Apex court on unopposed wins

A three-judge division bench the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice has upheld the election of 20,159 candidates who were ‘elected’ unopposed in the panchayat elections held in West Bengal in May this year. All these candidates belong to the ruling Trinamool Congress. Three opposition political parties of the State had moved the apex court for quashing these elections because, they alleged, the TMC had, by threats and intimidations, prevented their candidates from filing their nominations. The apex court has held that elections of so many candidates cannot be quashed because it would be ‘prejudging’ the issue.  What it has suggested is that the aggrieved candidates who could not file their nominations can file election petitions within 30 days of the results being official declared.
The main objection raised by the opposition parties, however, does not get invalidated by the apex court verdict. Even if it is assumed that the election of candidates who won unopposed is valid, the larger question that involves the functioning of a democracy is, what were the circumstances in which so many candidates other than those of the ruling party could not file their nominations for so many seats. The apex court has not gone into this question but in a functioning democracy this question has to be gone into and answered. Unless this issue is addressed, it is perfectly possible that in any election – panchayat or civic or assembly or parliament – candidates not belonging to the ruling party (whichever party it may be) will find it impossible to file nominations because of terror and violence by the foot soldiers of the party in power. Or, in a booth of a thousand voters, the ruling party candidate polls 900 odd votes while his rival candidates get eight or ten votes.
This is not a hypothetical possibility but a real one in the situation prevailing in the country. The State and Central Election Commissions will have to find a way to deal with such situations. The foundation of democracy is free and fair elections in which the voter can exercise his or her franchise without fear. If fear prevents a candidate from filing his nomination or a voter from voting or compels him to vote for a candidate against his conscience, then democracy becomes a farce. In the communist countries there used to be one party and that party won again and again. Already one hears slogans like “One country, one nation, one election.” From this to One Party, One Leader, is but one remove.

Sunday, 26 August, 2018