Historical Perspectives

The Election Commission of India: Guardian of Democratic Integrity

Safeguarding Democracy: Unveiling the Crucial Role of the Election Commission in India

The Election Commission of India (ECI) operates as an autonomous constitutional authority with the responsibility of administering Union and State election processes in India. Established by the Constitution of India on January 25, 1950, a day now celebrated as National Voters’ Day, the ECI stands as a permanent constitutional body committed to ensuring the integrity of free and fair elections in the country.

Upholding Democratic Values

The ECI plays a pivotal role in upholding the democratic values of India through the periodic conduct of elections. These elections, categorized into Direct and Indirect Elections, serve as a cornerstone in preserving the essence of democracy. Vesting authority in the ECI is the power of superintendence, direction, and control over elections to Parliament, state legislatures, the office of the President of India, and the office of the vice-president of India. The commission’s headquarters are situated at Nirvachan Sadan, Ashoka Road, New Delhi, housing approximately 300 employees dedicated to its mission.

Evolution and Structure

Originally comprising only a Chief Election Commissioner, the ECI has evolved to include a Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners. Appointed by the President, they hold a tenure of six years or until the age of 65, enjoying a status and compensation equivalent to Judges of the Supreme Court of India. Notably, the Chief Election Commissioner can only be removed from office through impeachment by Parliament.

Conducting its business through a combination of regular meetings and the circulation of papers, the ECI ensures a collaborative decision-making process where all Election Commissioners have an equal say. Additionally, the commission delegates some executive functions to its officers in the Secretariat, enhancing the efficiency of its operations.

History and Establishment of Election Commission

The Constitution of India established the ECI on 25 January 19501. This day is now celebrated as National Voters’ Day. It is headquartered at Nirvachan Sadan, Ashoka Road, New Delhi and consists of about 300 employees.

After independence on 15 August 1947, the nation’s free and fair elections have been held at regular intervals for five years. It is as per the principles enshrined in the Constitution, Electoral Laws and System. The Constitution of India has vested in the ECI the superintendence, direction and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every State independence to the offices of President and Vice-President of India.

Structure and Functionality

Originally, the ECI had only a Chief Election Commissioner. Two additional Commissioners were assigned to the commission for the first time on 16 October 1989 (on the eve of the 1989 General Election). Still, they had a very short tenure, ending on 1 January 1990. Later, on 1 October 1993, two additional Election Commissioners were appointed2. The concept of a multi-member Commission has been in operation since then, with decision-making power by majority vote.

Appointment of Election Commission

The President appoints the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners. They have a tenure of six years or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. They enjoy the same status and receive salary and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India. The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through impeachment by Parliament.

Functioning of Election Commission

The Commission transacts its business by holding regular meetings and also by circulation of orders. All Election Commissioners have an equal say in the decision-making of the Commission. The Commission, from time to time, delegates some of its executive functions to its officers in its Secretariat.

The Commission has a separate Secretariat in New Delhi, consisting of about 300 officials, in a hierarchical set-up. Two or three Deputy Election Commissioners and Director Generals, who are the senior officers in the Secretariat, assist the Commission. They are generally appointed from the national civil service of the country. They are selected and appointed by the Commission with tenure. Directors, Principal Secretaries, Secretaries, Under Secretaries and Deputy Directors support the Deputy Election Commissioners and Director Generals in turn.

The ECI commemorated its Golden Jubilee in 2001, marking five decades of steadfast commitment to upholding the democratic process in India. It remains an integral force in safeguarding the democratic values that define India and embodies the spirit enshrined in the Constitution of India.

Roles and Responsibilities

The Election Commission of India (ECI) is tasked with conducting and overseeing all elections in the country.

The main duties of the ECI include:

  1. Supervising, directing, controlling, and conducting the elections for the states and the Parliament.
  2. Laying down the general rules for the elections.
  3. Deciding the constituencies and preparing the electoral rolls.
  4. Regulatory approval of political parties.

In addition, the ECI establishes a model code of conduct that applies to all political parties and candidates. The code ensures their compliance during the electoral period. The ECI shoulders the responsibility of conducting elections that are both free and fair nationwide. It exercises oversight on the campaign expenditure of each candidate from every political party without any bias. 

The ECI holds advisory jurisdiction concerning the post-election ineligibility of sitting members of Parliament and State Legislatures. Furthermore, instances involving individuals found guilty of dishonest practices during elections, which reach the Supreme Court and High Courts, are referred to the ECI for its opinion. The ECI assesses whether such individuals should be disqualified and, if so, for what duration. 

The Election Commission holds complete authority over the electoral process, ensuring it remains free from any interference. This authority extends to both general elections and by-elections, underlining the ECI’s autonomy in overseeing electoral processes in the country.

In a nation as diverse as India, encompassing various religions, races, castes, and minorities, the ECI plays a pivotal role in ensuring equal opportunities and representation. Particularly for minorities and women candidates, the ECI facilitates the allocation of specific constituencies. Moreover, Article 331 of the Indian Constitution empowers the President to nominate two members from the Anglo-Indian Community to represent their interests in the Lok Sabha. Additionally, in the Rajya Sabha, the President can nominate 12 members, fostering a more inclusive and diverse representation in legislative bodies.

The ECI’s role is crucial in maintaining India’s democratic process. Despite facing challenges, it steadfastly ensures that the electoral process unfolds in a free and fair manner. It stands as a symbol of the democratic values upheld by India and embodies the spirit enshrined in the Constitution.

Voter Services

The Election Commission of India (ECI) offers a variety of services to voters designed to make the voting process as accessible and straightforward as possible for all eligible voters.

  1. New Registration for General Electors: Any Indian citizen who is 18 years or above or will turn 18 in a few months can fill out Form 6 for new registration.
  2. New Registration for Overseas (NRI) Electors: Indian citizens who have not acquired citizenship of any other country can fill out Form 6A for new registration.
  3. Objection for Proposed Inclusion/Deletion of Name in Existing Roll: If a voter wants to get their name deleted from the existing electoral roll, they can fill Form.
  4. Shifting of Residence/Correction of Entries in Existing Electoral Roll/Replacement of EPIC/Marking of PwD: Voters can fill out Form 8 to get their Electoral Photo Identity Card (EPIC) with updated details or replacement or marking of Person with Disabilities (PwD).
  5. Aadhaar Collection: Voters can fill out Form 6B and an election Photo Identity card (EPIC) for the commission.

The ECI has an online portal where voters can register and check their registration status and eligibility to vote. 

The ECI also provides offline enrollment. Voters can fill out Form 6 in two copies. The application, accompanied by copies of the relevant documents, can be filed in person before the concerned Electoral Registration Officer / Assistant Electoral Registration Officer or sent by post addressed to him or can be handed over to the Booth Level Officer of the polling area.

Limitations of the Indian Election Commission

The Election Commission of India (ECI) plays a pivotal role in ensuring the democratic process is free and fair in the world’s largest democracy. However, like any institution, it is not without its limitations. These limitations range from structural and procedural issues to challenges in enforcing its mandates. 

But still, the ECI has been instrumental in upholding the democratic ethos of India. The limitations and implications are detailed below.

  1. Lack of Transparency in Selection: The Constitution has not prescribed the qualifications (legal, educational, administrative or judicial) for the members of the Election Commission1. This lack of transparency in the selection of Election Commissioners is a significant limitation.
  2. Undefined Term: The term of the members of the Election Commission is not specified. This can lead to uncertainties and inconsistencies.
  3. Limited Control Over Political Parties: The Election Commission lacks the necessary tools to control political parties. It is unable to impose internal party democracy or control party finances.
  4. Inability to De-register Political Parties: Despite having the power to register the political parties under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, the Election Commission lacks the authority to de-register violating political parties, even in cases of the gravest violations.
  5. Rise in Violence and Electoral Fraud: The Election Commission is powerless to prevent Violence, Electoral Fraud, and political criminality.
  6. Politicization of Institution: Events in recent elections have raised questions on the credibility of the Election Commission. This politicization of the institution is a serious concern.
  7. Inability to Take Swift Action: The Election Commission has come under intense scrutiny over the last few years for its inability to take swift action against those violating the Model Code of Conduct.
  8. Post-Retirement Appointments: Election Commissioners are not prohibited from taking up additional appointments in government offices after retirement, which has it potential to create conflicts of interest.

The above issues pose significant challenges to the ability to conduct free and fair elections by the constitutional body. However, it’s important to note that despite these limitations, the Election Commission has played a crucial role in upholding the democratic process in India.

Past and the present Cheif Election Commission of India

Sukumar Sen was the first Chief Election Commissioner of India.

Sukumar Sen, the first Chief Election Commissioner of India
Sukumar Sen, the first Chief Election Commissioner of India, serving from 21 March 1950 to 19 December 1958

He served from 21 March 1950 to 19 December 1958. Sukumar Sen was an Indian civil servant who played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Election Commission of India. Under his leadership, the Election Commission successfully administered and oversaw independent India’s first two general elections, in 1951–52 and 1957. He also served as the first Chief Election Commissioner in Sudan. Sen’s tenure laid the foundation for the democratic electoral process in India. His contributions to the Election Commission of India are remembered for their significance in shaping India’s democratic process.

List of Former Election Commissioners

NoName of the Election Commissioner
Tenure
1Sukumar Sen21 March 1950 – 19 December 1958
2K. V. K. Sundaram20 December 1958 – 30 September 19671
3S. P. Sen Verma1 October 1967 – 30 September 1972
4Dr. Nagendra Singh1 October 1972 – 6 February 1973
5T. Swaminathan7 February 1973 – 17 June 1977
6S. L. Shakdhar18 June 1977 – 17 June 1982
7R. K. Trivedi18 June 1982 – 31 December 19851
8R. V. S. Peri Sastri1 January 1986 – 25 November 1990
9V. S. Ramadevi26 November 1990 – 11 December 1990
10T. N. Seshan2 December 1990 – 11 December 1996
11M. S. Gill12 December 1996 – 13 June 2001
12J. M. Lyngdoh14 June 2001 – 7 February 2004
13T. S. Krishnamurthy8 February 2004 – 15 May 2005
14B. B. Tandon16 May 2005 – 29 June 2006
15N. Gopalaswami30 June 2006 – 20 April 2009
16Navin Chawla21 April 2009 – 29 July 2010
17S. Y. Quraish30 July 2010 – 10 June 2012
18V. S. Sampath11 June 2012 – 15 January 2015
19Harishankar Brahma16 January 2015 – 18 April 2015
20Nasim Zaidi19 April 2015 – 5 July 20171
21Achal Kumar Jyoti 6 July 2017 – 22 January 2018
22Om Prakash Rawat23 January 2018 – 1 December 2018
23Sunil Arora2 December 2018 – 12 April 2021
24Sushil Chandra13 April 2021 – 14 May 2022
25Rajiv Kumar15 May 2022 –  Present

Know the Present Cheif Election Commissioner of India

Rajiv Kumar, the current Chief Election Commissioner of India
Rajiv Kumar, the current Chief Election Commissioner of India, serving since 15 May 2022

Rajiv Kumar presently holds the position of the 25th Chief Election Commissioner of India, having taken office on May 15, 2022. Before stepping into his current role, Rajiv Kumar served as a distinguished officer in the Indian Administrative Service. His prior roles include Chairman of the Public Enterprises Selection Board from April to August 2020, Finance Secretary of India from July 2019 to February 2020, Secretary of Financial Services from September 2017 to July 2019, and Establishment Officer from March 2015 to June 2017.

Current Issues and Developments

  1. Commission’s Notice to Smt. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra: The ECI issued a notice to Smt. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
  2. Commission’s Show Cause Notice to the National Convenor, Aam Aadmi Party: The ECI issued a show cause notice to the National Convenor of the Aam Aadmi Party.
  3. Submission of Details in Respect of Electoral Bond(s): The ECI issued a reminder regarding the submission of details in respect of Electoral Bond(s) as per the Hon’ble Supreme Court Order dated 2 November 2023.
  4. Declares General Elections to the Legislative Assemblies of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Telangana.rohit
  5. National Media Award for Best Campaign on Voters’ Education & Awareness-2023: The ECI invited entries from Media Houses for the National Media Award for the best campaign on Voters’ Education and Awareness during the year 2023.

Conclusion

The formation of the Election Commission of India (ECI) dates back to January 25, 1950, in accordance with the Constitution. Operating as an independent constitutional authority, the ECI is entrusted with the oversight of Union and State election processes in India.

While the ECI plays a crucial role in upholding the democratic ethos of India and ensuring a free and fair electoral process, it faces challenges in structural and procedural issues. And difficulties in enforcing mandates lack transparency in its actions. The EC has limited control over political parties, and it cannot de-register political parties. Also, it has a limited role in controlling the surge in violence and electoral fraud, are need to be addressed.

Despite these challenges, the ECI remains symbolic of the democratic values embedded in India’s governance, embodying the spirit enshrined in the Constitution. It extends its services beyond regulatory functions, aiming to make the voting process accessible and straightforward for all eligible voters.

In conclusion, acknowledging the limitations of the ECI is crucial, yet recognizing its indispensable role in sustaining India’s democratic processes is equally imperative. The institution stands as a testament to the robustness of India’s democratic institutions and the resilience of its people. Addressing these limitations becomes paramount for ensuring the ongoing integrity of India’s electoral procedures.

 

Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma is a seasoned Political Journalist with a deep passion for Indian Politics. With over a decade of experience in the field, he has established himself as a trusted… More »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button