After Opposition alleges ‘match-fixing’ in LS polls, former CECs

English | 01 April, 2024 | 09:51 AM
સાંજ સમાચાર

WITH CONGRESS leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “match-fixing” in the Lok Sabha polls by using central law enforcement agencies, at least three former Chief Election Commissioners (CECs) told The Indian Express that the recent actions of the Income Tax (I-T) Department and Enforcement Directorate (ED) against opposition parties and their leaders have the potential to disrupt the level playing field during elections.

The Congress announced on Saturday that it had received fresh notices from the I-T Department for 2014-2015 and 2016-2017, with a tax demand of Rs 1,745 crore. This followed notices the party had already received for 1994-1995 and 2017-2018, bringing the total demand to Rs 3,567 crore. The I-T Department has also withdrawn Rs 135 crore from the Congress’s bank accounts for previous dues.

According to the former heads of the Election Commission (EC), two of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, such actions could be seen as interfering with free and fair elections and should prompt the poll watchdog to at least meet the agencies to ascertain why tax demands and I-T notices cannot wait until after the elections are over.

“I personally feel the EC can certainly put it on hold because it is affecting the level playing field. Within the EC, the principle we always followed was ‘anything that can wait, should wait’ during elections. The question to ask is that is there any irreparable damage in postponing? There is no irreparable damage in this case. It can be done after three months,” former CEC S Y Quraishi told The Indian Express.

Another former CEC, who did not wish to be named, said: “Such situations never arose during our time in the Commission, so it is difficult to cite a precedent when the Commission would have stepped in. However, having said that, the objective of the Model Code of Conduct is to ensure that a level playing field is ensured for everyone participating in elections. If the tax agencies keep issuing notices to the principal opposition party when campaigning is on, freezes their accounts and even debits money from it, the Commission should ask CBDT for the compelling reasons on why this cannot wait till after elections? This can be done through a meeting between the Commission and CBDT.”

In recent months, the ED has also acted against Opposition leaders, carrying out searches, issuing summonses and making arrests in connection with separate cases. The most prominent arrest was that of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal last week and BRS leader K Kavitha earlier this month in connection with the Delhi excise policy case.

The former CEC said that when the ED summons leaders for questioning at a time they should be involved in campaigning, that too disturbs the level playing field. “The Commission cannot come in the way of matters of national security, but if it doesn’t involve that then can the I-T Department and ED not wait for two more months,” the former CEC said.

A third former CEC, who also did not wish to be named, said: “This is a tricky and ticklish issue and I can understand how difficult it will be for the EC to navigate this. But the fact is that how do you expect a political party to contest an election when its access to funds is cut off? Does this not affect the level playing field?

As an umpire in this match, the Commission cannot remain completely mute and it will have to play some persuasive role by way of consultation or a meeting with central agencies to persuade them to defer actions such as raids and freezing of accounts and raising of tax demands till after the elections so that there is some semblance of level playing field.”

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