Calling the next year’s Assembly elections in West Bengal as “challenging”, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora has said the Election Commission of India (ECI) is ready to deal ‘swiftly and ruthlessly’ to ensure there is no violence.
In an interview with The Indian Express, Arora also said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for holding simultaneously polls is a ‘desirable goal’ and it could happen only through legislation.
“In West Bengal, we will have to have 28,000 more polling booths… We have also started appointing special observers, over and above the normal observers, especially on the law and order and expenditure side. In Bihar, we put two special observers for expenditure… This time also we will be well-prepared, so that when required we come down on these elements swiftly and ruthlessly,” Arora told the newspaper.
On the Opposition’s demand for deployment of central forces for the state elections, Arora explained, “It’s a challenging election. It’s a hypothetical assumption that the government will oppose it (deployment of forces). There have been a series of meetings with the MHA about how much force is required. This is always the case for every election. We will cross the bridge when we come to it. We have not heard from the state government yet.”
“What the Prime Minister said (about simultaneous polls) is a very desirable goal… The Law Commission has also supported it. Big amendments can take place only on the floor of Parliament,” he said when asked about conducting simultaneous elections (‘One Nation, One Poll’) in the country.
Arora was also asked about the EC’s concern over the influence of social media on elections. To this, he replied, “We are concerned, but we are very clear that we would probably want a system, like in Germany or the UK… They have a very sound legislative framework to deal with the subject. We would also not be averse to having a sound legislative framework in India because the complications in India are far too many.”
He called for more transparency on the issue of electoral bonds. “We have already given our views on electoral bonds in the Supreme Court and we stand by that. The Commission as a body has told the Supreme Court that it (electoral bonds)… should be less opaque and more transparent…On the issue of expenditure, we had some specific requirements for the pandemic. So, we enhanced the limits because of the pandemic,” he said.
On what reforms he would like to see in the EC, he noted that Chief Electoral Officers had become ‘vulnerable because of their honest and independent conduct during an election. Immediately after elections, such officers are victimised or harassed.’
Arora said, “We would like to go to the government and say that at least for one year after a state or Central election is over, no (election) officer should be penalised under different alibis, only because he or she was very objective and implemented the law of the land faithfully.”