The Fraying of the Model Code of Conduct

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Why in News?

  • The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) in Indian elections serves as a crucial framework to ensure fairness, integrity, and civility in the electoral process.
  • However, recent violations by senior politicians during election campaigns for the 18th Lok Sabha have brought national attention to its efficacy and enforcement.
  • While general elections are ongoing, it is important to examine the significance of the MCC, its key provisions, enforcement mechanisms, and the imperative role of the Election Commission of India (ECI) in upholding electoral integrity.

Significance of the MCC and ECI’s Plenary Powers

  • The MCC, formulated by the ECI with consensus among political parties, is integral to maintaining a peaceful, orderly, and civilised electoral environment.
  • It aims to prevent activities that could exacerbate societal divisions, communal tensions, or distort the electoral process.
  • Despite its non-legally binding nature, adherence to the MCC is essential for ensuring free and fair elections, which are enshrined as a fundamental aspect of India's constitutional framework.
  • Article 324 of the Indian Constitution empowers the ECI to conduct elections in a free and fair manner, emphasising the importance of electoral integrity.
  • In the landmark case of Election Commission of India vs State of Tamil Nadu and Others (1993), the Supreme Court reaffirmed the Commission's role and granted it plenary powers to fulfil its constitutional duty of ensuring the purity of the electoral process.
  • These powers are essential for safeguarding the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution.

Key Provisions of the MCC

  • Prohibition of Inciting Communal Hatred
    • One of the fundamental principles of the MCC is to prevent activities that could aggravate existing societal divisions or create communal tensions.
    • Political parties and candidates are prohibited from making statements or engaging in actions that may incite communal hatred or animosity between different religious, linguistic, or caste-based communities.
    • This provision aims to promote social harmony and prevent polarisation along sectarian lines.
  • Restriction on Criticism of Opponents
    • While political discourse is essential for a vibrant democracy, the MCC imposes restrictions on the manner in which criticism of opponents is articulated.
    • Criticism must be confined to policies, programs, and past actions of rival parties or candidates.
    • Personal attacks, character assassinations, or unsubstantiated allegations are strictly prohibited.
    • This provision encourages constructive debate and discourages negative campaigning tactics that undermine the electoral process.
  • Prohibition of Appeals to Caste or Communal Sentiments
    • Recognising the divisive potential of caste and communal politics, the MCC prohibits parties and candidates from making appeals that exploit caste or communal sentiments to garner votes.
    • Appeals based on caste, religion, or community affiliation are considered antithetical to the principles of secularism and equality enshrined in the Constitution.
    • By prohibiting such appeals, the MCC aims to safeguard the democratic ethos of inclusivity and equality.
  • Ban on Corrupt Practices
    • Upholding the integrity of elections requires strict measures against corrupt practices.
    • The MCC prohibits parties and candidates from engaging in bribery, coercion, or other forms of electoral malpractice to influence voters.
    • Any attempt to buy votes, distribute gifts, or offer inducements in exchange for electoral support is considered a violation of the code.
    • This provision aims to ensure that elections are decided based on merit and public interest rather than undue influence or coercion.
  • Enforcement of Election Laws
    • In addition to specific prohibitions, the MCC emphasises adherence to all relevant election laws and regulations.
    • Parties and candidates are expected to comply with electoral laws regarding campaign financing, polling procedures, and other legal requirements.
    • This includes timely submission of expenditure reports, adherence to campaign expenditure limits, and cooperation with election authorities.

By enforcing election laws, the MCC promotes transparency, accountability, and fairness in the electoral process.

Enforcement Mechanisms and Deterrent Actions of the MCC

  • Recognition of Parties and their Withdrawal
    • Paragraph 16A of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order grants the ECI the power to suspend or withdraw the recognition of political parties found violating the MCC.
    • Recognition by the ECI affords parties the privilege of using reserved symbols during elections, which carry significant symbolic value and visibility among voters.
    • Withdrawal of recognition deprives a party of this electoral advantage, thereby imposing a tangible consequence for MCC violations.
  • Temporary Campaign Suspension
    • In addition to symbolic measures, the ECI has the authority to impose temporary suspensions on election campaigns of parties or candidates found breaching the MCC.
    • These suspensions, ranging from 24 to 48 hours, disrupt campaign activities and diminish the visibility of violators during critical phases of the election cycle.
  • Non-Discriminatory Enforcement
    • The ECI's enforcement of the MCC is characterised by impartiality and non-discrimination, irrespective of the political stature or affiliation of the violators.
    • High-ranking politicians and influential parties are subject to the same enforcement measures as their lesser-known counterparts, ensuring equitable treatment under the law.
  • Proactive Monitoring and Complaint Mechanisms
    • To facilitate timely intervention, the ECI engages in proactive monitoring of election campaigns to identify potential MCC violations.
    • Additionally, it provides channels for citizens and stakeholders to lodge complaints against suspected infractions, thereby empowering individuals to contribute to the enforcement process.

Challenges Faced by ECI in Enforcing the MCC

  • Addressing Communalism and Maintaining Electoral Purity
    • Religious polarisation in Indian elections poses a significant challenge to electoral integrity.
    • While the Constitution upholds secularism, politicians often exploit religious sentiments for electoral gains, undermining the spirit of democracy.
    • The ECI must prioritise addressing this issue and take stringent measures against communal rhetoric during election campaigns.
  • Violation of Oath by Senior Politicians
    • Senior politicians making communally charged speeches during election campaigns not only violate the MCC but also breach their oath as public servants.
    • While the Representation of People Act 1951 provides legal provisions against promoting enmity on religious grounds, there is a need for stricter enforcement and accountability mechanisms, particularly for members of the Council of Ministers.
    • The judiciary can play a pivotal role in directing the ECI to initiate criminal proceedings against violators, ensuring adherence to electoral norms and constitutional principles.

Conclusion

  • The MCC is indispensable for preserving the integrity of Indian elections and upholding democratic values.
  • Effective enforcement mechanisms, coupled with the proactive role of the ECI, are imperative to deter violations and promote a culture of electoral fairness and civility.

As custodians of democracy, it is incumbent upon all stakeholders to uphold the sanctity of the electoral process and safeguard the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution. 


Q) What is the Model Code of Conduct?

The Model Code of Conduct is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India to regulate the conduct of political parties and candidates during elections to ensure free and fair elections.

Q) What are the key principles of the Model Code of Conduct?

The key principles of the Model Code of Conduct include refraining from making personal attacks, avoiding the use of religious symbols for electoral gain, maintaining the dignity of the electoral process, and ensuring equal opportunities for all candidates and parties.


Source:The Hindu