With the Election Commission of India's announcement of Lok Sabha General Elections, the debate on the Model Code of Conduct has intensified. Given that the announcement of the April-May Lok Sabha election schedule is out on Wednesday, the model code of conduct has come into effect on the same day. Announcing a nine-phase Lok Sabha poll schedule starting on April 7 (which will spread over the two month) the Model Code of Conduct is in operation.
Model Code of Conduct- meaning and impact.
Acting as a guardian of free and fair elections, Election Commission, in every election, issues a Model Code of Conduct for political parties and candidates to conduct elections in free and fair manner. It was issued for the first time in 1971 (5th Election) and it is revised from time to time. There are guidelines in form of 'dos' and 'do'nts' for conduct of political parties & candidates during elections. The code prohibits parties and candidates from indulging in activities:
1. Causing tension between people of regions, castes, communities or religions.
2. Involving use of mosques, churches, temples or other places of worship for election propaganda.
3. By the supporters of political parties that obstruct functions other parties organize. Involving removal of another party's poster.
4. Involving comments on private lives of leaders or workers of other parties.
5. Involving use of any individual's land, building, compound wall etc. without permission, for the purpose of erecting flag-staffs, suspending banners, pasting notices, writing slogans etc.
6. Bribing or intimidating the voters to vote for a party or candidate.
Election Reforms since 1991.
Tirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan, popularly known as T.N.Seshan took over as the 10th Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) in the year 1990 and served till 1996 before he retired. Before his tenure, CEC just a body carrying out the job of conducting elections in the country in a very routine manner. Despite being an independent body, before Seshan came in, the CEC was like an office reporting to the Government of the day. But after Seshan took over the post as CEC, the Election Commission emerged as the most efficient department of the Government of India.
Before his tenure, the problems such as less media coverage on a polling day, no or low security on polling day, practices like booth capturing, fraudulent voting were the order of the day.He introduced following reforms:
- Election in phased manner. Unlike the elections of 80's the elections were started to be conducted in a phased manner so as to ensure sufficient police and security forces being made available across the state. The model he came up for scheduling phased out elections is part of the EC’s Standard Operating Procedure.
- The introduction of the Voter’s identity card. In 1993, Seshan announced elections to be conducted in India only with voter identity cards, having the photo and other details of the voters. Due to the very aggressive posturing of Seshan, the project got implemented though in a hap hazard manner (lot of mistakes in the cards, Duplication, Inadequate coverage of the entire population,…). Nevertheless the need for a Voter ID got in vogue in the country and still is.
- Enforcement of spending limits by candidates: Keeping in mind the money which gets spent in elections, Seshan introduced the concept of having officers going around the length and breadth of the electorate and filming/recording activities the candidates carry out in the garb of electioneering. This has led to very many instances where candidates have been disqualified post their victory under charges of unfair practices.
- Timing and scheduling of elections: Before the tenure of Mr. Seshan, there was an incidence, where Mrs. Gandhi used IB (Intelligence Bureau) to gather information about the political situation during coming elections. Thet helped her to get the then EC to fix tenure of elections suitably. After the tenure of Mr. Seshan, it is the EC which decides on the timing and scheduling based on various factors some as per the Constitutional provisions and others as per need to conduct free and fair elections (weather, school holidays, religious festivals, …,)
- Cancelling/Ordering Re-poll in case of mal practices: Finding the use of any reported malpractices occurring on or before the polling day, Mr. Seshan didn’t hesitate to order re-poll in those constituencies. This acted as an effective barrier for such activities.
In I.D. Systems (India) Pvt. Ltd. v/s. Chief Election Commissioner, the Kerala High Court has held that the object of MCC is not to stop all Governmental activities but those actions which may directly influence a section of electors need to be prevented.