Powerless Ec, netas merry!

Code Of ‘Misconduct’

By Poonam I Kaushish

Democracy is a conflict of interests masquerading as a contest of principles in this chatpata-dhoondhar election circus. An adage which nails our politicians’ lies as they spew vitriolic slander and acerbic gutter-sniping interspersed with cheap thrills over the last six weeks. Underscoring that sully and smirch are the new rajnitik dialogues spiced by frenzied audiences’ seetees. In the hope this would bring them political nirvana!

One thing is clear: India’s democratic values have eroded showcasing the worst face of our polity freely mouthing hate speech and fanning communal flare with little regard for dignity, plummeting to the lowest denomination of public taste. Worse, Election Commission failed to take action on gross violations by BJP-INDIA bloc which repeatedly used religion, communal slurs, lies and undocumented allegations.

It merely asked Parties to rein in their “star” campaigners aka  Modi-Rahul to desist from disparaging comments while barring ex-Calcutta High Court judge-BJP candidate from campaigning for his misogynist comments on Mamata, “what’s your price…who is you father.”

Consequently, in a milieu where politics has degenerated to a euphemism for abuse and maliciousness, EC’s Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has become the most potent missile in political rivals and jaani dushmans arsenal. With none caring a damn for its seven Dos and Don’ts about general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booth observers, Party in power and Opposition.

After all, how would their art of double-speak succeed if preachers of morality were to start practicing it? Polls mean scoring brownie points against rivals, forget EC reading the riot act under MCC. Ends matter not the means.

It was a virtual free-for-all rally after rally making wild allegations in a vile communal campaign.  All hell broke loose with Congress accusing Modi of “khokhli baatain that we plan to impose inheritance tax to loot people zindagi ke saath bhi, zindagi ke baad bhi,” redistribute women’s mangalsutra to Muslims and calling our manifesto ‘Muslim League imprint.’

Adding, “Modi is a venomous snake, he says he has a 56-inch chest. What will we do with it? Tell us when you will give meals? PM matlab Panauti Modi aur jebkatra….He talks nonsense like we will steal your buffalo and will X-ray everyone’s lockers, bank accounts, and even bajra.”

Modi & Co countered by accusing Congress of reservation for Muslims via OBC quota asserting “I will thwart attempts to rob Dalits of reservation… they are performing mujra for votebank ….. Karnataka Congress Government has given OBC reservation to Muslims…perpetuating a North-South divide on language and region.” It took pot-shots at “shehzada” Rahul calling him “Moorkhon aur jhooton ka Sardar”… accusing him of instigating ‘Vote Jihad.’

While TMC’s Mamta dubbed  Modi, “paapi,” NCP’s Sharad Pawar called him “shameless,” A CPM leader said, “Was Rahul from Nehru-Gandhi family? I have doubts … his DNA should be examined.” AIMM Owaisi took the cake, “Koi maee ka lal pedha nahi hua jo mujhe rok sake…Modi RSS ka peelu hai…. ishara kar diya toh dorana padhega.”

With these comments going viral on social and digital media it raises a moot point: Does it behove Prime Minister Modi to use this language? Shouldn’t EC take immediate action? As it is pointless acting against complaints post polls? Moreover, going by the low conviction rate, are MCC cases purely symbolic? Would EC gain more strength if MCC was legal? Would it justify giving statutory status to all MCC stipulations as suggested by Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in 2013?

Experts aver MCC is toothless and irrelevant which doesn’t impinge on our netagans’ utterances. Wherein following it purely hinges on morality, not fear of law. Since poll campaigns are turning uglier, more personal and combative, the moral obligation entailed in MCC could bear down on candidates when they are busy showing voters how upright and competent they are for the job.

Alas, it is not this election alone, the story is same every election wherein EC is grappling with the same questions. And by the time it arrives at an answer, votes have been cast. So what happens to violations of MCC? Zilch. They die a natural death.

Truth is MCC is only a voluntary compact arrived between EC and Parties and has no statutory binding. With Parties and candidates wantonly violating it, the Commission is powerless.

Asserted a senior official, “MCC 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.” Plainly, one can merrily violate MCC wantonly and yet get elected to Lok Sabha or Assemblies.

Clearly, time now to take a fresh look at MCC, recast it and convert it into a law with EC 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.”

Added another, “On individual candidates who violate MCC, EC could think of imposing monetary penalty, disqualification and in an extreme case countermanding election. Unacceptable behaviour by netas should be adversely publicized with Government and Parties publicly reprimanding their candidate. But first we need to give more teeth to EC. Notwithstanding, that MCC might never become law as there are too many political interests aligned against it.”

When 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 MCC as only voluntary, a reason why the 2013 Parliamentary Standing Committee suggested the remaining stipulations be accorded statutory backing.

However, all is not lost. Also, many netas favour making MCC legally tenable as it clears them of morality during elections. Though it puts a moral obligation on contestants to make elections free and fair, most of its stipulations fall under various laws, thus enabling EC to file cases against violators, including initiating criminal cases under IPC.

It is simply stupid to lament about falling standards of morality in politics in these bad times. Given this election would be remembered for pedestrian issues it kicked up in a sleazy untruth-packed electioneering. With narrow issues dominating the narrative, it was tragic that vexed problems like unemployment, development, inflation, education, health etc were conveniently swept under the carpet.

In the ultimate, a powerful reminder of how India’s political culture had degenerated to an all time low. Whereby, the dance of democracy showed deep faults lines in the electoral process which could destroy credibility of institutions, disillusion voters showcased in the low voter turnout.

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.

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 shameless, self-serving netas who put a premium on immorality. Will licentiousness be the bedrock of India’s democracy? And, for how long? Think. — INFA