When it is too late, even too much can seem too little. By >scrapping the poll notification for two Assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu, Aravakurichi and Thanjavur, where > money and gifts had been distributed to voters by candidates and members of the two major parties, the AIADMK and the DMK, the Election Commission probably hoped to at least partially redeem its image as a tough, no-nonsense institution, that is both independent and powerful. Nothing more was at stake. The results are out, the > AIADMK has formed the government with 134 of the other 232 seats, and whatever happens in these two constituencies will have no impact in the larger scheme of things. However, in the context of the > rampant distribution of favours in cash and kind to voters in the run-up to the polls, the EC was under pressure to restore popular confidence in its ability to curb electoral malpractice. Its reputation was at stake. As a result, in Aravakurichi and Thanjavur the Commission did all that it was empowered to do, baring teeth and claw, and asserting its authority vis-à-vis other constitutional authorities. Postponement was the most it could have done, after >having deferred the elections earlier ; disqualification of the candidates was beyond its remit. Unprecedented it might have been, but the calling off of the electoral process, on a maximalist exercise of power, seemed as if it was the only course open to the EC.
The events and happenings in the two constituencies differed in degree, and not in type, from what occurred elsewhere in the State. As reports from different parts of Tamil Nadu suggested, there were few constitutencies, if any, that were totally free of the pernicious influence of money and other inducements. Therefore, the EC’s action in these two constituencies may be construed as one that did little but carry symbolic weight. A Commission with better resources and more manpower on the ground for the entire State — not to mention much greater courage — may have considered postponement of the entire Assembly election. But such a drastic course of action would have had serious ramifications for the democratic process. Even so, it must be granted that the EC went well beyond merely delivering a mild reprimand to the parties. Its detailed order clearly >recorded its displeasure> with Tamil Nadu Governor >K. Rosaiah, who broke both convention and propriety by asking that the polls be held before June 1, or in time for the Rajya Sabha election. In doing so, the EC underlined its independence and authority and signalled that it would not be cowed down by political pressure. In taking on the Governor for his overreach and refusing to quietly acquiesce in this matter, the EC deserves to be commended.