Toothless Ec, netas merry

Code Of ‘Misconduct’

By Poonam I Kaushish

In this theekha-masaledar electioneering season our netagan seem to have taken loads of tips from Bollywood and produced their own version of putrid entertainment: under-the-belt speeches, freebies and more giveaways! Spiced with the right caste and communal combinations. Swaying to the heady tinkle of money, cheap thrills and seetees. In the hope this would bring them political tripti!
Welcome Election 2019 wherein immorality is the flavour of the season. From desh bhakts to desh drohis. The ball was set rolling by Modi who called the Congress and everyone questioning the Balakot strikes as “Spokespersons of Pakistan,” which countered with “Chowkidar chor hai.”
Undeniably, in a milieu where politics has degenerated to a euphemism for abuse and maliciousness, the Election Commission’s (EC) Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has become the most potent missile in the arsenal of political rivals and jaani dushmans. With none caring a damn for its seven Dos and Don’ts about general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booth observers and the Party in power.
After all, how would their art of double-speak succeed if the preachers of morality were to start practicing it? Polls mean scoring brownie points against rivals, forget the Commission reading the riot act under the MCC. Ends matter not the means.
The culprits? All Parties. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has got into the EC’s crosshairs by calling India’s Armed Forces as “Modi ki sena”. The EC has taken him to task and “advised he be more careful” as candidates and campaigners are barred from “any political propaganda involving activities of defence forces”
The next Modi bhakt is Rajasthan Governor and former UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh who asserted, “We are workers of BJP….we definitely want the BJP to win. For the sake of the country and society everyone wants that Modi ji should become PM once more,” conveniently forgetting that he adorns a Constitutional apolitical position. Obviously, the EC complained to President Kovind seeking action against Singh, who has forwarded it to the Home Ministry. A decision is awaited.
BSP Mayawati ‘killed’ both Modi and Congress with one stone by likening demonitisation to Emergency with NaMo on his way out. A BJP leader hit back,”Mayawati khud roz facial karwati hain…..unke baal paka hua hai aur rangeen karwake ke aaj bhi apne aap ko Mayawati jawan saabit karti hain. 60 varsh umar ho gayi lekin sab baal kaale hain.” Added SP’s Akhilesh Yadav for good measure, “Is there any chowkidar to check the theft in the Rafale deal?”
The EC has expressed its “displeasure” to NITI Ayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar of speaking like a BJP spokesperson dismissing Congress’s NYAY scheme by saying the Party can “say and do anything to win elections”.
With these comments going viral on social and digital media it raises a moot point: Why shouldn’t there be immediate action, considering there is no point acting against complaints post polls? Moreover, going by the low conviction rate, are MCC cases purely symbolic? Would cases stemming from such FIRs gain more strength if the Code was legal? Would it justify giving statutory status to all MCC stipulations as suggested by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in 2013?
Experts aver following the model code purely hinges on morality, not fear of law. Since poll campaigns are turning uglier, more personal and combative, the moral obligation entailed in the MCC could really bear down heavily on candidates at a time when they are trying to show voters how upright and competent they are for the job.
However, all is not lost. Though the model code puts a moral obligation on contestants to make elections free and fair, most of its stipulations do fall under various laws, thus enabling the EC to order filing of cases against violators, including initiating criminal cases under the Indian Penal Code.
Asserted a former Commissioner, “Filing an FIR, particularly against a senior leader during elections, in itself becomes a huge embarrassment to his Party. It presents the neta as ethically wrong to voters. That is the reason most leaders castigated for breaking the MCC don’t usually repeat their mistake.”
Also, many netas favour making the MCC legally tenable as it clears them of morality during elections. When the EC issues show cause notice to a candidate, he has to respond within 48 hours. This is a deterrent unlike a case against a candidate in court which might linger, giving him the benefit of doubt. Also, this prevents one from seeing the Code as only voluntary, a reason why the 2013 Parliamentary Standing Committee suggested the remaining stipulations be accorded statutory backing.
Alas, it is not this election alone, the story is the same every election wherein the EC is grappling with the same questions. And by the time the Commission arrives at an answer, votes would have been cast. So what happens to violations of the MCC? Zilch. They die a natural death.
Sadly, the truth is that the Code is only a voluntary compact arrived between the EC and Parties and has no statutory binding. With Parties and candidates wantonly violating it, the Commission is powerless. Asserted a senior official, “The Code lacks legal sanction and is intended to work as a moral policeman to ensure free and fair elections. We can only freeze a Party’s election symbol or derecognize it as a national Party. Nothing more, nothing less.” In other words one can merrily violate the Code wantonly and yet get elected to the Lok Sabha and Assemblies.
Clearly, the time has come to take a good fresh look at the Code of Conduct and recast it. Importantly, there is urgent need to convert the Code into a law with the Commission having the power to take punitive actions. As another EC official confessed, “Presently our power is restricted to poll violations by Parties and cannot always be used. The Commission cannot withdraw the symbol every time.
“On individual candidates who violate the Code, the Commission could think of imposition of monetary penalty, disqualification and in an extreme case countermanding the election. Unacceptable behaviour by our netagan should be adversely publicized and the Government and Parties should publicly reprimand their candidate. But first we have to give more teeth to the Commission. Notwith-standing, that the Code might never become law as there are too many political interests aligned against it.”
It is simply stupid to lament about the falling standards of morality in politics in these bad times. At the end of the day, it matters little who wins the elections as we the people are the ultimate losers. As the system, Government, politicians and politics, everything is game to deprive the aam janata of a better life.
As India readies to vote we must not allow ourselves to be taken for granted any more. We must demand that electoral reforms be implemented to make our democracy truly representative. Stop voting for the shameless, self-serving netas who put a premium on immorality. Will licentiousness be the bedrock of India’s democracy? Can a nation be bare and bereft of all sense of morality? And, for how long? Think. —— INFA