Reading time: 6-8 minutes.
The recent elections in Maharashtra and Haryana saw the announcement of the ‘Model Code of Conduct’. The polling happened on the 21st of October and the counting took place on the 24th of October. In this background, the author shall be discussing as to what a ‘model code of conduct’ is.
MCC in brief:
According to Article 324 of the Indian Constitution, election commission has the power to regulate the election procedure; model code of conduct is one such way of doing that. In order to ensure free and fair elections, election commission has maintained certain guidelines in order to regulate elections.
These guidelines are what we call: ‘Model Code of Conduct’. These guidelines help in conduction of smooth and fair elections. MCC comes into force as soon as the schedule of elections is announced by chief election commissioner, and remains in play until the results of election are announced.
Is MCC legally binding?
One of the pitfalls of MCC is that it is not legally binding. However, if anyone violates the provisions of MCC , penalty could be imposed under various acts like Indian penal code, 1860 or Representation of People Act, 1951.
For example, under section 171 of IPC one can be held liable for bribing the voters or impersonation of voters. Also, in 2013 the standing committee on personnel, public grievance, law and justice recommended for making similar legal obligation, however, the said recommendation was countered by the argument that if it is made legally enforceable it will linger the process of elections.
Why was MCC introduced?
MCCs introduction goes back to 1960’s when Kerala assembly election brought model code of conduct. Since then this code of conduct has been followed in general elections by the parties. To know the objective behind the MCC we need to go through the important provisions of MCC.
Important provisions of MCC:
One of the important provisions is part I which deals with the general conduct. The party should not target caste as the basis for criticizing other political parties, the criticism should be limited to their policies, the reports used by the parties should be verified; inter alia are encapsulated in general conduct. It also does not allow parties to burn the effigies of the opponent.
Election manifestos ought not enunciate anything which unduly influences the voters. Also, the party in power should avoid advertising at the cost of public money and they should give opportunity to other parties for giving speeches and conducting other activities. During election only the voters having valid voter id cards should be allowed to enter polling booths.
After reading the above provisions it is easy to understand as to how political parties can take advantage of elections and use unfair means in order to appease voters and to avoid the same it is very important to introduce some guidelines for conducting free and fair elections.
It is important for us to understand that India is a democratic country and conducting fair elections is part and parcel of the whole democratic system. Also, India is a country with tremendous level of illiteracy and poverty,and in such situation it would be a cakewalk for political parties to influence voters by giving them false promise or by bribing them and by various other tactics. In such scenario there is an urgent need to introduce something like MCC.
Significance of MCC:
It is important that during the elections there are no clashes between the political parties and election should be held peacefully. Also, there is a need to have a check on power held by political parties so that they do not misuse their positions.
It is pertinent to note that MCC prohibits distributing liquors to voters and even before organizing any rally the party should inform to the local police so that security measures could be taken. There are many more provisions mentioned in MCC and it goes without saying that the same helps in proper and healthy elections.
Nature of MCC: Is there any punishment for violating the modal code of conduct?
Even though MCC lacks binding nature, still the election commission can impose fine or penalty for those who are not following it. The c-Vigil app was introduced for reporting malpractices in elections. The citizens could report by using the mentioned app and appropriate action would be taken by the election commission.
The matter will be investigated with the help of flying squad and then the results will be announced by returning officer. Election commission can also register cases if the parties are not adhering to model code of conduct or they are violating it.
By reading the above mentioned power of election commission in respect of MCC it is clear that parties are required to follow the provisions given in the code of conduct and the same can help in conducting fair elections.
Need for change:
There is a need to have statutory backing for MCC so that stringent action could be at taken against the parties not following the code. If a party does not follow MCC, maximum power vested in election commission is that it can register the case against the party.
Also, there have been instances when MCC was violated by the parties but no action was taken against them, for example during elections in Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath raised slogans like “bajrang bali versus Hazrat Ali” but no action as such against the same was taken. Had this been the situation if MCC had statutory backing then a strict legal action would have been taken against him.
One thing that should be done by every responsible citizen is that he or she should stop supporting the party if it is not adhering to the code of conduct and this would prevent the parties from violating them thus encouraging them to follow the same.
Also, one of the reasons MCC does not have a statutory backing is because elections have to be completed within 45 days and if any case regarding MCC goes to the courts, it will linger the process.
However, one of the remedies is to establish fast track courts so that the proceedings can be conducted expeditiously. In the view of increasing malpractices and corruption going on, there is urgent need to legally enforce model code of conduct by taking all the appropriate measures.
There is also a need to include some rules relating to the social media. With the advent of technology it is very easy for anyone who is related to any political party to influence the thoughts and ideas of voters. MCC is regulating the elections of the largest democracy of the world and therefore it is imperative that the same should have some legal backing and it should be modified keeping in view the increasing misuse of technology.
–This article is brought to you in collaboration with Gyanvi Khanna from Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam