New Delhi: Even though there is a week left to go till the first vote is cast in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and assembly polls to four states – Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim – the seizure of cash, liquor and other prohibited substances has crossed Rs 1,582 crore.
This is over five times the total seizure worth Rs 303 crore during the 2014 polls.
This year, cash seizure alone has crossed Rs 377 crore. This is also a reflection on what demonetisation, which was unleashed on the nation to control black money and corruption, actually achieved.
With the last phase of voting on May 19, there are still over six weeks to go for the polls.
The 2019 polls have already also become one of the worst when it comes to violations of the model code of conduct. The Election Commission has been updating information about these cases on its website at 6 pm every evening. Till April 3, there were 18 active complaints which were under investigation. However, there are hundreds more on which people insist that cognizance has not been taken.
- The ruling party, which should be leading the way in ensuring free and fair polls, is itself one of the biggest violators of the norms.
BJP’s violations are of all types
Social media is full of queries about MCC violations and allegations of various parties, especially the ruling BJP, brazenly flouting the norms. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name figuring in several of these violations, the opposition believes that much of these are by design.
So be it BJP and its use of the Balakot airstrike or images of Pulwama martyrs for political gains, or boarding passes and railway tea cups bearing his name or message, or the release of the biopic PM Narendra Modi and the launch of the NaMo channel in the middle of the polls, there is no dearth of evidence of wrong doing.
EC’s actions have not taken the blame away
The Election Commission has so far pulled up the ministry of civil aviation over its boarding pass issue, the railways over “tea cups” and even Niti Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar for criticising the Nyay minimum income scheme announced by Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
But the EC is still being accused of being soft on the BJP, mostly due to repeated violations by several of the party leaders.
For example on April 3, a lawyer and columnist tweeted how Modi’s election speech was telecast live by Doordarshan.
The brazenness. Prasar Bharti chairman @shashidigital RTing DD tweet of Modi rally being illegally broadcast live by DD. And it is not a ‘gathering’ (unless Modi is a madari), it is a bloody party election rally. Will anyone in @ECISVEEP take note? https://t.co/i3hlBdCR4N
— Dushyant (@atti_cus) April 3, 2019
The media also asked about it, but there was no instant response from the poll panel.
With the Commission following a procedure of taking up and responding to complaints – while also looking after election preparations – politicians, citizens and even journalists have been growing impatient.
One senior journalist who regularly covers the EC, recently quipped on a media page, “MCC issues are being dealt in secret in this election”. Another remarked: “Any response??? Multiple questions have been asked since the last 24 hours or so on many many issues….are we to believe that nothing is happening in ECI and that all is well?!”
On April 3, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) leader and three-time MP Prakash Ambedkar too allegedly lost his cool and threatened to put the Election Commission in jail for two days.
Taking cognisance of Prakash Ambedkar’s statement he made during a rally in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, the state election commission sought a report from local poll officials.https://t.co/lbPcTePUWJ
— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) April 4, 2019
The reasons for such angst are not lost on anyone.
The primary reason is that the ruling party, which should be leading the way in ensuring free and fair polls, is itself one of the biggest violators of the norms.
Is EC being pre-judged?
Then the Election Commission now comprises Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, and Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra who have all been appointed during 2018-19 and under the rule of the Modi government.
Considering the past allegations of opacity in these appointments, many in the opposition believe that the panel is partisan. In fact, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia while appearing on a TV show that discussed the NaMo channel noted “let us have faith in E … why should we pre-judge and pass a verdict?”
Are parties deliberately ignoring MCC guidelines?
This brings us to the question about the efficacy of the MCC in preventing violations and what are the powers of the EC to proceed in such matters.
There is no dearth of information on what MCC is and what constitutes its violation.
The Election Commission website provides a link to what is Model Code of Conduct. Here, it answers 76 questions about issues ranging from “official machinery”, “welfare schemes and government works”, “election campaign” to “poll day”.
Apart from this, the EC has also provided details of what constitutes MCC on a separate page. This provides guidance to parties and candidates on eight broad parameters – namely general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booth, observers, party in power, and guidelines on election manifestos.
Despite this, when violations are committed, it becomes clear that the parties do not really worry about the consequences.
This is so because MCC is just a set of guidelines to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections. It is not enforceable by law, but certain provisions may be enforced by invoking other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951.
House panel suggested making MCC legally binding, EC opposed it
According to PRS Legislative, the Election Commission in the past argued against making MCC legally binding since it wanted to complete the polls within a stipulated period – generally 45 days – and without getting involved in long-drawn legal battles.
A Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in 2013 had, however, recommended making the MCC legally binding by including them in the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
Model code or moral code
In 2016, The Wire hs reported about how experts believe that MCC purely works on morality and not the fear of law. It quoted former CEC S.Y. Quraishi as saying that “filing an FIR, particularly against a senior leader during the elections, in itself becomes a cause of huge embarrassment to the party the candidate represents”.
It was also mentioned that most of the elements in MCC were covered under various laws and these enabled the Election Commission to order filing of cases against the violators.
Former CEC N. Gopalaswami was quoted as saying that “it is wrong to believe that most of those FIRs (filed by EC) don’t lead to any conviction”. He however, added that “the EC can’t ask the judiciary to specially expedite these cases because it is beyond its domain.”
Quraishi added to good measure that “some cases go on for years together but both the media and people lose interest in them after the elections, so we usually don’t hear about them.”
Modi government does not want bribery to result in postponement of polls
Meanwhile, The Wire recently also brought out, through its RTI applications that the Modi government on four occasions rejected EC’s appeals to be given the power postpone or cancel elections if bribery was reported.
The poll panel has been raising the demand since June 2016. Twice the request was made by former CEC Nasim Zaidi. It was demanded that on the lines of the provisions for adjourning or countermanding elections in the event of booth capturing, a provision, Section 58b, be included in the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1989 for dealing with proven bribery of voters.
However, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad spoke in favour of “status quo” saying “the circumstances are incomparable” as “allegations of bribery are always a matter of investigation and proof.”
The story also pointed out how recently CEC Sunil Arora too spoke about “rampant misuse of funds” being one of the major challenges. But despite the code violations and huge seizure, the BJP government remains unmoved.