all those changes are absolutely irrelevant because for me what is important is the data inside the machine. That is where the future of the political party candidate is captured and only a magician can change it because there are under 3-4 tier of security. So EVM data which is recorded in the 17 CE is all that we need. All other changes and debate and discussion to my mind are useless. But you're saying that data must be provided to the public. Do you agree with that, Ashok Lavasa, that the Election Commission cannot hide behind the socalled statutory framework and saying, look, Form 17C will only be shown to candidates and their agents? Should the public not have the right to know, A, the absolute number of voters in every constituency and B, how many of them have actually voted? And that should be available in real time in the public domain, surely? Thank you Rajeev. I agree entirely with what Doctor Qureshi has said that Election Commission of India being the custodian of all this data, it is in a position to release this data and make it comprehensible to the people. And one must also understand that everything that the Election Commission does to build confidence is not what is required in law. There are so many steps which it takes to reach out to people, to make things convenient for people to facilitate their understanding. In fact, if you go back in time, the entire exercise of sweep which was initiated when Doctor Qureshi was in the Election Commission, that is not legally required for the Election Commission to do. But it is an effort to educate the voters. It is an effort to win their trust and confidence. So in in that vein, what I would feel is like the analogy that I often cite about a cricket match going on where the organizers keep the score to themselves and don't display it publicly for the people to see. Now that they can get away by saying that you look, we are keeping the scoreboard scorecard and there is a system by which that score can be verified. That's all fine, but why add to the anxiety of people by not disclosing the data which you already have? Now as far as the right to know the legality of all this, which is being argued, I think nobody can question the legality because in terms of the conduct of election rules, Form 17C is mandatory. It is given, it is signed by the deciding officer. So all that is fine. And the fact that so many people, the polling agents have the Form C and through them the candidates also has information about the number of votes given in a polling station, that is all fine. But if you look at past practices, they, this data has always been released after a certain degree of accuracy and verification is done by the Commission. And of course you always have the area that there are certain category of votes which are not captured in this data because Form 17C is only the record of number of votes cast in that particular polling station. The other thing that I want to say, yes, go ahead, go ahead. If there are 10 candidates and there are 1500 polling stations, there are so many people who will have this Form 17C and the effort required by all of them to put this data together. And then during compilation or doing the addition, there could be mistakes made by the candidates. And if they are expected to put out this data for public information, it can lead to more confusion. Whereas the Election Commission which is which is the custodian of this data, which has access to this data and I think which is responsible for informing the people, they are in a very good position to put this data out and its very elementary data that is being sought. No, I, I take your point. The problem of course Dr. Qureshi is this is coming at a time when the credibility of the Election Commission itself is coming under question. You got the delay in the release of the final voter turn out data, the unusually high revised figures, the absolute absence of absolute numbers at the constituency and polling station level. All of this is leading to suspicion. Should we be suspicious as voters of this country or are you completely confident that the delay, for example, in the release of the final voter turn out data, the unusually high revised figures sometimes going up to as much as 8%? Are you OK with all of this or is there something that is missing? No, no, in fact, I'm surprised that this confusion has been created and the thing election Commission itself is responsible for it. Why did they not release it on the same evening all the maximum the next morning? It is to me that data, the data belongs to the public. It is already in the public domain and trying just to say that it has to be kept secret, secret from home. And why? So you're, so you're saying you're saying this data of the of the revised data should have been released right away, not after 10-11 days, am I correct? Quite right. Because there is no reason for the data to to change after so many days. You know, because I'll tell you how the data is generated real time. When you enter the polling station, there is a form 17A which is writing your attendance. You are number voter #1 I am voter #2 voter #3 and at two o'clock, 350 people have voted. Now one officer from Election Commission, how many have voted? So you see the last line and it says 350. And in any case, every two hours this data is being conveyed to the Election Commission every two hours, which is releasing it to the public. So the whole day this data is becoming public. At the end of the day, only the totals have to be transferred to Form 17C and the presiding officer cannot leave the polling station without forward. But. But Doctor Qureshi, the Election Commission is saying that this data is available on our website, on our app. Just because we havent made it available through a press release doesn't mean we are hiding something. No no, if that is true that it is available on the app or on the website, that is fine. I'm sure that is all the people should be demanding press release or no press release. Although press release anything which enhances your credibility is in your own interest and anything which are you surprised? Are you surprised that these voter turn out is being revised by 7-8 often 910%? Does that trouble you? Is that something surprising? It does. It does surprise me because the only reason why some change have happened, you know, in our time there used to be a press conference at the end of the day which has been discontinued for what good reason? I don't know. And we will, our man officer will tell you that today the polling turn out has been X amount and he said but this is not a final figure because there are hundreds of queues where people are lined up and that will take another couple of hours. Final figures will come after two hours. So even after two hours, then you have the final figure. Really. Is it? Are you also surprised Ashok Lavasa? Are you surprised with the delay in the in providing the final revised numbers? Is that surprising that it has took place after the first and second round after 11 days? Yeah, it is surprising as I said Rajeev, that in the second phase the data was released in on the 3rd or 4th day. So which means the system is capable of showing, displaying this data or giving it out. So why did it take 11 days? I failed to understand and delay in such cases is bound to create doubt and I think transparency is the best solution in these circumstances. Why? Why do you not make this data public? After all, the Election Commission runs a certain system which runs on the basis of procedures which are prescribed. So As for the prescribed procedure, data is being compiled at the polling station, It is being reported to the returning officer, the returning officer after scrutiny and the observer. They also report that data to the Election Commission. So there is no reason why people should not have this elementary data. Of course, maybe the Election Commission fears that if there is a mismatch, then there will be people who will say something. Dal me Kuch Kala has. So out of the fear that there could be a mismatch is what is worrying them. No Rajdeep, I was coming to that precise point that you see where is it is fine that Election Commission is not obliged to give you a ball by ball commentary of the process of election. So that is fine. The second thing is also that even if there is a mismatch, subsequently that can be explained, because this system can always arise. Something like million people who are involved in the conduct of elections the most had the possibility of mistakes. And even if there are increases that have been reported, I'm sure in the past also these figures have changed. But the point is that the more open you are about your information and the explanation that you can provide for any inconsistency or discrepancy, I think that is what will satisfy the people. So both of you are calling really for openness and transparency. In conclusion, Dr. Qureshi, that is the other issue of the model code of conduct. Notices are sent for hate speeches or divisive speeches, not to the individuals. Narendra Modi doesn't get it, Rahul Gandhi doesn't get it. It goes to the party president. And then you get a sense that right after five weeks, after complaints are made, the Election Commission wakes up. It almost seems that the Election Commission doesn't want to rock the boat, especially when it involves the Prime Minister or or the most important leader in the opposition. Does that worry you that, you know, in these five weeks, politicians have continued to make what I've seen by people as divisive, hateful speeches? Yes, you know, the I'm surprised that the what happened in 2019 is being repeated. And Ashok Lavasa was was the nature in the whole thing and he knows it. The inside story that for 25 days no action was taken on the model code and Supreme Court had to come down heavily. Why are you sitting over these? Why are you not deciding and then hurry Lee Commission sat and took decision. You mind you, nobody has questioned that decision. Howsoever faulty the decision may have been, they're only questioning the timing. How could you sit over it for 25 days and the time when the same thing is happening? Why are you taking so long? And 2nd interesting thing that happened, when somebody violates, we give a notice to that violator writing to his party president and balancing it with writing to another party president. Now a third person who was also given notice, he will say, why are you giving me notice? Please write to my party president because the law is the same for all. So I mean, obviously these are the kinds of suggest that the EC is toothless or spineless, doesn't suggest the EC is toothless or spineless. Mr. Lavasa, which of the two either the ECS toothless with this model code of conduct was spineless that it will not take on the absolute top people in this country? I think this issue again, Rajeev, goes back to the issue of transparency that we were discussing and I have always held that all complaints pertaining to model code, they should be put on the website. There should be a timeline for disposal and action taken by the EC should equally be on the website so that people can know what is happening. But then action at the end of the day. Just sending a note, Sir, just sending some kind of a stricture. Could the EC do more? My point is, could the EC do more to stop these kind of speeches that are prima facie seen as divisive? Yeah. So if you see Raideep, what has the EC done? They've given a notice to the party, which according to me is welcome of Parties also should be made responsible other than the person against whom the complaint has been made. So that is good. The second thing is that they have admonished or asked the parties to admonish the people who have violated because otherwise they would not have issued this warning which means that they are admitting that violation of model code of conduct has taken place. So I take I take your points about the worry is Mr. Nawasa that when it comes to a Abhijeet Gangopadhyay, the former judge of the Kolkata High Court, he he is stopped from campaigning for 24 hours. Will you ever do that to a top leader? That's my point. Will anyone ever tell a top leader, sorry, you violated a you've crossed a certain line, you're not going to campaign for 48 hours? Imagine if that was done to the top leaders of this country. Yeah, but wouldn't that be the signal to send out? Look again, go back to the analogy of a referee. Do you think that a referee is not expected to give somebody out or show him a yellow card or a red card if there is an offense committed For I am having a problem with the audio of Mr. Lavasa. You want to take that? Doctor Qureshi, Should a red card? Should a red card be shown to any leader who violates their model code of conduct, irrespective of how big or powerful he or she is? Absolutely. Because there are no different laws for different people. Simple. So they should be banned from campaigning? If you ban Abhijit Gangopatiya, then ban top leaders as well for 48 hours? Yeah, exactly. What a different law Is this for Gangopatiya and Bandopatiya and for the others? So you're very clear about that. You're saying that if any leader is seen to make spiteful, hateful speeches, don't just send them notices, ban them for 48 hours. That would send out a more powerful signal, am I correct? Correct. Even the notice will happen will be successful in 50% of the cases and if somebody is demand from the campaigning even for one hour, the rest of the result will happen from there. They will never repeat that. Either way, I hope that the words that both of you are putting out will be heard by by those in power and in the opposition and that they will realize that they have a special response. Yes. Go ahead, Mr. Lavasa. Yes, yeah, Yeah, there is. There is just one more thing that I want to say and is also A cause of worry is that there seems to be some kind of alienation between civil society and the election Commission or between the Election Commission. I remember election always the as a channel of communicating with the people and treat them as friends who will provide the bridge between election Commission and the voters. And I think civil society organizations also in the past have played a constructive role in the making the processes smooth and conveying to the people something that the Election Commission would like to convey. So, but there is a lack of faith, Indian nation. So there's a lack of faith. And the Election Commission goes to the Supreme Court and says that these individuals have vested interests is civil society not doesn't have a voice. So this is what is disturbing that this alienation between these stakeholders, important stakeholders. I think it's not good for the system as a whole. And these are all matters, all that we have been discussing. I think the Election Commission is eminently capable to resolve them itself without seeking any judicial intervention. So I think or without, without the need for any judicial intervention. Well, the very fact that there has been judicial intervention or various groups have gone to the Supreme Court is A cause for worry. The Election Commission ultimately is expected to be the ultimate neutral umpire. Has it really played that role of the neutral umpire? 10 seconds each. Doctor Qureshi, how many marks are you giving them out of 10? Have they really played a neutral umpire? Honest answer? Well, very difficult to answer that. Have they played a neutral umpire, Sir? Have they been neutral or not in your view? Well, I think they have now been very intelligent and wise in handling the situation. They have created doubts about themselves and they have invited a judicial intervention which was prohibited by the Constitution during the process and they have themselves invited by their action. So they have to do some introspection. Mr. Lavasa, have they played the role of a neutral umpire? Has our confidence in the electoral process been enhanced or diminished? Yeah. So I think that is something which everyone will view from his or her own perspective. But surely the fact that so many questions are being raised, so many judicial interventions are happening, I think that does call for an introspection. And I think there is no substitute for being more transparent. OK. I think that is the buzzword transparent. Please be transparent. Do not be opaque. Election Commission is expected to restore confidence that the people should have in our electoral process. Ashok Lavasa and Dr. Sy Qureshi, I appreciate both of you joining us here on The Political Rumble. Thank you.

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