- He took a starkly divergent stand on the matter from that of Congress
- Rahul Gandhi had earlier accused election body of yielding to the BJP
- Many opposition parties also claimed election body was going easy on BJP
Former President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday praised the Election Commission as an institution but seemed to make an oblique reference to individuals in the commission when he said "only a poor workman blames his tools". The Election Commission has been accused of bias by the Congress and other opposition parties throughout the campaign for the national election that ended on Sunday.
"Institutions are fine, and these institutions are built over the years. I do believe only a bad workman quarrels with his tools. A good workman knows how to utilise these tools," said Pranab Mukerjee in what seemed to be a reference to the current commissioners at the launch of "Defining India Through Their Eyes", a book by NDTV's Editorial Director Sonia Singh.
Pranab Mukherjee, a lifelong Congressman before he took over the country's top office, made the remarks at a time Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders have accused the Election Commission of favouring Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP despite its constitutional responsibility of ensuring a level playing field to all political parties
"If we want to strengthen institutions, we have to keep in mind that institutions are serving well in this country, and if democracy has succeeded, it's largely due to the perfect conduct of elections by all Election Commissioners starting from Sukumar Sen to the present Election Commissioners. All are appointed by the executive and they are doing their job well. You can't criticise them. It was perfect conduct of the elections," he said.
Mr Mukherjee, who was Finance Minister in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government before being elected as the country's 13th President in 2012, also appreciated the wholehearted manner in which the country took part in the electoral process. "As many as 67.3% participated in this Lok Sabha election -- that's more than 2/3rd. And after many years, I got to cast my vote in a booth as citizen Pranab Mukherjee," he said.
"I cannot say who I voted for but I voted," he added.
The former President's words comes a day after Congress chief Rahul Gandhi hit out at the Election Commission in a tweet. "From electoral bonds and EVMs to manipulating the election schedule, NaMo TV, Modi's Army and now the drama in Kedarnath; the Election Commission's capitulation before Mr Modi and his gang is obvious to all Indians. The EC used to be feared & respected. Not anymore," Rahul Gandhi tweeted on Sunday, soon after voting ended in the last round of the national election.
Through the course of the elections, many opposition leaders -- including Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president Chandrababu Naidu, besides Rahul Gandhi -- had accused the election body of going easy on the BJP. It was also accused of giving clean chits to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah despite "irrefutable evidence" of poll code violations.
The Trinamool Congress was one of the strongest critics of the Election Commission during the polls, repeatedly accusing it of toeing the BJP's line while disregarding its electoral responsibilities. Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of Bengal, has accused the Election Commission of taking a number of "illegal, unconstitutional and biased decisions" under the influence of the ruling BJP.