His dissent should have been recorded, and made public; that said, some part of the Model Code of Conduct must be revisited.
There can be little doubt that, given its mandate and the fact that its decisions have the force of law during the elections, the Election Commission (EC) can hardly be compared with any other arm of the government. Going by news reports, that, however, appears to be the argument made by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra while not recording Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa’s dissent on various issues, much less making this public. One of the arguments made, it appears, is that neither the Cabinet nor the CAG record dissent though, as in any other body, there is bound to be some disagreement on some issue or the other. This is, however, the wrong comparison since neither the Cabinet nor the CAG pass orders or adjudicate on issues; in all bodies that do, from various tribunals to even the courts, minority rulings are made public; indeed, even RBI is trying to do its bit to encourage transparency and notes of the meetings of the Monetary Policy Committee are made public. So, the EC was wrong in not recording Lavasa’s dissent.
Indeed, the EC was slow to react to various violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), and did so only after it was pulled up by the Supreme Court. In this context, Lavasa is said to have suggested that, before electioneering began, the EC write to prime minister Modi requesting his cooperation in upholding the MCC; repeated sensitising of political leaders can’t be a bad thing. Lavasa disagreed with the several clean chits given by the EC to Modi, in cases such as his asking for votes in the name of the Pulwama martyrs; while the EC, like the courts, goes by the majority view, even recording Lavasa’s dissent would have had an impact in disciplining wayward candidates since this would have been widely publicised. What is odd, of course, is that while many wanted Modi to be censured for this, few thought the EC needed to take action on Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi repeating, with no proof, that Modi had given Anil Ambani’s firm `30,000 crore of Rafale orders or his telling tribals that the crux of one of Modi’s proposed Bills was “shoot Adivasis with impunity” when the reality was a lot more complex.
Once the elections are over, the EC, various political parties and civil society need to revisit the MCC to see how this needs to be reinterpreted. Asking parties not to campaign on the basis of either caste or religion appears the right thing to do, but since several political parties have been set up precisely to appeal to certain caste/religious groups, can this be helped? And if, as in the case of the BJP, a more muscular policy towards aggressors is part of the party’s USP, how is the MCC to be implemented when it says that events like Balakot are not to be publicised? Oddly enough, political parties that are now pillorying the EC for being soft on the ruling party and who are alleging, again without proof, that the EVMs are being transported in private vehicles instead of in EC vehicles—the argument is that this will allow switching/tampering of EVMs by the BJP—have not spent a minute in doing anything about the other big thing that vitiates polls: the large-scale presence of criminals among their candidates.