The just-concluded presidential election in the US exposes the chinks and defects in the American electoral system.
In contrast, the procedure for the electoral process clearly laid down in the Indian Constitution under Article 324 is indeed laudable. The credit for this largely goes to Dr B R Ambedkar, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee.
In this context, it is relevant to recapitulate a few incidents connected with the evolution of the final draft of the Constitution as presented before the Constituent Assembly on 25 November 1949.
Though the Constituent Assembly had begun its deliberations on 9 December1946, in the initial stage, Dr Ambedkar was just a member of the Constituent Assembly. He was not directly involved in the process of the tentative drafting of the Constitution between January 1947 and July 1947.
However, a few weeks before Independence, at the end of July 1947, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru met Mahatma Gandhi to seek approval to utilise the services of constitutional expert Prof Ivor Jennings for finalising the draft constitution. Mahatma Gandhi turned down the proposal, saying “When we are sending the foreigners away, why a foreigner again”? He asked Nehru to enlist the help of Dr Ambedkar for finalising the draft constitution and also make him Independent India’s first law minister.
Though initially Nehru resisted, he in the end accepted the advice of Gandhi. This is how Dr Ambedkar became the Union law minister on 15 August 1947 and the chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, a fortnight later, on 30 August 1947.
After Dr Ambedkar took over as chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, many of the earlier drafts were re-examined and reshaped. One of them was the subject concerning the constitution of the election commission for conducting elections in free India at various levels. This was originally numbered as Draft Article 289, and finally ended up as the famous Article 324 of the Constitution of India under which elections have been taking place at different levels ever since India’s Independence.
Before the intervention of Dr Ambedkar, the original Article 324 (D.A 289) read: “There should be one Election Commission to deal with election to the Central Legislature (in those days), both the Upper and Lower Houses, and that there should be a separate Election Commission for each Province and each State, to be appointed by the Governor or Ruler of the State.”
Explaining this in the Constituent Assembly, Dr Ambedkar said (CAD Vol VIII – pp 903-905)
Comparing that with the present Article 324 (D.A 289), there is, undoubtedly a radical change. This Article in the present form proposes to centralize the election machinery in the hands of a single Commission to be provided by Regional Commissioners, not working under the Provincial Government, but working under the superintendence and control of the Central Election Commission. This is undoubtedly a radical change from the earlier draft.
Dr Ambedkar’s views on free ‘franchise’ (voting rights) were so strong that he wanted to include, ‘franchise’ in the chapter dealing with fundamental rights (Part-III). A few colleagues of his prevailed over him against this, and the result was the creation of a separate Article 324, dealing exclusively with the Election Commission.
Then again, the worry of the possibility of the Union government exerting its authority on the Central Election Commission came up. In this context, Dr Ambedkar was very firm that the Chief Election Commissioner should be insulated from the grip of the executive of the day.
During his speech on Article 324, he said (CAD Vol VIII, pp 905-907)
We have made provision to ensure that the Chief Election Commissioner shall not be liable to be removed except in the manner, as a Judge of the Supreme Court (through an impeachment by Parliament). If the object of this House (Constituent Assembly) is that all matters relating to elections should be outside the control of the Executive Government of the day, it is absolutely necessary that the new machinery which we are setting up, namely the Election Commission, should be irremovable by the Executive, by a mere fiat. We have therefore given the Chief Election Commissioner, the same status, as far as removability is concerned, as we have given to the Judge of the Supreme Court. Regarding other members of the Election Commission, we have left the matter to the President, subject to one important condition, that the Chief Election Commissioner must recommend that the removal is just and proper.
In light of Dr Ambedkar observations, a recent episode where the Supreme Court stayed the Election Commission order, which revoked “star campaigner” status of former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath for model code violation during the campaign for the bypolls, is a case of judicial overreach.
The EC took this action against Kamal Nath over his derogatory remarks against a woman former minister.
Dr Ambedkar was firm in preserving the independence of the Election Commission, that is free from the influence of the executive or even the judiciary. Let us for a moment imagine what would have happened to the country, if each state functioned with its own Election Commission as envisaged before Dr Ambedkar’s intervention.
Thanks to his farsightedness, we in India are enjoying the fruits of an independent Election Commission and are saved from the troubles US is facing over its presidential election model.
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