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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2967

GVG puts a new spin on Indian Presidential election

By M Rama Rao from New Delhi

New Delhi, 16 July ( Former Election Commissioner of India, G V G Krishna Murthy has put a 'legal' spin on the decision of AIADMK and eight regional parties in the Third Front to 'abstain' from voting in the Presidential election, saying 'their public declaration has vitiated the very poll process.'

"No member of a party will dare to go against the wishes or directions of the leadership. So, in a sense the public announcement of the decision to abstain (from voting by the Third Front parties) is a threat. It is an intimidation. It invites section 18(2) of the President and Vice President Act, 1952", GVG, opines.

Some legal and constitutional experts notably Shanti Bhushan and Subhash Kashyap don't share the GVG perception.

"Voters (in Presidential election) are free to cast their vote. It is a secret ballot. If some one decides to abstain, it is not illegal", Subhash Kashap, an authority on parliamentary practices and privileges, asserts.
But another expert holds the view that the election of president is not the same as that of any other election or voting on the floor of parliament.

"All Parliamentarians cannot vote. Only elected MPs can vote and they only constitute the Electoral College for the election of President", he says.

According to GVG, the Constitution (Article 54) clearly casts a duty on MPs and MLAs to vote in the Presidential election. "They are deriving this right and duty from the constituencies they are representing. Remember the value of each vote (MP and MLA) is decided on population basis".

Senior Supreme Court advocates like Rajiv Dhavan, who have specialised in fundamental rights, have gone on record saying that members can not be 'compelled' to vote for a particular candidate or in a particular manner.

The Election Commission (EC) had decreed from GVG days at the Nirvachan Sadan that whip should not be issued in a Presidential election. So, the direction to abstain has to be oral.

Does it amount to influencing or persuading?

The expert view is that the dividing line is 'very thin'. It raises several questions though. Who will decide whether a member has been persuaded or influenced? How will it be proved that a member indeed was influenced or persuaded? Also, does an 'informal' direction amount to issuing a whip?

One school of thought, which appears to have many takers, is that MP/MLA is primarily a member of a party. "He or she is bound by the discipline of the party. How can they go against the decision taken by the leadership? Who ever expects them to do so doesn't understand party system and the concept of party based democracy".

Retorts GVG: "Don't think I am not aware of the ground rules in a democracy. The laws of the land, the Acts and the Constitution are supreme. As the law stands today, no political party can ask its MPs or MLAs publicly not vote in a Presidential election".

The former Election Commissioner, who has cut his legal teeth in the Union Law Ministry, adds that the poll body can take suo moto notice of public diktats like abstain from voting given by political parties (to their members). How? "All political parties are registered with the Election Commission and to get the recognition they have undertaken to abide by the Constitution and to practice democracy within their parties. Any violation of this solemn undertaking is enough ground for invoking the power and the majesty of law."

Counters another expert: "Any announcement in public of a decision on how a party would like to go about in a particular matter amounts to canvassing. It is absurd to call it undue influence or intimidation".

Adds another: In the V.V. Giri (former president) election dispute, the Supreme Court clearly defined the expression 'free exercise of his/her electoral right' contained in Section 18. The Court said there was no bar on canvassing 'through legal and legitimate' means to 'influence a voter'.

So, there is no last word on GVG speak. Not as yet, even as the voting is another three days on July 19.

- Asian Tribune -

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