If wishes were horses

The “lightning speed” with which the central government appointed former IAS officer Arun Goel as a member of the three-man Central Election Commission faced the scrutiny of the Supreme Court. The government took the stand that courts need not sit in judgment over matters under the purview of the executive. The apex court has admitted that it cannot overturn this appointment as the Constitution does not specify any yardstick for appointments to the EC. Yet, the court has sought “files” from the government vis-à-vis the appointment for scrutiny. On the positive side, the court intervention has brought the subject to public focus. Discussions and debates are integral to the success of Democracy. Prima facie, a retired IAS officer has within him the necessary qualifications to act as EC or in future as CEC. A colossus like TN Seshan had proven this. So much so, his word was law. An officer known for his integrity and rough and tough postures, Seshan was the toast of the season when he held the CEC post. By all reckoning, it however is unlikely that the Modi government would be magnanimous enough to allow the re-creation of such a situation.
The Supreme Court’s observation that a “short tenure” for CEC would “destroy” the independence of the election commission is well-taken. At the same time, this should be applicable to other institutions as well, including the judiciary itself. The 49th CJI, Justice UU Lalit, retired in a short span of 82 days; and his predecessor exited after 124 days. In the present case, the central government submitted that EC post lasts cumulatively for around five years. The apex court has stated the obvious – that someone in a position should have the time and space to perform and enable him or her to correct the ills in the system, strengthen it and leave it in a better shape. But, the likes of Lalit got no such time. The judiciary is one of the four pillars of a democratic system. The Election Commission is an independent body just as courts are and both these entities should be run by individuals with a high degree of integrity; and so should the executive be. But ideal situations are different from real life. No government with a sense of seriousness would want a parallel authority to sit over its head. Multiple power-centres do no good to a nation; and the scenario in this country is already complex. The central authority that must carry with it a great sense of integrity should also have the courage and freedom to perform. If only wishes were horses….

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