Model Code of Conduct shed obscurity

Model Code of Conduct shed obscurity

Regulating elections in this country was never so difficult, given the massive number of candidates and oft-changing political combinations. And, to aam aadmi’s satisfaction, the Election Commission has skillfully softened the rough edges exposed in the wake of campaign trails of political parties this poll season. But what probably the Election Commission has left untouched – after so many electoral exercises and years of experience on several counts – is to bring in efficacy to the very process of electioneering.

While phased polls are a good idea to streamline the exercise and near-obviate the risk of malpractices, can we come up with a mechanism that does away with or at least minimizes the risk of pushing things into abeyance? This season, too, we have witnessed instances where timely interventions could not be brought in because of the model code of conduct remaining in effect, before and after the elections. Maybe we need to elaborate on these issues and convince the commission to ponder and adapt measures. That I think will resolve many vexing issues at hand. In spite of certain instructions provided in the model code of conduct, dilemmas exist on what to do with official and other exigencies arising in the midst of elections – whether it be some development scheme demanding an immediate release of fund or some urgent intervention by administration. No official wants an onus for that once the rules are non-existent.

Further, the model code is silent on issues of incumbent government prioritizing, and in some cases even denying, the use of facilities – infrastructural and otherwise – by other players on the political spectrum. Simultaneously, the commission should also be wary of the possibilities an attempt at legal codification and suggesting placatory provisions might throw. Abuses of a law don’t take much time to follow its use.

Grey areas

Besides, mention of five major issues should not be an exaggeration. First, official excesses in acquiring vehicles for use in election seems to have become a thing of the past, now with district administrations seen ‘requesting’ vehicle owners to pledge with their help and not ‘impounding’ them.

Second, a major concern during 2014 elections has been the seizure of cash. How many of these seizures are different and troubling could be understood if we look at the procedure involved in tackling those: a vehicle carrying a few lakhs in cash (Indian and foreign currency) is stopped and both the cash and the vehicle seized by the officials on duty. People travelling in the vehicle claim they are from a premier travel agency and the cash is well accounted for, but to no avail. The police don’t have a clue on what to do with that, and they cannot help on the spot. The travel agency takes the beating for transaction delays and monetary and credit loss. A Supreme Court lawyer argues that ‘collateral damage’ has to be factored in as the largest democracy undertakes its biggest assignment every five years. Not saying that the exercise was futile but the Election Commission would do a great favour to the citizens of this country if a mechanism is evolved to minimize this problem.

Third, in 1984 the General Elections saw the incoming of Psephology, and television became the carrier of popular perceptions and opinions on national and regional issues. This ushered in a paradigm shift in the way India voted thereafter. And, that continues till date. Rural India became aware of issues but at the same time, its people unlearned several things. The fast churning of opinions and seat projections on television became a tool in the hands of even those politicians who never thought of a Parliament seat one day. And, ironically, the commoners had no idea at all about the ‘truth’. While Exit Polls have seen pretty good regulation, Opinion Polls continue to change skin, outwitting EC’s eyes. The Election Commission must come up with a sound guideline on Opinion Polls and its nuances. History is testimony to the impact television wields. In 1960 Jacqueline Kennedy’s appearances on American television were enough to swing votes in favour of John F Kennedy, turning him the winner.  

Fourth, the political parties, after the Election Commission putting up a limit on expenditure, began to find new ways of ‘impact maximization’. National players tasted more success in this manoeuvre, but the regional ones lagged behind in the race to woo voters. In the name of advertising in mass media, national parties unleashed a sort of publicity blitz in newspapers, on television channels, and on social media platforms. Nothing characterizes 2014 elections more than this blitz. Would it be enough to ask for some redress on this?

The fifth issue is nevertheless significant. Political parties have, in many quarters, questioned the ‘acts’ of the polling staff. Poll time is so consciously designed so as to allow even a remotely located voter to come and cast his vote. But as the polling progresses through the day, polling staff in many instances have been accused of either tampering with the EVMs or casting votes for those who could come till the last moment on a poll day. A mere presence of security agencies and other support staff cannot ensure the fairness in this regard. Shouldn’t there be a system to put a curb on this malpractice, if this takes place?
[6:00:02 PM] Arun: Neeraj Kumar