Has The EC Failed To Deal With The Model Code of Conduct Violations?
The first phase of the elections are set to take place on the 11th of April and we take a look at how the EC has failed to deal with violations of the Model Code of Conduct
Phase one of voting for the general elections is all set to take place on April 11th. All political parties have poured all their strength into their respective campaigns. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are going all out to retain power while the Opposition is doing everything they can to make sure that doesn’t happen. However, some of the tactics used by the ruling party have caused much controversy and raised questions about the Election Commission of India (EC).
Since the EC declared the schedule for the seven phase elections, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has been in force. In theory, the MCC regulates the behaviour of politicians and political parties in election season. But in practice, how far it is successful in this endeavour is debatable. This has been especially visible, this time around.
Over the period of time that the MCC has been active, several controversies have arisen. Every couple of days, there is a new issue. With each controversy, questions are asked about the EC apparently being powerless in controlling the conduct of politicians from the ruling party. So, is the body so toothless?
The latest flashpoint came during an election rally by Modi in the Latur district of Maharashtra. At the rally, speaking in Hindi, he appealed to first time voters to “dedicate” their votes to the “brave soldiers” who carried out the Balakot air strike and the “martyrs of Pulwama”. “I want to tell the first-time voters: can your first vote be dedicated to the veer jawans (brave soldiers) who carried out the air strike in Pakistan. Can your first vote be dedicated to the veer shaheed (brave martyrs) of Pulwama (terror attack),” he said.
The statement caused a furore, with the Opposition accusing Modi and the BJP of exploiting the armed forces for political gain. The armed forces should be above the electoral process, they point out. The EC issued an advisory on March 19th, asking parties and their candidates to stop using pictures of defence force personnel in their campaign material. Perhaps, they assumed it is understood that it means you cannot play it up in campaign speeches as well. It doesn’t seem like the message really went through.
Then, there is the question of the biopic based on Modi’s life and the raids by the Income Tax department. Sense seems to have finally prevailed with the EC stopping the release of ‘PM Narendra Modi’ till the end of the election. In a statement, the EC said, “Biopic material in the nature of biography/hagiography sub-serving the purposes of any political entity or individual connected to it, which is intended to, or which has the potential to disturb the level playing field during the elections, should not be displayed in the electronic media including cinematograph during the operation of MCC.” However, it took several days to take this decision (for the EC) and questions were asked about why it did not intervene earlier. Furthermore, it seemed to be powerless to stop the release of the web series on Modi.
Raids by the I-T department on political figures have also caused a ton of controversy. The EC attracted a lot of criticism for not intervening in this process, as it is so close to the elections and could be in violation of the MCC. Following the furore that erupted after the raids on people and establishments in Madhya Pradesh, who are associated with chief minister Kamal Nath, the EC called the revenue secretary and chairman, Central Board of Direct Taxes to discuss the ongoing income tax raids and asked it to “maintain neutrality”. According to media reports, talmost all the raids have been on people linked to the Opposition. So, how do you maintain neutrality then?
Recently, a group of bureaucrats wrote a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, bemoaning the “weak-kneed” responses of the EC to various violations of the MCC. The letter alleged that the EC took little action, if any, on most of the complaints that have been filed with it. It went on to list several instances of violations where the EC has not taken “proper steps” – from Yogi Adityanath’s ‘Modiji ke sena’ speech, to NaMo TV, a channel dedicated to Modi. It also brought up the speech after India conducted an anti-satellite test as well as the web series on Modi that has five episodes out.
Elections in India are like festivals and voting is the most basic fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. The MCC is supposed make sure that this process remains untainted and free of manipulation. The EC, as a body, exists to preserve this activity. But, if it fails to ensure that violations of the MCC are not frequent or adequately responded to, can’t the veracity of election result itself be questioned?