Election Commission of India, playing by the book or letting the players loose

Navigating the Electoral Conduct and shedding light on the functioning of the Election Commission of India's Approach to Enforcing the Model Code of Conduct
Election Commission of India, playing by the book or letting the players loose
Election Commission of India, playing by the book or letting the players looseImage Credit: The Bridge Chronicle

The Election Commission of India in its first month of being in play has received more than 200 complaints. The Model Code of Conduct was established on 16th March 2024, since then the parties nationwide have filed several complaints.

The commission is under the light of everyone’s attention due to the recent speech delivered by our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in Rajasthan. The very first point under the General Guidelines of The model of conduct says;

“No party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.”

In his recent speech, PM Modi claimed that the Congress manifesto talks about taking stock of “the gold of mothers and sisters" and distributing that wealth. He added that the then-Manmohan Singh government had said Muslims had the first right to the country’s assets. 

“Earlier, when their (Congress) government was in power, they had said that Muslims have the first right to the country's assets. This means to whom will this property be distributed? It will be distributed among those who have more children. It will be distributed to the infiltrators. Should your hard-earned money go to the infiltrators? Do you approve of this?" the PM asked at the rally.”

The comment shakes many in the country, awaiting a statement from the Election Commission of India. 

The opposition has not taken this up very well, with strong contesting comments coming in from Congress and the AIMIM. Many leaders around the nation have showcased their disappointment regarding the matter. They feel it is disrespectful to the Prime Minister's office to be throwing away comments like that.

Asaduddin Owaisi displayed his anger in a rally in Bihar’s Purnea district, he commented on how he felt taunted by having six kids but he questioned back asking what about Modiji having six siblings. He also condemned the use of the word ghusbhaitiye.

The Election Commission (EC), on Monday, 22nd April 2024, declined to comment on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks during a poll speech at a rally in Rajasthan. The speech suggested that if the Congress were to come to power it would redistribute the wealth to the Muslims, amongst other remarks that made many people question the Election Commision of India. 

The political arena is once again ablaze with the sparks of controversy, this time surrounding Prime Minister Modi's remarks. Reports suggest that the Congress party might be gearing up to take the matter to the Election Commission, raising concerns about hate speech. But what exactly constitutes hate speech, and how does the Election Model Code of Conduct (MCC) tackle this fiery issue?

What is the Model Code of Conduct?

Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is the moral compass that serves its purpose to guide and regulate any inconsistencies before the elections regarding the political parties and candidates. The MCC consists of rules and regulations covering the General Conduct, Meetings, Processions, Polling Day, Polling Booth, Party in Power, and the Guidelines on the Election manifestos so that free and fair elections are conducted.

A link of the model code of conduct under the Election Commission of India.

When does the Model of Conduct come into effect?

The MCC comes into force from the election schedule is announced until the date the results are out i.e. 19th April 2024 as the Lok Sabha 2024 elections take off which will stay in place the elections are concluded. 

The restrictions that the Model Code of Conduct imposes:

The MCC contains eight provisions dealing with general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booths, observers, the party in power, and election manifestos.

Once the code comes into effect, the ruling party, whether at the national or state level, should refrain from leveraging its governmental authority for electoral campaigning. This means refraining from announcing policies, projects, or schemes that could sway voters' decisions. Additionally, the party should abstain from using public funds for advertisements or utilizing official media platforms to promote its achievements to enhance electoral prospects. 

The code dictates that ministers must separate official duties from election activities and refrain from using government resources for campaigning. The ruling party cannot utilize public funds or machinery for electoral purposes, must provide equal access to facilities for opposition parties, and is prohibited from making biased appointments in governmental institutions.

  • Criticism of political parties or candidates should solely focus on their work record, avoiding the use of caste and communal sentiments to sway voters.

  • Places of worship such as mosques, churches, temples, or any other religious sites cannot be utilized for election campaigns.

  • Bribing, intimidating, or impersonating voters is strictly prohibited.

  • Public meetings are prohibited during the 48-hour period before the closing of polls, known as "election silence," to provide voters with a campaign-free environment for reflection before casting their votes.

In November 2023, during the campaign for Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) issued a notice to Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. This notice was prompted by a statement she made during an election rally, questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi about why he had allegedly favored his "bade udyogpati mitron (big industrialist friends)" with projects like BHEL. Citing the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) provision against making unverified allegations, the ECI requested an explanation for her statement.

Ahead of the Gujarat polls in 2017, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress accused each other of violating the MCC. The BJP pointed to Rahul Gandhi's interviews with TV channels during the 48-hour period before polling, while the Congress accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of violating the same provisions by conducting a 'roadshow' in Ahmedabad after casting his vote. These instances underscored the contentious nature of adhering to the MCC during election campaigns.

During the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Election Commission of India (ECI) resorted to punitive action to enforce the MCC. It banned Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and now party president Amit Shah, as well as Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Azam Khan, from campaigning. This decision aimed to prevent further disruption to the poll atmosphere caused by their speeches. The ECI invoked its extraordinary powers under Article 324 of the Constitution to impose the ban, which was only lifted after both leaders apologized and pledged to abide by the Code.

In other news,

The Election Commission has issued notices to BJP, Congress party presidents over PM Modi, Rahul Gandhi's alleged Model Code violations.

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