From the mayhem created by 'halqa in-charges' (constituency in-charges) at the ground level to the threat posed by money, power, liquor and drugs, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has come face to face with some challenges to democracy in poll-bound Punjab.
Understanding the situation
The ECI has taken stock of the ground situation in Punjab and has identified the challenges before it to conduct smooth assembly polls a few months ahead. It has come face to face with the prevailing mess at the ground level and has prioritised the areas that need to be emphasised upon besides identifying the interventions required at its level.
The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Dr Nasim Zaidi and two election commissioners AK Joti and OP Rawat, along with six other officials, are on a three-day visit to the poll bound state during which they interacted with the political players, people's representatives, concerned citizens and officials.
"We want to conduct the elections in a totally neutral and unbiased manner," Zaidi has stressed.
Calling the shots
Zaidi pointed out that the ECI has been apprised of the local administration and police officials being under the influence of 'halqa in-charge' or constituency in-charge from the ruling party.
This institution has come to be identified as a notorious one as the halqa in-charge call the shots right to the extent of transfers and postings. "We were requested that the system needs an over hauling and the posting of officials needs to be reviewed. It needs to be identified how many anti socials are operating in the system, how many are out on parole. We have been asked to constitute Special Task Force (STF) to address the issue of abuse of money, liquor and drugs," said Zaidi.
The ECI has told the state administration to put in place a 'robust mechanism' by 15 November to address this concern.
Political parties other than the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine have also called for a ban on blue ration cards in the state that have pictures of ministers of the ruling combine.
The ECI has been told that the forthcoming polls be carried out under the presence of maximum number of central police forces. The political parties are apprehensive of the state police playing into the hands of the ruling parties. For the last six months police transfers have been taking place at all levels on almost daily basis. The political parties want the central police forces to arrive well in advance for confidence building measures.
Zaidi said, "In the recent polls in five states, we made use of a large number of central police forces effectively. We will see what needs to be done here."
The ECI has also been requested by various stakeholders to enhance the area under web casting and CCTV surveillance. Most of the political parties want a single-phase poll in the state.
Zaidi further said that the political parties have identified paid news as a major problem. Even the aware citizens have been airing their concerns over this issue. Besides political parties owning publications and television channels, the sprouting of new channels at local levels ahead of the polls are a major cause of concern.
The political parties in the state also want that the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) be implemented in the state at the earliest and they be provided a level playing field to put across their points of view to the common public through various various modes of communication.
Under the influence
Zaidi further disclosed that the ECI would get vulnerability mapping done in the state to identify the spots where people might be intimidated by various elements.
Pointing to the problem starting right from the police station levels, he said that a database is being prepared where police officials are under the influence of local leaders and such police stations would be under the radar of the ECI.
"The officials have been told by us that from right now they should act in an unbiased manner, neutrally and independently. The chief secretary and the Director General of Police (DGP) have been conveyed that no official will function under external influence. If this happens he would invite penal and civil action," said Zaidi.
Meanwhile, the Congress has called for a thorough probe by the ECI into the 'dummy postings' given to policemen in a bid to hoodwink the Commission.
Citing media reports, Congress leaders Gurpreet Singh Kangar, Surinder Singla and Nathuram said the compliance report submitted by the SAD government ahead of the elections was a total eyewash.
They have charged that in several cases, cops who had to be shifted out as per the ECI directives were accommodated in the same place against dummy or non-existence posts to enable them to continue to serve their political masters. Many of these police personnel have been shifted to posts specially created to adjust them, such as in computer cell, cyber cell, control room, police training school, special branch etc.
"The fact that the ECI had to direct the police officers to arrest the 20,000-odd proclaimed offenders roaming free in the state and not work under political pressure clearly shows the extent of the 'goonda raj' prevailing in Punjab under the Badal dispensation," the Congress leaders said.
The Akali demands
The Akalis in their representation to the ECI urged the Commission to minimise the period between the announcement of election and date of polling as well as the period extending from day of polling to the declaration of results. "Where as the longer duration of code of conduct unnecessary affects the developmental activity of the state and long delays in declaration of results creates a period of uncertainty which is not good for state of Punjab," said party delegation comprising secretary general Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and secretary Dr Daljit Singh Cheema.
They also urged the ECI to increase the limit of cash carrying during the period of code of conduct. The SAD leaders said that it has been seen in the previous elections that ordinary businessmen faced harassment due to the lower limit fixed by the ECI at the time of election. This adversely affected business activity in the state.
The SAD leaders have demanded that procedure of taking no objection certificate for organising election rallies and other meeting should be simplified so that candidates do not face harassment during election campaign.
They brought to the notice of the ECI how certain leaders of various political parties are indulging in false and malicious campaign amounting to character assassination of ruling party leaders which should be curbed with firm hands.
They have complained particularly about the threats being issued by Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh to the police officials and other government functionaries with an intention to insult and demoralise them and demanded strict action to stop this without any delay.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu
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