Drawing from recent scholarship on regulation, the article argues that the Election Commission of India shapes the electoral environment and behaviour through non-legal modalities of architecture, nudge and notice-based regulations.
M. Mohsin Alam Bhat, Professor, Jindal Global Law School; Executive-Director, Centre for Public Interest Law, at O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, India.
Comparative law and politics literature widely recognizes the role of election management bodies (EMBs) in securing the well-being of constitutional democracies. Scholars have noted the political desirability of both independence and accountability of these institutions. But striking balance between these two values is easier said than done.
This Article highlights the dilemma of accountability by focusing on India’s Election Commission (ECI) as a paradigmatic version of a powerful EMB. Scholars of Indian politics have long noted the institution’s widening powers – often beyond the original constitutional intent or parliamentary legislation – over the last few decades. This, they argue, has impaired its institutional accountability.
This Article adopts a fresh perspective on the ECI’s expansive functions, and the attendant concerns these raise. It argues that the ECI regulates the electoral process not through what we may ordinarily identify as the law.
The most compelling and consequential of its functions are through extra-legal modalities of regulation. Drawing from recent scholarship on regulation, the Article argues that the ECI shapes the electoral environment and behaviour through non-legal modalities of architecture, nudge and notice-based regulations.
Much like the other fields where they are deployed, these extra-legal modalities exhibit unique, and in many ways, inherent limitations with respect to transparency. It is thus this character of the ECI’s functions – rather than only their widening breadth – that poses the most significant challenge for democratic accountability.
Based on this assessment, the Article notes that for powerful EMBs like the ECI, accountability in the form of on-going operational accountability is inherently limited in compelling ways. This increases the stakes for accountability of these institutions through other means, particularly by securing their constitution, composition and tenure.
Published in: Asian Journal of Comparative Law
To read the full article, please click here.