The Election Commission of India, yesterday (10 March 2019) announced the dates for upcoming Lok Sabha elections and with this announcement kicks in the Model Code of Conduct, but what is it, really? How does it operate? What is its legal validity? Let’s check out!
The Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct is a set of guidelines issued to regulate the activities and conduct of political parties and candidates prior to elections. It is a significant document. Model Code is not a statutory document. It is important to note that violation of many of its provisions does not attract any punitive action.
Parts of Model Code of Conduct
The code contains 8 parts:-
- Part I of Model Code lays stress on certain minimum standards of good behavior and conduct of political parties, candidates and their workers and supporters during the election campaigns;
- Parts II and III deal with the holding of public meetings and taking out processions by political parties and candidates;
- Parts IV and V describe as to how political parties and candidates should conduct themselves on the polling day and at the polling booths;
- Part VI exhorts political parties and candidates to bring their complaints to the notice of the observers appointed by the Election Commission for remedial action;
- Part VII deals with the parties in power. This part is, in essence, the flesh and blood of Model Code, which deals with several issues relating to Government and its Ministers, such as visits of Ministers, use of Government transport and Government accommodation, announcements of various schemes and projects etc.
- The newly added Part VIII says that election manifestoes shall not contain anything repugnant to the ideals and principles enshrined in the Constitution and further that it shall be consistent with the letter and spirit of other provisions of Model Code.
Model Code of Conduct is a contribution to the cause of democracy in India. It ensures a level playing field in the arena of the election, where the party in power cannot take any action in close proximity to the announcement of the election. The object of Model Code is that power and convenience to do good by the party in power should not be used on the eve of elections, so as to derive any undue advantages or benefits during elections.
Model Code of Conduct comes into operation right from the time and day; the election schedule is announced by the Election Commission. In the case of a general election to the House of the People or a State Legislative Assembly, Model Code remains in operation till completion of the election process as per the election notification.
The provisions of Model Code apply to all organizations, committees, corporations, and commissions etc., funded wholly or partially by the Central Govt. or any State Govt. Any action in contravention of the provisions contained in Model Code including any publication of its advertisements by them highlighting their achievements or announcing new subsidies, tariffs or schemes would attract the provisions of Model Code and tantamount to violation of the same.
There are few exceptions too; it has been clarified by the election commission that, RBI may continue to take decisions unhindered on monetary policy issues. Ministry of Finance and other ministries will need to take prior approval of the Election Commission on any policy announcements, fiscal measures, taxation related issues and such other financial relief.
Advisory for candidates
Model Code provides that political parties and candidates shall refrain from criticism of all aspects of private life, not connected with the public activities of the leaders and workers of other parties. It also provides that no party or candidate shall indulge in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic, and there shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes.
It is also interesting that the Election Commission does not take cognizance of an alleged violation of Model Code before the announcement of the election. As we know that Model Code of Conduct has evolved as part of the Election Commission’s drive to ensure free and fair elections, it has no statutory backing. The Election Commission can issue a notice to a politician or a party for alleged breach of the code either on its own or on the basis of a complaint by another party or individual. Once a notice is issued, the person or party must reply in writing. If the person or party is found guilty subsequently, he/it can attract a written censure from the Election Commission.
Do’s and Dont’s!
The Election Commission has drawn up a list of ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts’ to be followed by political parties and contesting candidates after the announcement of elections and till the completion of the process of elections. Here are some of the major ones!
- During elections, criticism of other political parties and candidates should be restricted only to their policies, programs, past records and works.
- The right of every individual for peaceful and undisturbed home life should be fully safeguarded.
- The local police authorities should be fully informed and necessary permission be taken well in time, of the venue and time of the proposed meetings.
- Restrictive or prohibitory orders in force, if any, in the place of the proposed meeting, shall be fully respected. Exemption, if necessary, must be applied for and obtained, well in time.
- Permission must be obtained for use of loudspeakers or any other such facilities for the proposed meetings.
- The time and place of the starting and termination of any procession and the route to be followed should be finalized in advance and prior permissions obtained from the police authorities.
- Traffic regulations and restrictive orders, in force of the localities, en route of the procession should be ascertained and fully complied with.
- The passage of the procession must be without hindrance to traffic.
- Cooperation should be extended to all election officials to ensure peaceful and orderly poll.
- All political workers engaged in electioneering must display badges or identity cards.
- No official work should be mixed with campaigning/electioneering. No inducement, financial or otherwise, shall be offered to the voter.
- No appeal on basis of caste/communal feelings of the electors.
- No activity, which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes/ communities/ religious/linguistic groups, shall be attempted.
- No aspect of the private life, not connected with the public activities, of the leaders or workers of other parties shall be criticized.
- No criticism of other parties or their workers on basis of unverified allegations or on distortions.
- No use of temples/mosques/churches/gurudwaras or any place of worship for election propaganda, including speeches, posters, music etc., or electioneering.
- Activities, which are corrupt practices or electoral offences such as bribery, undue influence, intimidation of voters, personation, canvassing within 100 meters of a polling station, holding of public meetings during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the close of the poll and conveyance of voters to and from polling stations, are prohibited.
- Demonstrations or picketing before house of any individual, by way of protesting against their opinion or activities shall not be resorted to.
- In order to maintain purity of elections and bring transparency in process of elections, political parties are advised to avoid transactions in cash and instruct their office bearers, official, agents and candidates not to carry huge amount of cash during elections.
- No disturbances shall be created in public meetings or processions organized by other political parties or candidates.
Image 1 – Election Commission of India
Image 2 – Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR)
Image 3- Election Commission of India