To say that elections in India are a massive affair would be a gross understatement. With 900 million eligible voters, 2,293 registered political parties, seven “recognised national parties” and held in seven phases, from 11 April to 19 May 2019, no other elections compare in sheer size and proportion to ours. But the daunting size isn’t the biggest challenge of ‘The Great Indian Elections’. India with its incredibly diverse population is as volatile as a powder keg as it is rich and beautiful. Politics is a war of ideologies waged with the weapons of promises, criticism that veers toward slander and dramatic rhetoric. Waged wrongly it can cause great conflict and put real lives at risk.
In order to prevent political parties from inciting violence, swaying the poll using unfair means and tactics and to level the playing field, the Election Commission came up with a Model Code of Conduct (MCC) for political parties competing in the general elections. Violating the MCC can result in fines, punitive action and even disqualification of candidates. In 2016, in West Bengal alone 90,8280 cases were registered for violating the MCC.
In order to level the playing field, the Election commission came up with a Model Code of Conduct (MCC) for political parties competing in the general elections.
The rules not only apply to political speeches, polling day, polling booths, portfolios, rallies, general conduct and even contents of election manifestos.
The MCC came into force on March 10 this year. Many parties including the one in power and the ones forming the opposition have violated the code since then. In the last few weeks alone the Election Commission has received hundreds of thousands of complaints alleging MCC violations. Here are some:
By BJP, The Party In Power
Hate speech and dividing the voters into communal lines has been an oft-repeated strategy of the extreme right in India. This strategy of issuing threats and neglecting minorities is extremely dangerous for India and its diverse citizenry. Here are some specific instances of MCC violations from the BJP led NDA and the right wing political parties.
- The most talked about MCC violation in this election season was that of BJP candidate, Maneka Gandhi. At a nukkad meeting held at Sultanpur on the 11th of April, she warned Muslims of the consequences they would face if they did not vote for her. The Election Commission charged her with violating the MCC and also the Representation of the People Act, 1951. She was forced to suspend her election campaign for 48 hours starting April 16.
- On the very same day, the EC also passed a gag order on UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. In response to Mayawati’s comment in her April 7 speech (details below), he claimed that if the Congress, SP and the BSP were banking on “Ali”, the BJP had “Bajrangbali”. The remark was clearly communal and dividing the voters on the basis of their religion. The EC barred him from campaigning for 48 hours.
- On March 9, following a complaint by former Navy chief (Retired) Admiral L Ramdas, the EC had put out a circular, asking political parties to stop using the Indian Armed Forces in campaign posters and the like. This was following BJP’s blatant violation of the same. Several posters across the country had pictures of Air Force jets and Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. BJP’s Delhi chief Manoj Tiwari was seen reciting a poem about Wing Commander Varthaman. He was also dressed in army fatigues at the launch of BJP candidate Vijay Sankalp’s bike rally in New Delhi. PM Modi had also used the Wing Commander’s name in an interview with Republic TV without censure from the Commission. The Aam Aadmi Party also conducted a bike rally in the name of the Wing Commander.
- The Election Commission has requested the President to take appropriate action against Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh. Singh told party workers in the state that he was a ‘karyakarta’ just like them. The EC noted that his statement undermines the “prestige of the high office occupied by him”. It compared the post of the governor to that of an ordinary party worker.
- BJP’s West Bengal candidate, Babul Supriyo has raised questions for releasing a promotional song for his election campaign. The song was released on electronic media without the necessary licensing and documentation. The EC has slapped him with a show-cause notice. He claims that the video had been leaked by fellow party members.
- Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena MP, remarked that BJP would defeat CPI candidate Kanhaiya Kumar “even if the party has to tamper with the Electronic Voting Machines”. The remark was made in his column ‘Rok Thok’ in Saamna, which he edits. Raut has received a notice from the commission for showing “lack of faith in the deployment of EVMs, muddying the electoral process”, and has been asked to respond.
- BJP candidate from Puri, Sambit Patra held up a Jagannath idol during his election rally. This triggered the Odisha Pradesh Congress to complain to the EC for his clear violation of the MCC. The EC has slapped the candidate with a show-cause notice for the same.
By The Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Enjoying the most powerful political office in the country not only leaves Modi with access to a larger platform from which to influence the polls but also extremely visible in his violations of the MCC. There have been several direct and indirect ways in which the Prime Minister and BJP’s candidate from Varanasi have flouted the Model Code.
A biopic on Modi, titled “PM Narendra Modi” was banned by the Election Commission from being released on April 11.
- In his campaign speech on April 1, Modi said that Rahul Gandhi chose Wayanad in Kerala as a second constituency because the party is afraid of the verdict of voters in a Hindu-majority constituency (Amethi). He also claimed that Congress coined the term “Hindu terror”. These comments are in violation of the MCC’s prohibition on the use of religious sentiments to sway polls. The EC as of now has reacted to Modi’s speech.
- Another dramatic enforcement of MCC guidelines that caught media attention was with regards to the NaMo TV. BJP, on March 31, had launched a separate channel called Namo TV. The Congress and Aam Aadmi Party complained to the EC about it but to no immediate avail. Later, the Delhi CEO took up the case, and the channel has been asked to observe the 48-hour silence period.
- A biopic on Modi, titled PM Narendra Modi was banned by the Election Commission from being released on April 11. The release date coincided with the date on which the elections commenced. Actor and producer Vivek Oberoi claims that the movie has no political agenda and is not linked to the BJP. The party claims it to be a violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression.
- The Trinamool Congress on March 19 complained that Indian Railways had rolled out tickets carrying pictures of Modi. Photographs of Modi were also printed on Air India boarding passes. A licensed Railway vendor used paper teacups with “main bhi chowkidar” to serve tea and coffee to passengers. The Election Commission has written to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Railway Board asking for their response. The Railway slammed a fine of Rs 1 lakh on the vendor who had sold the paper cups.
- On April 1, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath called the Indian Armed Forces “Modi ji ki sena” (Modi’s army) and received a notice from the Election Commission for the same.
While not directly violating the MCC, the party in power has often used government facilities and taxpayers money for swaying votes. According to an RTI report, the government has spent around 5,000 crores on advertising. This is double the amount the previous UPA government spent in 10 years. Ads by the BJP led government have appeared on television channels 22,099 times during the run-up to the elections alone. While this is not a direct infringement of the MCC, it still is a gross misuse of public funds for electoral gains. In a similar vein:
- After the public address on the demonetisation decision, the only other public address Mr Modi gave as Prime Minister was on March 27. It was to announce the successful testing of the Anti-Satellite (A-Sat) Missile. While the occasion was joyous and one of national pride, the timing and presentation of the news was extremely political and with the obvious intent to sway votes. However, after receiving complaints from the Aam Aadmi Party and CPI(M), the EC reviewed Modi’s address. The Commission stated that it was not a violation of the code of conduct as it “did not advance the prospects of the party in power”.
- On March 31, Doordarshan live broadcasted the ruling government’s “Main bhi chowkidar” event. The Congress complained against this but Doordarshan upheld its decision by claiming the event as a “high news value” event.
- Samajwadi Party candidate Azam Khan came under fire from the EC following his derogatory comment against BJP leader Jaya Prada. His severely distasteful ‘underwear remark’ was observed to be “not only indecent but also derogatory and totally uncalled for” by the Commission. An FIR under section 509 of the IPC and under section 125 of the Representation of the People Act has been filed against him. He has also been barred from holding any and all events related to his campaign for a period of 72 hours from the 16th of April.
- On the very same day, the EC also restrained BSP leader Mayawati from campaigning for 72 hours. This was following her speech at an election rally at Deoband on April 7. She appealed to the Muslims of Saharanpur Lok Sabha constituency not to divide their votes, but to vote en masse for the candidate fielded by the BSP.
- Satya Ranjan Swain, an advocate had complained to the Delhi chief electoral office that an Aam Aadmi Party legislator had taken advantage of his official visit for campaigning purposes. According to the complaint, the AAP legislator, while inspecting CCTV installations, also campaigned for the party. The MCC specifically states that legislators “shall not combine their official visit with electioneering work and shall not also make use of official machinery or personnel during the electioneering work.” In response to the complaint, the Delhi Secretariat has served the politician a notice.
- The AIADMK accused the Puducherry CM V.Narayanasamy, a Congress candidate, of violating MCC by extending freebies to people using the CM’s relief fund during the campaign period. As of now, the EC has not taken any action. Giving freebies to influence voters is particularly rampant in Tamil Nadu.
- On Thursday, 18 April, AIADMK complained to the EC against DMK’s Central Chennai candidate Dayanidhi Maran for allegedly violating the MCC by campaigning outside the polling booth. The DMK president MK Stalin, also faced flak for addressing the media during the silence period indirectly violating it.
- Vijendra Gupta, a BJP politician from Delhi alleged that Congress had posted a video on Twitter which spoke ill of the Prime Minister. On March 25, Gupta lodged a complaint against Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal. Water bills to be sent to consumers had letters which carried the achievements of the Delhi Jal Board attached to them. The letters did not have a date or dispatch number. This is a violation of government rules.
- The Logical Indian
- Al Jazeera
- Tribune India
- Deccan Herald
- Zee News
- Business Standard
- News 18
- News Click
- Times of India
- India Today
This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to the list are welcome in the comments section.
Featured Image Source: Livemint