A competition commission for elections

With a new round of assembly elections, including that of Gujarat, round the corner, the freebies issue has occupied the centre-stage of political discourse. The matter is now before the Supreme Court, which has favoured an early hearing of a PIL in this connection by a larger 3-member bench. The court’s approach shows the extent to which it gives importance to underlying considerations.
The Supreme Court for sure will examine the propriety and possibility of an expert body under it to deal with the issue of freebies. But it remains to be seen wheter such a body will have a limited mandate of looking at the specific complaints referred to it in the present case or it will have any kind of permanency.
Perhaps, it is a fit case for the Supreme Court to recommend the setting up of a Competition Commission for Elections as a constitutional body, similar to the Election Commission, to ensure that political parties stick to acceptable practices in terms of making promises to lure voters. Such a body can also ensure that ruling parties do not abuse their position to prolong their rule by using tax-payers’ money to launch irresponsible freebies to keep voters happy, which will have very serious implications for the people in the long run. This is an issue that will engage increasing attention in the days to come, especially when technology is becoming an enabler and people have better means to keep a watch on how their governments are performing.
It has been clear that the Election Commission is neither in a position to look at these issues nor inclined to consider whenever such instances are bought to its notice. There are a number of issues that are important to ensure elections are free and fair, which are, however, overlooked by the Election Commission.
So there will be no dichotomy between the Competition Commission and the Election Commission, with the latter involved more with the organizational conduct of elections, which by itself is an onerous task. On the other hand, the Competition Commission can deal with ethical issues as well as matters of financial prudence and that every party, irrespective of whether in power or out of it, functions within the competition parameters to ensure level-playing field for all players alike.
K Raveendran
on e-mail