New Delhi, May 23, 2021: When West Bengal went to Assembly polls this year, all eyes stayed fixed on the Election Commission of India (ECI) to conduct them in a free and fair manner by implementing its Model Code of Conduct.
Throughout the polls, TMC and ECI resorted to a blame game and lodged complaints against each other.
What is a Model Code of Conduct?
The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is a consensus document consisting of a set of guidelines intended to help the poll campaign maintain high standards of public morality and provide a level playing field for all parties and candidates.
Issued by the ECI, the MCC is contained under executive powers under Article 324 of the Constitution of India. The Commission is authorised to take liberty in setting the instructions exercising plenary powers under Article 324 to ensure that the elections are conducted in a free and fair manner.
It was observed by the Supreme Court in S Subramaniam Balaji vs Govt. of Tamil Nadu that the Election Commission, in order to ensure a level playing field for contesting parties and candidates, and oversee that the purity of election process is kept intact, has been issuing instructions under the MCC, exercising its power under Article 324.
The Commission has issued a plethora of instructions and taken action, wherever necessary, against political parties or persons violating these directions. The Courts, from time to time, have upheld such directions/actions of the ECI.
But the recent trends have made a few amends.
The MCC is exercisable in the context of political parties, political leaders, electoral candidates, government machinery, including departments and offices, government officers, and any institution that runs on public funds.
According to the ECI, “The Model Code of Conduct remains in place during the elections in respect of political parties and candidates which remains in force from the date the elections are announced by the Commission till the completion of elections. It is clarified that the provisions of MCC and related instructions of the Commission issued from time to time shall also apply to the content being posted on the internet, including social media websites, by candidates and political parties.”
The ECI in 2019 had decided to keep social media posts by the political parties and leaders under its vigil for detecting any MCC violation.
The MCC can be classified broadly into three parts. Here are some key highlights of the guidelines:
Model Code of Conduct guidelines on General Conduct
According to the ECI, the Model Code of Conduct was first observed during the 1960 polls.
“Historically, the credit of giving the idea of a model code of conduct for political parties should go to the State of Kerala, which adopted, for the first time, a code of conduct for observance for Political Parties during the general election to the State Legislative Assembly in February 1960,” says the ECI manual.
* No party or candidate can involve or incorporate in, any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.
* Parties and Candidates are to follow a complete exemption of criticism based on all aspects of the opponent party’s personal life. Criticism of other political parties, when made, shall be confined to their policies and programme, past record and work.
* Criticism of other parties or their workers based on unverified allegations or distortion shall be avoided.
* There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. Mosques, Churches, Temples or other places of worship shall not be used as a forum for election propaganda.
* All parties and candidates shall avoid scrupulously all activities which are “corrupt practices” and offences under the election law, such as bribing of voters, intimidation of voters, impersonation of voters, canvassing within 100 meters of polling stations, holding public meetings during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the close of the poll, and the transport and conveyance of voters to and from the polling station.
* No political party or candidate shall permit its or his followers to make use of any individual’s land, building, compound wall etc., without his permission for erecting flag-staffs, suspending banners, pasting notices, writing slogans etc.
* Political parties and candidates shall ensure that their supporters do not create obstructions in or break up meetings and processions organized by other parties.
MCC instructions on meetings
* The party or candidate shall inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any proposed meeting well in time.
* A party or candidate shall ascertain in advance if there is any restrictive or prohibiting order in force in the place proposed for the meeting if such orders exist, they shall be followed strictly.
* If permission or license is to be obtained for the use of loudspeakers or any other facility in connection with any proposed meeting, the party or candidate shall apply to the authority concerned well in advance.
MCC rules on processions
* A party or candidate organizing a procession shall decide beforehand the time and place of the starting of the procession, the route to be followed and the time and place at which the procession will terminate.
* The organizers shall give advance intimation to the local police authorities of the programme.
* The organizers shall ascertain if any restrictive orders are in force in the localities through which the procession has to pass, and shall comply with the restrictions unless exempted specially by the competent authority.
* If two or more political parties or candidates propose to take processions over the same route or parts thereof at about the same time, the organizers shall establish contact well in advance and decide upon the measures to be taken to see that the processions do not clash or cause hindrance to traffic.
* The political parties or candidates shall exercise control to the maximum extent possible in the matter of procession participants carrying articles which may be put to misuse by undesirable elements especially in moments of excitement.
* The carrying of effigies purporting to represent members of other political parties or their leaders, burning such effigies in public and such other forms of demonstration shall not be countenanced by any political party or candidate.
Although the ECI does not subscribe to any judicial ability to penalise the violators of the Model Code of Conduct, it generally issues show-cause notice to the violators and in some cases, can bar them from the poll campaign.