On paper, the Lok Sabha elections are a vast, awe-inspiring exercise in which parties and their candidates vie for the people’s votes by pitching their working plans for a better, brighter India. The document that literally ensures that this is conducted in a civilised manner is the Model Code of Conduct for elections. This provides a set of norms, which have evolved with the consensus of all contesting political parties and binds them “to respect and observe it in its letter and spirit”. Going by the verbal slugfests that have been on display over the last many weeks of pre-poll campaigning, however, the Model Code might as well have not existed.
On Sunday, the Election Commission (EC) was frustrated enough to state that it was “pained” to observe that many political leaders were making “intemperate and derogatory remarks” against their rivals. Personal character and conduct have become targets and the ‘rules of the game’ have openly been flouted. If it’s not threats of physical attacks, it’s petty jibes about age and background that would make tabloid headlines seem genteel. On top of this tu tu main main cacophony, there are also constant complaints of violations of the Code. These are not confined to political rookies like Varun Gandhi but are being perpetrated by senior leaders and office bearers across parties. It has been three days since the EC took note of serious violations of the Model Code of Conduct. Even more leaders have now joined this tasteless match. With such an unfortunate display and with parties ignoring the Code that they had promised to adhere to, why have a model code at all?
Here’s why. Electoral morality aside, sniping-as-campaigning makes the real issues that make the general election an important democratic exercise turn into digressions. Some would even say that the current verbal noise is a result of an issueless election. And that is something that the Indian electorate neither deserves nor expects as it goes to vote from April 16. People will make a choice according to issues that affect them, that rile them, that move them — and not according to insults and ripostes being traded above their heads. It would be fair to say that straying from the Model Code of Conduct will not do any good to either the exercise of democratic elections or to the chances of candidates and parties winning over voters. In fact, the effect should be quite the opposite.