A tale of many controversies: BJP and the Model Code of Conduct
Fighting to get back to power this election, some of the ruling party’s ways have caused issues with the MCC.
Electoral campaigning is in full flow with elections scheduled to begin in April. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are going all out to get re-elected. Meanwhile, all opposition parties are trying everything in their power to ensure that this does not happen. The Election Commission (EC) has set the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) for this election season, which all political parties have to abide by.
What is the MCC? It is essentially a series of guidelines on political parties around election time. It covers speeches, polling day, polling booths, portfolios, election manifestos, processions, and general conduct for a stipulated period of time, prior to the elections. It has been established under Article 324 of the Indian Constitution. The MCC is operational from the date that the election schedule is announced and will conclude on the day that the results are announced. These sets of norms have evolved over time with the consensus of political parties who have consented to abide by the principles in letter and in spirit.
While political parties follow the MCC generally, there have been several instances of politicians breaching it. With Modi making the election as a contest of credibility, the stakes are high for the BJP. With the party going all out to win the election, there are several controversies that have emerged regarding the party’s tactics and the MCC.
Use of defence forces
The Pulwama suicide bombing in February, in which more than 40 CRPF jawans were killed, sparked off a series of events which found expression in the political sphere as well. While most parties refrained from using the incident for political means, there were a bunch of controversies. A prominant one was when BJP national president Amit Shah used images of the soldiers killed in Pulwama in a rally.
However, the most egregious incident was the usage of wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s image in posters of the BJP. The day after the Balakot airstrike, there was an aerial skirmish between Indian and Pakistani fighter jets. Wing commander Varthaman’s plane was shot down, forcing him to eject. Unfortunately, he ended up on the Pakistani side of the border and was taken prisoner. He was eventually returned to India in the end. The EC recently issued a show-cause notice to Delhi BJP MLA Om Prakash Sharma for putting up two posters featuring him, Modi, and Varthaman, forcing him to take them down from social media.
PM Narendra Modi: The movie
There is a lot of controversy around the biopic of Modi as well. The biopic features Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi in the titular role, and chronicles the life and events that led to him becoming the PM. The film is slated to be released on April 5, while the first phase of elections is scheduled to take place on April 11. The Opposition has accused the film of being politically motivated and accused the BJP of trying to use it for electoral gain.
The Congress moved the EC to get the release of the biopic deferred till the final phase of voting in the Lok Sabha polls, which is on May 19. The party has said that if the movie is released during the Lok Sabha polls, it would violate the MCC and influence voters. Other opposition parties, including the DMK and the Nationalist Congress Party, have also demanded that the film not be released during this time.
“The purpose of this film is only political – to get some extra mileage in the elections. We believe, it is not just a corrupt practice, but the very launch of the film is motivated,” Congress leader Kapil Sibal told the media. “This is no artistic venture. It is a political venture and that is what we have told the Election Commission and it should not be allowed. It does not allow for a level playing field,” he added.
Modi on boarding passes
Another controversy which broke out recently was pictures of PM Modi on boarding passes of airline flights. The controversy around boarding passes broke out on March 25 after a passenger took to Twitter to share a photograph of his Air India boarding pass which prominently featured Modi on the back. Following a backlash, Air India announced that it has decided to "roll back" the boarding passes with photos of Modi.