Has the Election Commission of India, supposed to ensure free and fair elections, failed to do its job. The opposition Congress party has approached the Supreme Court, alleging the poll body was turning a blind eye to complaints against Shah and Modi.
The Election Commission of India has a near-impossible and unenviable job – of not only organising elections in a diverse and vast nation of over 900 million voters, but also ensuring that the entire process is free and fair.
However, several political parties have accused the Election Commission of India (ECI) of ignoring the alleged violations of the model code by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Alleging the poll commission’s inaction on the complaints against Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah, the Indian National Congress (INC), the main opposition party, today approached the Supreme Court.
The plea seeks urgent and necessary directions to the Election Commission to take a decision within 24 hours on the complaints filed against the PM and the BJP chief over the alleged violations. A bench, headed by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has posted the matter for hearing on April 30.
A Model Code of Conduct
From the time that the poll body announces elections, a set of rules, with very clear do’s and don’ts for all parties and candidates, comes in force. The rules, or model code of conduct, empower the ECI to take any decision to ensure a level playing field as well as to reverse any decision taken by the government which falls foul of this basic rule. The rules stay in force till the results are announced and in this period all the decisions of the government are closely scrutinised as are the speeches and campaigns of all the parties.
For the 2019 Indian general election, the code came into force on March 10, 2019 when the Commission announced the dates and it remains in force till the end of the electoral process.
To be fair to India’s apex poll panel it has been tough on several political heavyweights across political parties and imposed temporary bans on their campaigning, including leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Some of those who were banned in recent poll campaigns for violating model code of conduct include Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, Uttar Pradesh chief minister and ultra nationalist Yogi Adityanath, Samajwadi Party senior leader Azam Khan, union minister Maneka Gandhi, Congress leader Navjot Singh Siddhu for alleged controversial communal or sexist remarks.
Partial and biased
Has the Election Commission been partial and biased in favour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s violation of model code conduct?
On the biopic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi the poll panel banned it after political parties raised objection. The poll panel in its report to the Supreme Court said that the biopic “produces a political environment where an individual acquired cult status” and its public screening during the period when model code of conduct is in operation would favour a particular political party. However, when it came to a 10-part web series Modi: A Common Man’s Journey, the Commission dilly-dallied its action for long. Finally, it banned the series.
However, except on these two counts, the Election Commission of India has maintained a studied silence on complaints of violations by Modi and his man-Friday Amit Shah, says the Congress in the petition.
Adding fuel to the fire, agroup of 66 former civil servants have written an open letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, stating that the ‘independence, fairness, impartiality and efficiency’ of Election Commission is being compromised, thereby, endangering the integrity of the electoral process.
The signatories included the likes of former foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Memon, former Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung, former Planning Commission secretary N C Saxena, former IPS officer Julio Riberio, former TRAI chairman Rahul Khullar, former Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar, among 60 others.
Governor of Rajasthan Kalyan Singh, has publicly supported the ruling party, even though governors are meant to be apolitical administrators of the states. Singh,once a firebrand leader of the BJP, was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh when the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992.
What the Election Commission did was to write to the President stating that Kalyan Singh had violated the model code of conduct and lowered the dignity of the office of Governor. As per principles laid down by SC, he must be removed from office. President forwarded the EC’s observation to the Modi government. However, there is no action yet on this front.
Prime Minister Modi’s public broadcast on Anti-Satellite Weapon Test on March 27 was questionable because the announcement of the launch was made with much fanfare by him at a time when the MCC was operative.
Disturbing the concept of level playing field during elections,a television channel entirely dedicated to the speeches and activities of Modi, NaMo TV, was launched on March 31 2019. The opposition parties allege that this channel was allowed to beam, ‘without any formal approval of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and is propagating the image and views of Shri Narendra Modi’. The EC limited its reaction on this to asking NaMo TV not to air any political content or content not certified by the EC. Interestingly, the NaMo TV is being run by the BJP’s IT cell.
The opposition parties also accuse the EC of inaction on a complaint against the Prime Minister for an appeal during a rally in Latur in Maharashtra, wherein he asked people to dedicate their votes to the martyrs of the February 14 Pulwama attack, as well as the cross border air strikes by India.
“We are sad to say that the Modi-Shah duo has become a kind of an arch of immunity as far as the Election Commission’s jurisdiction goes, as far as the Model Code of Conduct goes,” Congress leader and lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, adding that silence can be construed as approval.
No doubt, these omissions by Election Commission of India only show that its independence too is stifled like many other institutions over the last five years.