New Delhi: Even before voting has taken place for the first phase in the seven-phase general elections, the Election Commission (EC) is struggling with a series of poll-code violations, with more piling up every day.
Experts feel that with no exemplary punishment for such violations, the poll-panel’s effectiveness in enforcing the model code is in question.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also facing criticism for allegedly violating the model code with impunity, bringing into question the fairness of the elections. The poll panel has received complaints against Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself for allegedly misusing his position for electoral gain through his “Mission Shakti” address to the nation.
The EC has also received complaints against government companies like Air India and Indian Railways for using Modi’s pictures on their tickets and IRCTC using the BJP’s slogan ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ on cups used to serve tea in trains.
Even before there was clarity on the complaint against release of a film based on Modi’s life, starring Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi, the case of ‘Namo TV’ – a channel dedicated to Modi’s rallies and speeches – suddenly surfacing on television without subscribers opting for it took social media by storm. The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have already filed a complaint against the channel with the EC.
Besides, there are the cases of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath describing the Indian army as ‘Modiji ki sena’ (Modi’s army) – a phrase reiterated by senior BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi – and Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh saying Modi’s re-election was necessary “for the sake of the country and society”.
In almost all these cases, the EC has so far failed to take any concrete action which could act as deterrent for others violating the model code. While it has given a clean chit to Modi’s “Mission Shakti” address, the poll panel has taken no stringent action against the Air India and the Indian Railways for their violations in the first place, notwithstanding the corrective action later.
The EC had not decided on the release of the Modi biopic till Friday. It also remains to be seen what action the poll panel takes on Namo TV after receiving a response from the Information Ministry.
Both Yogi and Naqvi are expected to respond to the poll panel in the coming days.
On Kalyan Singh, the EC wrote to the President who, in turn, has forwarded the letter to the Home Ministry for taking action on the Rajasthan Governor’s remarks.
The Odisha and West Bengal governments have claimed that the respective State Election Commissions have stopped their welfare schemes in view of the Model Code of Conduc (MCC), while a similar PM-Kisan scheme of direct income support for farmers announced by Modi had been permitted which would allow the government to credit Rs 2,000 each to farmers’ accounts.
Constitution expert P.D.T. Achary says that since the MCC is not a “legally enforceable” document, there is rarely any punishment for those who violate it, and hence the violations continue as the EC is “powerless” in that sense.
“Of course, there is a provision in the Allotment of Symbols Order which says that if there is a violation of the MCC, and also of other directions of the EC, then the recognition of the party can be temporarily or permanently withdrawn. Apart from that, there is no provision for any kind of punishment,” he told IANS.
While the MCC is not legally enforceable, the poll body, however, can issue legally enforceable orders for regulating unregulated areas, for which it has enormous powers, Achary added.
“EC has enormous powers under Article 324 to issue any kind of direction and order to regulate and conduct elections in free and fair manner. That’s a mandate given by the Constitution. EC has to decide when and how to use thse powers to regulate the conduct of elections,” he said
I won’t comment on whether it (Modi’s speech, given clean chit by EC on Friday) was a violation of model code or not but even if it was, what action can EC take? I don’t think it can take any specific decisive action against the PM and his government,” he said.
Psephologist and Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav also questioned the sanctity of the MCC and asked whether it would now be a case of “Model Code of Conduct for opposition, but Modi Code of Conduct for the BJP?”
“The Election Commission was never so pliant in the last three decades. Sad day,” he said.
The poll panel held a series of meetings with Internet companies earlier this month and arrived at a code for social media on the lines of MCC. While Internet companies have been prompt in removing violating posts on intimation by the EC, they have, however, been unable to check the menace of misinformation and preventing violations in the first place.
Cyber expert Prashant Mali feels that it is not just the poll panel but also the social media algorithms which have to be responsible for stoppiung such violations.
“The social media companies promised EC that their platforms won’t be used for political purposes. If they are not able to stop such things, then it means their algorithms are not mapped to the election code of India,” he said.
While the Election Commission has already launched a “cVIGIL” mobile app which allows citizens to report violations and post live photos or videos, Mali feels there should be dedicated teams to check violations on social media.
“I think with all the recent steps, we have been able to check only 20 per cent of misuse of social media. A lot needs to be done,” he said.