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Judges as ECs, govt resignation 3 months before polls: How BJP forerunner Jana Sangh pushed for electoral reforms

The Narendra Modi government has introduced a Bill, set to be discussed in the special Parliament session to be held next week, that seeks to replace the Chief Justice of India with a Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister in the selection committee of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs). But, interestingly, nearly five decades ago, the BJP’s forerunner Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) demanded that judges be appointed as ECs in a multi-member Commission.

The Jana Sangh’s proposal in 1975 was in line with several election-related demands that it had made since its inception in 1951. The party organised its first general assembly in December 1952 in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. On December 31, it directed its national executive to write to the Union government saying that votes should be counted immediately after polling. Four years later in Delhi, in its fifth general assembly session held just months before the second parliamentary and state elections, the Jana Sangh demanded that All India Radio to not broadcast election-related speeches of ministers.

The Jana Sangh alleged Central and state government ministers, at the time overwhelmingly from the Congress, misused government machinery for electoral purposes and in its national executive meeting in Kota, Rajasthan, on May 24, 1962, demanded that all governments must resign three months before polls. The Jana Sangh resolution read, “In order to keep the faith of ordinary citizens in the democracy intact … (BJS) executive demands from the government to amend the Constitution to make a provision that governments at Centre and states must resign three months prior to elections. Executive demands all parties to cooperate with us to raise this demand.”

When the Election Commission was set up in 1950, it was a one-member body with just a CEC. It has been a three-member commission only since 1990, but long before that, on March 4, 1971, the Jana Sangh demanded that the Commission be made a multi-member body. The same year, the party said at its general assembly in Udaipur, Rajasthan, on July 2 that the government must reconsider the polling system to reflect people’s aspirations. At the same meeting, the Jana Sangh demanded that the government should gradually move towards funding elections and said parties and candidates should not bear poll-related expenses. A judicial commission should adjudicate all electoral disputes, it added.

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The following year at its national executive meeting in Delhi on March 20, the Jana Sangh again asked the government to reconsider the electoral system. On May 7 that year, the party’s national executive said following its meeting in Bhagalpur, Bihar, that elections must be held simultaneously on a single day across the country. Simultaneous elections had been a feature till 1967 but after that the Assembly election and parliamentary poll cycles became unsynchronised.

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Then in 1975, five months before Emergency was imposed, the Jana Sangh, at a meeting held from January 22 to 24, demanded that the single-member Election Commission be replaced by a multi-member body and said the members should be judges and not former bureaucrats of secretary rank.

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Since then, the country’s political topography has undergone a sea change and the electoral system has gradually transformed, with several changes coming during T N Seshan’s tenure as CEC. As the BJP government works towards making a change in how the CEC and ECs are chosen and a sense of disquiet prevails over the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, downgrading ECs to the status of a Cabinet Secretary from that of a Supreme Court judge, these old Jana Sangh documents reflect how the BJP’s views on elections and electoral reforms have evolved.

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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