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Favouring corrupt practice? EC involving Gujarat corporates to 'force workers to vote'

Counterview Desk 

EAS Sarma, former secretary to the Government of India, in a letter to Rajiv Kumar, Chief Election Commissioner, and AC Pandey, Election Commissioner, referring to a report which says that the EC has signed agreements with over 1,000 corporate bodies in Gujarat to name and shame the workers those who do not vote, has said that EC should not be party to such “coercive action.”
Pointing out tht there are already “concerns about the role of corporate agencies in India funding the political parties in several non-transparent ways”, Sarma in his representation says that involving the private companies in coercing the workers to cast their votes could even result in their coercing them to vote for a particular political party, which would “amount to a corrupt practice.”
In a separate statement, the Centre for Trade Unions (CITU), a CPI-M-supported mass organisation, denouncing the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Election Commission/Gujarat and the corporates, has called it a “provoking, coercive and defaming action on workers”.
A statement issued by Tapan Sen, CITU general secretary, said, “This is a clear reflection of the Election Commission’s over-reach going much beyond their mandate, as has already been seen from Commission’s move of interfering with the rights of the political parties in the matter of poll-promises.”

Sarma's plea:

I have come across a disturbing news report that "for the first time, over 1,000 corporate houses in Gujarat have signed agreements with the Election Commission (EC), undertaking to monitor 'electoral participation of their workforce' and publish the names of those who don’t vote on their websites or office notice boards...The MoUs have been signed with individual units as well as industry bodies, and the attempt to get more on board will continue till polling day. Assembly elections are due in the state later this year".
Why should the Election Commission of India (ECI) involve the corporate sector to adopt coercive action to compel their voters to participate in elections?
There are enough concerns about the role of corporate agencies in India funding the political parties in several non-transparent ways, including giving funds through the contentious vehicle of the Electoral Bonds, providing logistic support for political rallies at a great cost, and so on. It is therefore somewhat bizarre on the part of the ECI to rely on the same corporate agencies to persuade workers to cast their votes!
The existing provisions of the Companies Act and the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act, which permit political parties to seek and receive funds from the corporates, disturb the level-playing ground between the ordinary citizen-voter and the private companies, as the use of such money power tends to adversely affect the integrity of the electoral process.
In view of complaints that many private companies are not inclined to allow their workers to skip work to cast their votes. Section 135B of the Representation of the People Act has imposed an obligation on private businesses to grant a paid holiday for their workers as follows:
"Grant of paid holiday to employees on the day of poll.— (1) Every person employed in any business, trade, industrial undertaking or any other establishment and entitled to vote at an election to the House of the People or the Legislative Assembly of a State shall, on the day of poll, be granted a holiday."
If at all there is any need for monitoring enforcement of this obligation, such monitoring needs to be only in respect of the private companies and their promoters, not in respect of the workers.
Considering this particular news report in question, one is constrained to entertain the fear that involving the private companies in coercing the workers to cast their votes could even result in their coercing the workers to vote for a particular political party, which in fact would amount to a corrupt practice.
I appeal to the ECI not to involve private businesses in forcing the voters to cast their votes, as it could lead to benefitting a particular political party to the disadvantage of the others.
I am afraid that the EC, of late, has been venturing into areas that could erode its credibility as an independent Constitutional authority entrusted with the responsibility of conducting elections in a free and fair manner.

CITU statement

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions vehemently denounces the coercive MoU entered into between the Election Commission and thousands of employers (Corporate Houses)/industries in Poll-bound Gujarat. The MoU assigns/empowers the employers to monitor the electoral participation of their workforce and publish the names of those workers who did not vote on their website/notice boards.
It is amply clear that such MOU is not just meant for addressing voter apathy; the decision to identify, name and shame those not casting their votes (among the workers) tantamount to coercion and victimisation to which the Election Commission or the employers are not entitled to. After all, voting is a right of every citizen in democracy, and exercise of that right cannot be made a compulsion. Similar move on earlier occasion was stayed by Judiciary in Gujarat itself.
This is a clear reflection of the Election Commission’s over-reach going much beyond their mandate, as has already been seen from Commission’s move of interfering with the rights of the political parties in the matter of poll-promises. Further it gives the employers’ class another handle not only to coerce and harass the working people; but it may also open the avenue to provoke unduely pressure, manipulation or influence on the voters by the employers, obviously in favour of ruling dispensation.
While condemning such move, particularly targeting the workers, CITU demands upon the Election Commission to please refrain from such “over-reach” exercise. CITU calls upon the workers and democratic forces to rise in protest against such unconstitutional and authoritarian move.

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