The Election Commission's Ethics

Aamir Khan: Muffling an 'ethical' laugh?

For all the hot air about voting as a right and duty, it is being hawked by brand ambassadors. After dithering (over what?), actor Aamir Khan has come on board as the voice of conscience. The Election Commission now has stars in its eyes with its own “national icon”.

The video spot, interestingly, does not just stop at Aamir asking people to vote. The cinestar, known for his "perfectionist" approach, also exhorts people to vote ethically...Aamir asks people to resolve to vote without fear, pressure or inducement, financial or otherwise. As the musical score of 'Saare Jahan Se Achcha' plays in the background, Aamir is shown tying a tricolour thread on his wrist and taking a pledge not to "sell" his vote in the name of religion, caste or any other inducement. "I pledge that I will untie this tricolour thread only after I have cast my vote in these elections," he says and calls upon people to take the same pledge.

Will Aamir Khan take a pledge not to portray a corrupt politician on screen ever? Will he ensure that his peers in the film industry and those in advertising, of which he is a part, take all payments in cheque and do not endorse any unethical product? 

Politics is about social discourse too. You cannot be ethical selectively. What does tying a tricolour thread mean when TV ads sell pasta in the colour of the national flag? So, you can keep eating it to vote ethically?


The EC’s role raises important questions. Does a state channel have any business to play moral vigilante? Are voters under tutorship of the Election Commission? Is the definition of ethical by the authorities the same as or similar to that of voters with varied issues and from different strata?

A few days ago the EC in Maharashtra, after appealing to voters to avoid corrupt and criminal, and choose “pro-development”, candidates went further in its enthusiasm and wanted us to sign a pledge:

The letter, written in Marathi for Maharashtra's voters and in other regional languages for people from other states, urges voters to elect a candidate who will 'meet the aspirations of the people and the nation as a whole,' thus making it clear that they should look beyond narrow agendas...and to 'inspire and encourage friends and family members' to vote in this fashion.

The job of the EC is to ensure that candidates follow rules, and do not indulge in corrupt or criminal activities, and that includes going against campaign rules. It must ensure there is no cross voting and people are not denied their right due to goof-ups. It is not the job of the EC to advise on how and who to vote for. If a candidate is hiding assets, how is a voter to know about it? What exactly does pro-development mean? Is the EC also riding a wave? It is also obvious that this is to target the educated middle class. Is this pledge being signed in the slums and rural areas, where the poor often vote for freebies? This is the more obvious aspect, for the rest are bribed with other promises, if not passing of files and berths.

And truth be told, we would not vote if we were not offered something in return. It is barter, and for whatever it is worth the voter is at least empowered by such knowledge. The EC is infantilising the procedure. Like a bunch of obedient students, after we sign the pledge, “Voters can either give the letter back to the school or submit at the nearby polling centres or election offices before or at the time of voting”.

This contradicts anonymous voting, for the pledge will have our name, signature, polling station number and name, assembly segment number and name. This is not only unlawful, but unethical.


If you want ethics, and however much you may snigger, it is in this rather basic move by Rakhi Sawant, an item girl in Bollywood. I am deliberately highlighting it because it is a job for which she earns and has declared her assets. There is more:

And in an interesting first from the zone, the debutant has submitted Annexure 16 detailing her expenses on public meetings and rallies. Also, she was the only one to specify the number of vehicles to be used in her campaign, the proposed expenses on pandals, lights, furniture, posters, etc.

The other actor who is getting noticed is BJP’s Smriti Irani, automatically considered worth attention and respect because she has enacted ‘bahu’ roles in TV soaps. This has been marketed as the USP by her party. Ironical, for she is contesting in Amethi against Rahul Gandhi, whose mother Sonia has often been called out for being just a dynasty bahu. That apart, politics is unforgiving business. The Aam Aadmi Party’s Kumar Vishwas took a potshot at her:

“The message has reached villages. Now it doesn’t matter whether Irani comes, Pakistani comes, Italian or American ... Amethi has already taken a decision.”

Vishwas is a stand-up comic. He is also silly. However, the reaction, especially about the Pakistan reference, is astounding. The earlier NDA government was behind the huge PR exercise called the Agra Summit.

This particular statement does not qualify as misogyny, although there have been way too many instances, including the term ‘Hate Hags’ used for the BJP’s women candidates. It is a patriarchal system where the only manner in which women can be reduced is to personalise/sexualise their identities. Every party has indulged in such lookism fantasies. 

Worse, it is disgusting to watch that panellists in discussions are repeating the offensive terms. How does that work against hate speech?

End note:

Look at this picture of Buddhist monks in Bihar wearing Nitish Kumar masks.

Imagine what would happen if some mullahs did so? Or sadhus? Or Christian priests? Does this not amount to religious interference in the state?

© Farzana Versey


Images: Hindustan Times, Times of India


  1. void *Al {return NULL;}03/04/2014, 03:09

    Not sure what you are complaining about...seems reasonable to ask people to vote for their interests instead of selling it for booze or cash, as it actually happens on a large scale. EC would be remiss at its job if it did not try to send such messages -- Aamir Khan and the EC are not actually prompting people to vote for specific parties but to eschew selling their vote. The effectiveness of such a message in actually fixing the problem of parties buying votes is still not clear, but seems to me that this is less about asking voters to vote for specific parties rather than use their vote wisely..it is sad that the obvious has to be spelt out explicitly but a large percentage of humans can't figure out the obvious if we look around. Apparently, people who know better have to spend a lot of time and effort to go around telling people that it is important not to commit violent or keep hygiene or many other basics of living, or to vote with long term interests in mind.

  2. void* Al() {return NULL;}03/04/2014, 06:02

    FV, Events like the Agra Summit are pushed by the bureaucrats who get politicians to sign off on such things. True for NDA as well as the UPA -- Shiv Shankar Menon, the NSA and the MEA were responsible for the foreign policy moves that Manmohan Singh projected as his ideas. Of course, I am not contesting the fact that these people in the Indian bureaucracy act like clowns in their vapid and useless moves that they thrust on the politicians. Events like the Khobragade episode hopefully bring these geniuses back down to the real world of power politics and realpolitik, shorn of all the moralising buffoonery that the MEA loves to indulge in. This is showing up definitely in recent months with the recent vote in Sri Lanka being the first time in many years that the government took a decision based on its national interest rather than supercilious moralising. Time and reality are good teachers it seems.

  3. void *Al() {return NULL;}03/04/2014, 07:54

    Hi FV, just one note that "ethics" is a subjective thing, so I don't agree with the use of that word in this context, but the overall idea of spreading the message that selling votes to parties is not in the interest of the voter seems like a positive thing for the most part.

  4. void *Al {return NULL;}04/04/2014, 00:29

    FV, Also that "pledge" is a bit too much, but seems to be restricted to Maharashtra. No such thing going on in Karnataka, FYI. Some overzealous official or an underhanded way to acquire voter information to steal their votes? diabolical thing to do.

  5. Al:

    I think you seem to be ok towards the end with my pov.

    The EC can issue ads, but to sign a pledge? Also, it is relegated to a certain class that is supposed to know better. The message makes sense when criminals do not contest.

    Re the Agra Summit, bureacrats carry out instructions issued by politicians in such matters, not the other way round.

    Let us see how things unspool.

  6. void *Al {return NULL;}05/04/2014, 02:32

    "Re the Agra Summit, bureacrats carry out instructions issued by politicians in such matters, not the other way round. "

    FV, yes, of course, that the order in the hierarchy, but politicians do not have the institutional memory that bureaucrats do. In this case, PM Singh seems to have gone on some delusional trip about making peace with certain neighbours against better advice, and quite expectedly has nothing to show for it.

    What I said is along the lines of Sir Appleby's quote in Yes, Prime Minister: "Diplomacy is about surviving until the next century - politics is about surviving until Friday afternoon. ".

    or the other one:
    "PM Hacker: Foreign affairs are a complicated business.
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: That's why we leave it to the Foreign Office. "

    Institutional memory makes politicians depend on the bureaucracy, so politicians only "give direction" based on the inputs they receive, which of course leads to the question as to whether the direction they are giving is their own in reality.

  7. void *Al() {return NULL;}05/04/2014, 06:16

    " the Agra Summit, bureacrats carry out instructions issued by politicians in such matters"

    If you recall, Vajpayee's rhetoric back then about making peace with pakistan back then is no different from what this current PM repeated until recently. The commonly held view espoused by this PM singh that "you cannot change neighbours" is not his original thought - he is repeating the Indian bureaucracy's public stance (for a while now).

    This continuity of pakistani policy (however boneheaded and ineffective) across regimes is because it has the backing of the bureaucracy/babucracy, not to mention Vajpayee and Singh were both lifelong bureaucrats before they became PM and know how the machinery operates, so it was not like they took some bold stance that no had thought of before them.

  8. void *Al() {return NULL;}05/04/2014, 21:07

    FV, this whole "pledge" business rang a bell and then it struck me that I said this every day during school assembly in the morning. All seems pretty ridiculous now actually...not sure what good it does to kids to repeat this. Maybe it does, I don't know.

    Indian National Pledge

    "India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters.
    I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.
    I shall always strive to be worthy of it.
    I shall give my parents, teachers and all elders respect and treat everyone with courtesy.
    To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion. In their well-being and prosperity alone lies my happiness."

    Don't know whether to laugh or get miffed, especially since violating this pledge seems to be more of the norm than the exception.

  9. void *Al() {return NULL;}08/04/2014, 07:39

    FV, regardless of weirdness like the pledges, the EC seems to have done a commendable job of keeping criminal activity out of the elections a lot better than in the past. I would like to hike salute in their general direction for managing this...but then the train has just started its month long journey.



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