New Delhi, Apr 8: Calling Tamil Nadu a "challenging case", the Election Commission today said it cannot "close its eyes to rampant malpractices" there and rejected the charge levelled by DMK and PMK that it has imposed emergency in the state.
"Can we be faulted for discharging our Constitutional responsibilities sincerely and earnestly? Can we close our eyes to the rampant malpractices?", Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi told PTI.
He was reacting to criticism by political parties in the state "for being over restrictive and for harassment".
The Commission has enforced stringent measures to curb use of money power in the current round of assembly elections in states, especially in Tamil Nadu, where there has been widespread attempts to bribe voters by paying them cash.
Quraishi said that through a series of steps that are "unprecedented even by our own standards" officials have seized unauthorised cash of over Rs 53 crore in cash out of which Rs 42 crore are from Tamil Nadu alone.
Brushing aside the criticism from the two parties, he said that the poll panel was "not exceeding our powers. We are within our Constitutional mandate. Any criticism is totally unfair and we dismiss it."
DMK chief M Karunanidhi and his ally PMK founder S Ramadoss have attacked the EC saying an emergency like situation has been brought about in the state while such a situation was not prevalent in the other poll-bound states.
"Holding free and fair elections is always the top priority. We also seek to make the polls peaceful, transparent and participative.
"We are enforcing expenditure control measures in great detail in these elections to check the role of money power. Tamil Nadu has been a challenging case. But we are doing our best and will not allow any let up," he said.
"It is quite normal for a political party to be unhappy with us because we do not allow misuse of official machinery in any way and whereas all opposition parties look upon the Commission as a fair umpire who does and must ensure a level playing field," Quraishi said.
He said that the EC's action was intended not only at checking excessive expenditure during elections over and above the ceilings, but also at nabbing the unaccounted cash, gift items or liquor meant to bribe the voters.
"The intention is not to hurt anyone, but to stop the malpractices. When security protocol are in place certain hardship and inconvenience is inevitable," he said.
Quraishi said he had a meeting with political parties recently to inform them of the new guidelines so that there was no surprise and what was in the pipeline. In that meeting, the parties emphasised that the EC should take stringent measures to control money power.
"All that we are doing is implementing those guidelines and the wishes expressed by all political parties. Any criticism is totally unfair and we dismiss it", he said.
Seeking the cooperation of all and to bear with the checking procedures in order to fight the menace of money power in elections, Quraishi said "in fact, we have been receiving enthusiastic response from the public".
Observing that strict enforcement of rules was not meant only for Tamil Nadu, Quraishi said the EC guidelines about model code of conduct including money control were in operation in all the five poll bound states.
"What we are doing in Tamil Nadu or for that matter in other poll going states is only a strict enforcement of the MCC and the expenditure control and monitoring rules", he said.
Noting that parties from Tamil Nadu even wanted a code of conduct for media to be evolved, on which the EC was already working on, he said "it is, therefore, surprising when EC is attacked for doing what all political parties want it to do".
"Let this one be clear to one and all. For carrying out the Commission's sacred duty, assigned by the Constitution, we will not dither. It does not matter if there are no accolades. It also does not matter if there are brickbats. EC will stay on course.
"Our action is not against any political party or persons, it is against violations and crimes. We believe all stakeholders will understand this and people have full faith", he said.
On West Bengal, the CEC said law and order has been a challenge in the run up to the elections there but with some determined action, the Commission has brought the situation under control.
"We continue to keep a strict watch over the situation there", he said adding that West Bengal government was fully cooperating with the Commission and complying with its instructions and guidelines very earnestly.
Quraishi said "so far they (West Bengal government) have not given us any occasion to complaint. We do appreciate this and hope that the same spirit of fair play will be in evidence till the election process".
On the Commission's effort to create a level playing field, he said that the EC has denied permission even to the Prime Minister's election meeting at a school ground in Kerala. "For us all political parties and candidates are on the same footing," he said.
Noting that the people were happy about the conduct of elections, the CEC displayed an SMS from Chennai which read "earlier EC just announced elections. Only now they are conducting them. This is just one sample of people's response". PTI