Election 2024- Process must be as fair as the result

B L Saraf
National Election to constitute 18th Lok Sabha is underway. Process has been set in motion and if all goes well, in May a new Lok Sabha and, consequently, a new government will be in place in New Delhi. A feverish activity which has been a hallmark of an election campaign in India, is about to be unleashed. While it is time to celebrate the ‘festival of democracy ‘we have to be on guard to ensure that the ‘celebrations’ do not get marred by undesirable events-possibility of which, unfortunately, looms large on the political skyline of the country. Today, for many reasons, the political atmosphere is so vitiated that even a minor event can create an ugly situation of some proportion and cause a dent to the legitimacy of the election process. Irrespective of the party affiliations, politicians revel in raising highly polarized– sometimes blatantly sectarian-rhetoric to garner votes. That is why people keep fingers crossed in a hope that nation’s composite matrix doesn’t get torn apart.
The Supreme Court has over the years , consistently , held that free and fair elections are part of the basic structure of the Constitution. It is highly imperative that free and fair electoral process is observed, throughout, to maintain trust and legitimacy in the representative democracy. The view has, lately, been reiterated in Kuldeep Kumar v/s UOI and others – known as Chandigarh Mayor case. Earlier, In Ziauddin Burhanuddin Bhukhari v/s Brij Mohan Dass Mehra and others (1975 ) the Supreme Court had an occasion to deal with the matter of religious appeal to the voters in an election. It said “We do not consider such speeches to have any place in the democratic set up under our Constitution.”
In 2017, a seven bench of the Apex Court widened the interpretation of “appeal in the nature of religion “and held such appeal would include even the religion of voters and not only of the vote seeker. (Abhiram Singh v/s C D Commachen ). This means no appeal in the name or religion is permissible. The concerns expressed and warnings issued in this regard, unfortunately, are being observed in breach than in compliance.
Over a period of time we are witnessing a growth of religious nationalism-a phenomena which gets foregrounded to the extent as to define our politics, psychology and thinking process . It assumes a serious character when election season approaches. Ironically, in India this season goes in circles round the year, perennially. The quarters concerned watching Indian scene have been noticing the practice for quite a some time now. According to the report, prepared by a Washington DC based organization known as India Hate Lab and published in a national daily, in India 668 hate speeches against minorities were recorded in 2023. Out of them 255 events took place in first half of the year. Dealing with the pattern and trends, the report noted that hate speech events peaked in the period from August to November, when Rajasthan, MP, and Telengana were getting ready for the Assembly elections. The report may not be the gospel truth but it surely does give a hint which country’s rulers should take note of and introspect. At no cost should flavor of the ‘festival of democracy’ smell pungent.
It won’t do any good to the India’s good reputation to dismiss the report as a Foreigner’s rant , or a conspiracy to destabilize the country. Truth, however, is that the communal hate speech events have been recorded in India. So much so that the Supreme Court in a couple of cases directed police, across country, to register crime against communal hate speech makers – suo-motto – where ever they were made. In any case it doesn’t make sense to debunk an unfavorable foreign originated report and welcome a one which pats our back for some good thing done. When we welcome a foreign bouquet we must have courage to face the brickbats hurled across the seas and effect course correction, if needed.
Nonetheless, when we look around the trend doesn’t seem to have caught up with us, alone : it has almost become a worldwide phenomena-with America becoming a lead player of the, not so honorable, game. Watchers of the American scene have come to feel, what a highly regarded columnist wrote in a national daily, that America’s Christian nationalism is going international. Europe is not lagging behind, either. Former US President and 2024 Republican aspirant of the top post in USA, Donald Trump, has openly premised his campaign on the appeal to the American Christian Nationalist – and is finding a good traction with a substantial section of the country’s electorate. Remember, his earlier stint at the US High office was marked by challenges to the liberal issues and appointment of conservative judges to the US Supreme Court. We see a steep rise in far – right politics, everywhere which has caused opposition to the immigration, rejection of gender rights and disregard for the human rights.
But no account does it make a good scene that after decades of electoral democracy the nation has still to guard against tinkering of the electoral process. Every citizen must know that not only the ultimate election result has to be fair but also the processes that precede – and are necessary part of the election regime – have to be above board. Process should not become a punishment for some and reward for the other. We have noticed many a time that subversion of the process has taken place at different stages of an election- culprits being the very persons entrusted with the job.
Elections come and go, nevertheless, the social and communal harmony is a permanent feature and always non- negotiable. PM Narendra Modi has done so many good things in his ten years old rule : just one among them is sufficient to see him and BJP walk triumphant through the electoral battle. His diehard supporters must understand that PM Modi doesn’t need a ‘communal crutch‘ to cross the first post first . Thus far, India has had a commendable presence in the democratic world and it generated hope in those who believed in liberal, pluralist and secular way of life. Care needs to taken that nothing is done– overtly or covertly –which shatters the hope.
(The author is former Principal District & Sessions Judge)